Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 15 January 2016

Short-eared Owl, Wilson's Snipe and other winter birds

Up until the last few days, bird feeders were pretty quiet. Warmer temperatures than normal resulting in no snow cover so there is lots of habitat to search for food, makes it unnecessary for birds to come to feeders.

Of course all that changed in the last few days. Temperatures plummeted (relatively speaking) and we have snow! At least for awhile. So with that, feeders became busier, and it was with that in mind that I headed for Rondeau this week to check on the action at the Visitor Centre feeders. The VC staff are all away right now, but other park staff are checking the feeders, so kudos for them to make sure the birds are being looked after.

As expected, there was a flurry of bird activity, and for the hour or so that I was there with camera in hand, there were no raptors charging through, so the birds were undisturbed. About half of the images that follow were taken on this day, although I delved into my stockpile of images for others.

Some of the most common species were:
American Tree Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco
 There were a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches.....
....and a steady stream of Black-capped Chickadees.
Northern Cardinal are kind of skittish, but both male and female were in the area.

A couple of Downy Woodpeckers were pretty steady customers checking out the peanut feeders among other things, as was a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

  American Goldfinches, in their relatively drab winter colours, were around in small numbers.
A couple of species that were less expected were Red-winged Blackbird, with four there briefly, and a pair of Purple Finches.

Only the female Purple Finch stuck around for any length of time...the male was there briefly and was camera shy.

Speaking of camera shy birds, the big, noisy and often aggressive Blue Jay shows its true colours by being very reluctant to cooperate for the camera. This shot was from a different visit.
I was hoping that since birds are more likely to spend time at feeders to get their sustenance, something a little more unusual would appear, such as an Eastern Towhee, one of which has been at the park's feeders for both of the last two years. I didn't see one, but perhaps one will still show up.
Eastern Towhee of 2014/15
Or maybe get a real bonus with something as unusual as this White-winged Dove, which showed up for a few days in late January/early February of 2013.
Just as I was leaving the park, I got a text from Garry Sadler indicating that a couple of Short-eared Owls were on some posts along Stefina Line. I have seen Short-ears there before, but never in the early afternoon when there is decent light. Since I was heading that way to see if the Wilson's Snipe that Steve Charbonneau had seen a few days ago was still around, it was an easy decision to go there sooner rather than later.

The snipe location was just before where the owls were, so I made a brief stop there. I didn't see it at first, so I got out of the car carefully to see if it was tucked in closer to the bridge where I couldn't see it. As soon as I stepped out, the bird flushed and headed downstream just out of sight. It had been tucked in behind a clump of grasses at the edge when I first looked......I couldn't see it, but it could see me! This next image is from early February of 2011, when a snipe was hanging around this open ditch off and on for several weeks.

The owls were just a little farther least I hoped they were. Seeing Steve's car there gave me hope, and even before we got talking, I could see one of the Short-ears on a post. They were quite cooperative, and both of these photos were taken from the car. One bird is slightly paler than the other.

After getting quite a few shots, I was anxious to get home and see how they turned out. In all the years I have been photographing birds, these two birds in broad daylight were the most cooperative Short-ears that I have encountered. Thanks, Garry, for the heads-up!

And for those of you who operate bird feeders, please keep them well-stocked especially as this next round of cold weather arrives. Our feathered friends will reward you with lots of entertainment!


  1. Great Blog, as usual Allen !
    Nice to know that many birders still appreciate our
    more common birds. I never tire of the noisy little
    Chickadee, or the always hungry Junco !

  2. Thanks, Irene.....we can get spoiled by all the rarities, but the common ones are every bit as interesting in their own right (and they could be the rarities if they showed up in another part of the continent).