Skating rink

Deep cold, followed by a few hours of relative warmth with rain means one thing, ice storm. Sure enough the short-lived hiatus of a bit of a plus temperature was severely tempered by the quick freezing of the heavy rain, meaning that we in the Montreal area slid everywhere. Fortunately I filled a wheelbarrow with road grit after last winter had finally ended, nobody seemed to claim it, and it has come in very handy. Pity the poor birds having to try to feed in this crap – the snowy surface has a half-inch crust burying all the edible bits. Our feeders have been bouncing with activity and even the juncos are taking to the seed dispenser.

The re-arrival of winter has forced the open country birds to become a bit more visible although their numbers seem pretty low at the moment. On one of my icy little lanes there were a few Snow Buntings today along with a few Lapland Longspurs, their foraging overseen by three adjacent Snowy Owls. The one below saw in a roadside tree and barely flinched when I got out of the car for the photo, unlike the hurtling driver who screamed past sounding his horn and waving at me. I’m sure I didn’t know him, hence the limited digit (two) wave back.

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Encouraged by my success, I then headed off around the lanes of St-Clet, a little quieter than normal in terms of suicidal drivers, perhaps nature is catching up there. I found another ten Snowy Owls, all like the earlier birds, sitting atop a tree or roof. In normal circumstances a bird at ground level presumably has enough audible territory in which to find prey. By gaining height that area rises exponentially, as does the opportunity to locate by sight too.

Over the years I’ve noted that certain trees or buildings are very much favoured in the current conditions, while similar looking sites go unused. That supposition was backed up today when I passed a lightly spotted male on a close roadside apex. In this weather the stopping distance of a Grand Caravan proceeding at a modest pace is about 3km, and, of course, an empty road filled up with elderly people ‘out for a spin’, so I had to wait a good four minutes before effecting a turn. As I approached the building an immature, probably a female (no neck, just a theory), wanged the male and he left, casting several glances over his shoulder to check that the junior harridan was not following up. Had I made the turn without traffic I’d have had the action in the lens and a shot at a close male flying past.

I parked up and watched to see whether the male grew a pair (who’d know in -18°C) and reclaim his perch, but he sat sulking on a very distant post while she sat on her spot as if she owned it, which she clearly did. Aside from the Snowy Owls I found just one Rough-legged Hawk out there, they too must suffer in the icy conditions. I had hoped I might luck a white Gyr Falcon while out. Two were seen just over the border in Ontario recently. Jacques Bouvier got some lovely shots of one near Casselmann while Marcel Gahbauer got record shots of one eating a Red Fox. That is some falcon that can take a fox!

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