Myth Buster

After last Friday’s three pronged dip, my friend Graham might have thought twice about forsaking the comfort of the air crew hotel prior to his return flight to the UK but for us Brits a chance to see what is a myth for us, Northern Hawk Owl, proved too tempting, even though the weather dealt us another slippery hand.

The normal deal is that, when Graham gets a Montreal route, he has a free day, well part of, and he jumps on the Vaudreuil train – I pick him up – and we have a good time out birding. Usually we stay pretty local but if you want to crack those myths, then you have to go for it when the opportunity presents itself. Today we went out to the Thetford Mines area and this time fortune favoured the brave (or insane, if you like).

The roads got steadily worse, although you wouldn’t know it by the way the truckers drove, and we very cautiously negotiated Route 165 to the owls spot. Snow fell in copious amounts and the lack of site knowledge left us wondering whether we’d actually be able to see far enough to see the bird. We needn’t have worried and it was sat Hawk Owl-like atop a tree about 150m from the road.

We hugged the shoulder and hoped not to die as truck after truck hurtled past, spraying us with slush. After a few minutes the owl took flight and stooped up onto a roadside wire. Graham was naturally delighted to get such excellent views, despite the worsening weather. After a bit of posing the owl printed off across the road and into another distant tree and we thought we’d peaked.

We were so preoccupied with notes, sketches and reviewing photos that we didn’t notice that the owl had returned and was now sat mid-road on a convenient wire. The angle was good and the photo op taken, the results are below.

For Graham it was a life bird, for me another one of quite a few I’ve visited in Quebec and Ontario, and the thrill of the experience never diminishes. To understand why this owl is so revered by UK birders you have to remember that the last vagrant there was a Shetland bird in 1983, a record very well documented with some stunning photographs, the envy of all who didn’t see it.

As it may be the last time I see Graham, what with our move and the difficulty in him getting to crew to Montreal, the Hawk Owl is a fitting tick to remember some great birding trips by. If anyone is thinking of going out there for a look, it is well worth it. The area if favours is open, the bird seems healthy and was active and the road is broad enough to be able to get over. Sightings of it are usually found at http://quebecoiseaux.org/index.php?option=com_oiseauxrares&Itemid=133 with some directions and reference points, good luck if you try.

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