Bird-Loving Readers, I think I may have already said this, and pardon me if I did, but my absolutely favorite part of going out birding is the very first question my husband asks me when I come home: “so, what did you see today?” It’s a question I love because it gives me the chance to relive my day spent in nature, to revisit the newly discovered birds I’ve added to my roster, to look up pictures for him in Sibley’s magnum opus (for all my issues with Sibley’s calendar and the fact that he chose Canada Geese as the bird to represent my birthday month, I still love Sibley. Who doesn’t have a bird-crush on David Sibley?), to replay the day one more time along with all its “almost-seen” moments, my binocular mishaps and anything else I can think of.
About ten days ago, on the coldest winter day Ontario has seen thus far, in -23 Celcius weather, I went to Amherst Island with my intrepid birding pals. Amherst Island is an island on Lake Ontario near Kingston. I never even knew it existed before! The island is famous for its owls — usually one can get five or six species in a single day! We, of course, only managed to catch a glimpse of two owls (and one of those was an owl flying over my head, so we didn’t exactly make meaningful eye contact), but the day was still worth it. Even though I nearly froze my feet and we ended up stuck on the 401 in one of the ugliest snow storms I’ve ever seen. Even though my feet were so numb I couldn’t feel them. Here’s who I did see:
That would be a Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus). I think his eyes may have been closed, and of course instead of green leaves on the trees, there was only snow and more snow to be seen, but I stood right under him and marveled. I was partly stunned by the bird’s particular coloring, but mainly couldn’t get over the fact that I had woken up at 4:25 that morning, was standing in weather so cold that my binoculars froze and became useless, and that I was nowhere near getting bored of birds. I wanted to tell the Saw-whet owl that we would see each other again. That this was only the beginning.
And then, on our way out of the woods, I saw a strange looking bird that looked like a cross between a peacock and a chicken. OK, that’s perhaps not the most observant or sophisticated way to refer to a bird, but that’s seriously what it looked like at first glance. It turned out to be my first sighting of a Ring-Neck Pheasant!
(Thanks to Tom Grey for the fabulous photo!) I’d only ever seen a pheasant on my dinner plate, and that was in France, where I pretty much tasted a little of everything, so pheasant didn’t faze me. The pheasant was dashing, unexpected and delightfully social. It was a great day in spite of (or on account of?) all the birds we didn’t see.