Yes, dear birders, we were supposed to see a Smew (Mergellus albellus) here in Toronto this morning and… you guessed it. Sadly, the Smew was gone before we arrived at Whitby Harbour, but in its place I finally made eye contact with a glorious Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)! My first Snowy owl ever! (remember? Last year, I spent a good hour and a half looking for a Snowy in a white field, and all I saw was snow!) What a perfect way to end 2011.
I saw a great close-up of the bird (our fearless leader brought a scope!) and watched the owl rotate its neck 270 degrees. The Snowy looked almost like a mechanical toy! It would have been great to catch a glimpse of the Smew, but I wasn’t as disappointed as John Vanderpoel must have been. JV is finishing up his Big Year and the Smew would have brought him into first place! He’s currently at 743 (+1) birds for the year and flew into Toronto yesterday morning to add the Smew to his list. Alas, it was not to be and by 3pm he was en route to Arizona to get a flycatcher of one sort or another. Good luck, John! (Information source: friendly and highly knowledgeable birder [with a charming British accent and a scope] whom we met in Whitby; same birder who wished us a HAPPY SMEW YEAR!) Honestly, the lack-of-smew didn’t disappoint me as much as it would have if the smew in question had been a MALE. Now, here’s a taste-test for you (hint: the male is at the top of the picture):
We continued onward to Thickson’s woods and saw a tremendous Mockingbird sitting atop a tree (a few minutes later, we caught the same delightful Mockingbird chasing a fat Robin). And a Downy, and Chickadees, and Starlings, and a Tree Sparrow (I think!). I forgot to mention the exquisite Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) and Red-Breasted Mergansers (Mergus serrator). We stopped for a delicious breakfast at Scrambles (“Where Ajax meets for Breakfast” and you should too…), located across the street from a rather unfortunately named diner called Daddy’s Little Grill.
Happy New Year everyone! May 2012 be a happy, healthy, bird- and word-filled year!