My First Barred Owl!

Sorry for the misleading title. It should read My First TWO Barred Owls, followed by multiple exclamation marks and excitable squeals. Yes, it was that kind of birding day, which more than made up for the disaster I faced last weekend, wherein I saw very little apart from 20 freezing, overly vociferous Canada Geese. In fact, yesterday was the rare birding day where we managed to see every single one of our target birds.

We spent the bulk of our morning in Thickson’s Woods (and Thickson’s Point), about 40 minutes east of Toronto, in Whitby, where we met Mr. Van der Zweep, a generous and knowledgeable birder from Cornwall (ON), who immediately pointed up at the tree he was standing under, and there it was in all its glory: a BARRED OWL (Strix varia)!

This photo was taken by my birding friend’s office mate who lives in Coburg, Ontario and saw a Barred Owl in his backyard! The one I was yesterday looked quite similar, but we failed to make eye contact, alas. Yesterday’s owl was mostly asleep, and when he did stop to open his eyes, I happened to be elsewhere.

Anyhow, he was majestic and regaled us with a wonderful head-twisting routine. I got a few great looks at his stripey plumage, and decided that I’d like a winter jacket to match his color scheme. I think it could be quite elegant. Speaking of stripes, we also got great looks at about five Fox Sparrows (Passerella iliaca). This wasn’t my first Fox Sparrow sighting, but it was the first time I took the time to admire one and found myself quite taken with its rusty colored streaking on its breast, and its long, somewhat flirtatiously wagging reddish tail.

Photo by Laura Erikson, from here.

(Shortly after the phenomenal Fox Sparrow sighting, I accidentally mistook a wooden owl for a real one — a particularly low point in the morning that I don’t feel the need to dwell on. Sadly, before I realized the owl was made of wood, I announced my sighting to all 15 people around me. This moment of birding glory was also followed by three other rare bird sightings, which turned out to be autumn leaves fluttering to the ground.)

And I saw my first White-Winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera) with its ingeniously curved bill that functions like a hook to extract goodies from coniferous tree cones. And there were Juncos, and a Red-Breasted Nuthatch (my first!), ANOTHER Barred Owl, white-breasted Nuthatch, a gazillion rabid Chickadees (including one who nearly mistook my glasses for a branch), Yellow-Rumped Warblers (STILL!), Pine Siskins, Golden Crowned Kinglets, Harrier Hawks, five Brant (Branta bernicla), and many other avian wonders. I felt badly that I couldn’t muster up the excitement that these five Brant deserved, because by that point in the morning I had been over-stimulated by the Owls and Sparrows. A bit sad how these things happen, but there will be more Brant!

Not only was this the birdiest morning I’ve had all month, but it also happened to be the first time that blue skies graced Toronto in over 8 days! I soaked in all the late-autumn sunshine I could get, and came home happy and ready to attack all my household chores. The chores ended up morphing into a long, long afternoon nap, but I did manage to make a delicious Borscht!

In other, slightly more bookish news, it’s literary awards season in Canada, and if you haven’t read Carrie Snyder‘s moving and tremendously well written, Governor General Award-nominated novel-in-stories, The Juliet Stories, you really ought to! I envy any reader who’s reading the luminous book for the first time.


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