What a beautiful specimen of the owl family…a Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa).
This past week, Bob and I lucked out and managed to sight this Great Grey Owl in a forest south of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
On a whim, we had returned once again to Ottawa, Ontario, to enjoy skating on the frozen Rideau Canal. This would be our fifth visit to the city, over a number of years, for the famed winter carnival. Given our interest in bird watching, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snap a picture of this handsome owl carved out of a block of ice.
On our third day in the city of Ottawa, Bob and I decided to check out a greenbelt along the Ottawa River because we had heard that a Great Grey Owl had been sighted in the woods there. As we drove along Rockcliffe Parkway, it surprised us to see open sections of water in the river, but there is a swift current that prevents the center of the waterway from freezing.
A lookout provided along the route to the urban park displayed several signs that tell the history of the area.
Even with open sections of water in the middle of the river, fishermen had set up ice fishing huts all along the shore.
These two intrepid fishermen were engaged in cross-country skiing from their hut back to the edge of the river.
After we parked our car along Rockcliffe Parkway, Bob and I trudged through the deep snow into and through a mixed evergreen and deciduous forest and across a frozen creek bed.
Mild temperatures negated the need for toques or even gloves.
In amongst the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) and pine trees were signs of ample wildlife, judging by the tracks in the snow, and the twittering of various birds as they flitted amongst the branches.
Although the flowers of sumac are fairly unremarkable, come autumn, the fruit turns to shades of red, rose and mahogany.
Numerous sumac bracts or drupes were strewn on the snow with evidence that some small creatures had been eating them. Tiny tracks were left in the snow leading to the sight of each one. Rabbits, birds, squirrels and mice all love to gorge on the energy-rich fruit during the winter months.
I love the endearing sounds emitted by nuthatches, and even as Bob filmed the location, I could hear some of these birds in the vicinity. I was pleased to spot a white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on a nearby tree trunk, but it repeatedly flew between the tree and a spot on the ground that seemed to hold an attraction for it and a number of Black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla).
Deeper in the woods, perched silently in the dappled shade, is where Bob and I located this Great Grey Owl.
After hiking for about a half hour, we were thrilled when we picked out the profile of the owl where it roosted on a branch about midway up a tree. We made a point of keeping our distance and letting our lens do the work for us!
As the owl peered into the distance, I wondered what had caught its interest. A couple of crows were making themselves known, so perhaps the owl was on alert to their potential intrusion. Or perhaps the owl had noticed some possible prey. Great Grey Owls often forage during the daytime, especially during the winter.
The camouflage provided by the Great Grey Owl’s plumage makes a perfect cover as it lurks in the trees waiting for some unsuspecting prey to pass by. The same can be said for all other owls that we have come across, too.
Bob and I cautiously took our leave of the owl, and then circled back behind it so as to have a view of its back. The color pattern on its wings is so intricate and makes the feathers almost iridescent in nature.
If you compare this picture of the Great Grey Owl to that of the Barred Owl we sighted in Thickson’s Woods, in Whitby, Ontario, you can see that the Great Grey Owl is larger and has a distinctly longer tail.
In this video that Bob filmed, you will see that the owl is acutely aware of us but continues to be relaxed as it preens itself. The wind is gently ruffling its feathers.
It was an unusually warm, sunny day allowing us to really enjoy the setting.
Great Grey Owls have a very large facial disc, conspicuous white throat markings and bright yellow eyes. What a majestic and wise looking bird! At times, the owl’s piercing gaze made even me feel uneasy.
Bob and I observed the owl for about 45 minutes, but it was fairly content in its chosen location so stayed put unlike a Great Grey Owl that I had seen less than two weeks ago well Cross-country skiing in Algonquin Provincial Park, near Oxtongue Lake. On that occasion, the Great Grey Owl flew in and landed on a branch above my head, took a good look at me, and then took to the air once again. So we were grateful for this opportunity to get numerous pictures of a member of the same species.
The owl busied itself with preening as the warm breeze ruffled its feathers and the sunshine warmed its back.
In this video that Bob filmed, you get a good opportunity to watch the Great Grey Owl preen its feathers.
At one point, I had to chuckle as the owl appeared to cross its eyes, but before we knew it, the owl was settling in for a sleep.
We left the owl at rest high up in the tree, most certainly getting ready for its next foray into a neighboring meadow where it will hunt meadow mice.
This had been a glorious and very rewarding bird sighting for Bob and I.
Checkout some of our other Owl sightings:
Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean