After one failed attempt a week ago, Bob and I made our way back to the shores of Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering to see if we could spot the Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca) that has been making its stay there for weeks. We drove to a little park on the east shore of the bay, and started scanning with our binoculars.
This was our view of Frenchman’s Bay when we first arrived at Progress Frenchman’s Bay East Park. It took a good 20 minutes of scanning the surface of the frozen bay before I picked out what I thought to be the hard-to-distinguish white owl. It was on the ice on the far side of the bay, approximately in front of the yacht club.
In order to get close enough for picture taking, we drove around to the yacht club where we walked out on a series of docks for a better vantage point.
The owl was tearing into prey that it had caught earlier in the morning.
Eventually, the Snowy Owl moved off, and as it glided across the bay, we could see the dark-colored prey in the owl’s talons.
The owl landed within sight of other waterfowl that were enjoying the open water of the bay. Only a week earlier, the bay had been completely frozen over. Although eyeing the other birds in its vicinity, the Snowy Owl was still preoccupied with its earlier catch that was still secure in its claws.
It was easy to see why the Snowy Owl had chosen this location to hang out over the winter. There certainly were ample species of birds in the area that the Snowy Owl could choose to feast upon.
In this video that Bob filmed, the Snowy Owl takes in its surroundings on a mild winter’s day.
Despite the drizzly, overcast day, numerous ice fishermen were situated around the western shore of the bay trying for some pike, perhaps for the last time this season before it gets too risky to be on the ice.
The Snowy Owl seemed quite at home within sight of the fishermen, who, when questioned, weren’t even aware of the owl’s presence even though it sat on the ice about a hundred feet from them.
Eventually we made our way over to Bruce Hanscombe Memorial Park, still on the west shore of the bay, and Bob decided to walk out on the frozen surface in order to get a closer look at the owl.
The ice of the bay was literally treacherous to walk upon since all snow had melted and left a glassy, slippery surface. Nevertheless, using the fishermen as a makeshift blind, Bob walked out amongst the undaunted sportsmen, hoping that the owl wouldn’t take notice of his presence.
Snowy Owls have a luxurious feather coat that is ideal for a life in the cold. Their feet are densely feathered to the tips of their toes, and their bills are almost hidden in the warm feathers of the face. Only the searching yellow eyes are fully exposed.
As Bob edged closer to the owl, he was able to see that it was being protective of its spoils, having lowered its wings to shelter the kill from pilferage.
Bob only made movements to adjust the camera or creep closer when the owl had its back turned.
We observed the bird for at least 2 1/2 hours, during which time, the owl was tearing apart and consuming its quarry. It must have been a substantially sized bird that the owl caught that morning.
Snowy Owls appear in southern Canada about one winter in every four, and this correlates with the scarcity of lemmings in the Arctic.
Snowy Owls are as large as Great Horned Owls but lack ear tufts. I think this is an adult female which is more heavily marked than an adult male. Adult males are mostly white, and in some cases immaculately white.
We left the Snowy Owl still secure in its camouflaged position on the frozen bay. We wonder how much longer it will reside there before making its return trip to the Arctic.
Checkout some of our other Owl sightings:
Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean