On the Trail of Snowy Owls in Ontario

snowy owl near brooklyn, ontario

An irruption of Snowy Owls in southern Ontario in the winter of 2017/2018 gave Bob and I huge expectations of seeing one.  Reports had been pouring in from all across the province, so we made plans to go touring with friends in the hopes of turning up a couple.

On the designated day, we were up before the crack of dawn and made our way to the Kawartha Lakes region near Lindsay, Ontario.  Everyone rendezvoused at a local coffee shop before setting off in a convoy of two cars.  For several hours, all we saw were empty farm fields.

a red-tailed hawk on a silo in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Out of desperation, our group piled from the cars to photograph a distant Red-tailed Hawk on the lee side of a very tall silo.

an american kestrel in kawartha lakes region of ontario

While driving the network of lanes and county roads, we noticed a panicked flock of European Starlings that drew our attention to this small falcon, an American Kestrel.

a red-tailed hawk in kawartha lakes region of ontario

The benefit of birding with fellow birdwatchers is the increased chance of sighting any number of avian species.  The more eyes searching the landscape, the better.  I had been so focused on scanning the farm fields that this Red-tailed Hawk totally escaped my attention.

a red-tailed hawk flying over kawartha lakes region in ontario

Good thing one of our friends picked it out so we had the chance for a couple of photos.

a well-camouflaged snowy owl in kawartha lakes region of ontario

But back to Snowy Owls.  The first one located on this overcast day was so well camouflaged that only previous knowledge of its whereabouts had our friend, Wendy, pointing it out to the rest of us.  The owl so much resembles a clump of snow that most casual observers would never pick it out.  This was Snowy Owl #1!

snowy owl on a barn in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Snowy Owl #2 that day stood out a little more where it perched on top of a barn.  Still, Bob and I would have overlooked it so busy were we searching fence posts and utility poles.

a snowy owl on a barn roof in kawartha lakes region of ontario

This heavily barred female was keenly aware of us as we stood at the side of the road with cameras aimed in her direction.

a snowy owl on a snag in kawartha lakes region of ontario

The lack of sunshine on this dull winter’s day did nothing to accentuate the beautiful plumage of a Snowy Owl or any bird for that matter.  The forecast for a clear, bright day went by the wayside when a storm front moved in and light snow began to fall.  Snowy Owl #3 gave us the best views yet that day, perched right at the edge of the road on a weathered snag.

a snowy owl takes flight in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Though we faced very little traffic plying the series of country roads that day, still, it was the passing of a vehicle that alarmed this Snowy Owl causing her to take flight.

a snowy owl takes flight in kawartha lakes region of ontario

The wingspan is right impressive when viewed from this angle.

a snowy owl flying in kawartha lakes region of ontario

We quickly lost sight of the Snowy Owl when it flew off to the west, but then it caught us off guard when it came soaring in over the empty field on the other side of the road.  Quick reflexes resulted in this photo.

a snowy owl perched on a hydro pole in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Having separated from half of our group shortly after lunchtime, it was just Wendy, Bob and me left scouring the farm fields for these Arctic predators that have come south for the winter months.  Snowy Owl #4 was found sitting on a hydro pole between the snow-covered road and a windblown field.

a snowy owl perched on a hydro pole in kawartha lakes region of ontario

It obliged us by staying put for a very long time.  Another motorist happened by and stopped her car in order to share some information.  This Snowy Owl, she said, had been perched on the hydro pole when she passed by a good hour or more earlier.  Still, the Owl did not offer to move even as we had our cameras poised for a flight shot.

a hairy woodpecker male on a dead snag in kawartha lakes region of ontario

A momentary diversion came in the form of a Hairy Woodpecker pecking a rhythmic series of taps on a long-dead tree trunk behind us.

a snowy owl flying low in kawartha lakes region of ontario

When at last the Snowy Owl launched from the hydro pole, we were too slow to capture the action.  It did, however, swoop low over the adjacent field,

a snowy owl in a field in kawartha lakes region of ontario

and landed to investigate something of interest.

photographers in kawartha lakes region in ontario

Wendy and I were poised with cameras ready for whatever might happen next.

a crow harassing a snowy owl in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Perhaps with prey in its talons, the Snowy Owl made off for the far end of the field and landed perfunctorily on top of a telephone pole.  An American Crow was having none of it and repeatedly swooped in close to the Owl.

a crow harassing a snowy owl in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Several times, the Crow harassed the Owl; the Owl stood tall and held its ground.  Eventually, the Crow dove down to the ground at the base of the telephone pole and snatched something out of the snow.

 a snowy owl on a fence post in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Obviously, maintaining surveillance over its territory, the Snowy Owl flew back the distance from the far end of the fallow field and assumed its place on a fence post.

jean and wendy smile at the camera in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Jean and Wendy were happy that this Snowy Owl had put on such a great show.  It was now time for us to go our separate ways.

snowy owl on crest of a hill in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Bob and I were grateful for all the help that our friends gave us over the course of the day, but I’ve got to tell you that the satisfaction I felt when I spotted a Snowy Owl on my own was very satisfying.  I had picked out the silhouette of Snowy Owl #5 where it huddled on the gentle slope of a rolling hill.

a snowy owl on crest of a hill in kawartha lakes region of ontario

Quite a distance separated the Owl from the highway, but it was keenly aware of our movements as we trudged along the shoulder of the road in an attempt to position the Snowy Owl with the black tree branches behind it.   Using my unipod, I took careful aim for the dwindling light did nothing to compensate for the camera shake.  And then we continued on our way.

a snowy owl on a road sign in brooklyn, ontario

Both Bob and I had pretty well abandoned our efforts to spot Snowy Owls for the remainder of our drive home, but a casual glance out the side window as we passed through Brooklyn had Bob exclaiming, “is that a Snowy Owl?”

a snowy owl on a road sign in brooklyn, ontario

A prompt u-turn was safely carried out, and then we parked some 300 feet away from this Snowy Owl #6 of the day and stealthily opened the car doors to take some photographs.  The owl was very cooperative and glanced our way in between searching the adjacent meadow habitat for prey.

a snowy owl on a road sign in brooklyn, ontario

Though the weather had not been agreeable with the lack of blue sky and sunshine, we felt blessed to have seen six of these magnificent creatures in one day.  Given that they are one of the largest species of owls in North America, Snowy Owls are downright impressive!  And we had found two on our own!  That was something to be proud of, too.


Long-eared Owl at Tommy Thompson Park

Eastern Screech Owl Red Morph In Burlington

Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean


  • Hello,

    At work 5:30 am Tuesday March 15 … while outside sweeping garbage from around the compactor … a huge snowy owl flew a few feet above me! I knew what it was right away as not only did it swoop on top of the building but it was looking down towards me. Absolutely breathtaking!!

    Mississauga (Hurontario/Superior)

  • Hi…my name is Alex and I live in Orleans Ontario. I used to live just outside of Richmond, Ontario just outside of the west end of Ottawa on Rushmore Road. When I lived on Rushmore we were very lucky because it was a little sanctuary or something of the sort for Snowy Owls. They would come there every year ( and I think all year, but not sure) and they would land right in our backyard sometimes and leave beautiful “snow angel” type prints with their wings in the snow, right outside our patio door. Many times when coming home they would fly right in front of the car, very low and even fly in the same direction of the vehicle just ahead of us. This was amazing and really enjoyed it. As I said I have now moved to Orleans and funny enough there is also frequent sightings of snowy owls in the neighbourhood I live in. I saw one this morning when I was on a walk. I have a question. When I lived on Rushmore Road in the West end and there was a sighting of a snowy owl, people would come from all over in minutes to see it. Within a short period of time there was cars lined up and down the road and people had cameras on tripods and it was suddenly quite busy. I am assuming they were all part of a club or a group of some sort that gave alerts as to when there was a sighting. I would really like to be part of this group and get the same alerts and also send them. Can anyone tell me how to get involved? I would be interested in seeing other rare birds as well.



    • Hi Alex. Thank you for such an interesting and lengthy comment. It is nice to “get to know” some of our readers. You can sign up for Ontario Rare Bird Alert through ebird. People can send emails whenever they find a rare bird, and if signed up, you will receive them fairly promptly. Or you can sign up and access a list like this one, https://ebird.org/alert/summary?sid=SN35610. Hope this helps.

  • On my dock this morning April 23rd 2018was less than 10 feet away from a male Snowy Owl.
    Shore of Lake Huron around the 45th parallel, just looking at each other until a nosy crow decided to “bomb” the intruder.
    Owl flew off the peace of Lyle Island.
    next time will have my camera with me!!!

    • That is so exciting, Peter. What a way to start the day! We’ve never been that close to a Snowy Owl, but when it is their choice to land near you, all you can do is rejoice and soak up the moment.

  • Great photos. I’m sure you had a great time locating them.

    A friend and I have spotted snowy owls around the 401 corridor over the past few weeks.
    401/Islington Ave
    401/Weston Rd
    400/Finch Ave
    Unfortunately we were driving at the time, so no photographic evidence is available.

    • thanks for sharing your sightings with us. We have heard of very many owls being sighted this year owing to the irruption occurring in southern Canada and the northern United States. So nice to see such beauties in our midst.

  • john van den tweel

    male snowy owl spotted March 13th , 2018 newcastle ontario
    thought you’d like to know
    only my second sighting, first one was 3 years ago


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