Monday, December 19, 2011

Back in the Sault

It's that time of year again - exams are over and winter is (supposed to be) setting in. This year, however, things are still pretty green! I arrived home in the Sault on December 16, and on the 17th was leading my route for the annual Christmas Bird Count. My route includes a fair stretch of the St. Mary's River and a few woodlots among the many houses, and is normally one of the most productive routes on the count in terms of diversity. This year was to be no different, and after all was said and done I managed to turn up 39 species - a new single-route record for the Sault! (previous record was 37, on this same route) Some highlights were Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Hoary Redpoll, Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings, House Sparrow (yes, that is a highlight up here...), Dark-eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, White-winged Crossbill and Snowy Owl! Seems like most of the birds I saw were highlights!

The next day I decided to get out for a few hours to see what else I could turn up. My original intention was to do a clean sweep of the waterfront, but I never made it out of my first stop at Whitefish Island! There were a few highlights here as you've probably guessed, the first of which came when I stopped to photograph a pair of Common Ravens (which I have not managed to get a picture of before apparently...). After a minute of taking pictures, they took off and made a few half-hearted dives toward the ground nearby. Interesting, I thought - maybe there is a Snowy Owl sitting there. I slowly walked over, and stopped when I got to the spot where they had been diving. There was nothing there, or so I thought until something huge and brown exploded out from behind a shrub. Great Horned Owl!!!! #194 for my Whitefish Island list and a great winter bird for the Sault. It landed not too far away, and the two Ravens were immediately harassing it. As I watched, they made a few passes at the owl before the owl got fed up and attacked back! The Ravens eventually left it alone for a while and I watched as it managed to catch some small creature and then settled down for a nap. I managed to show it to a few passers-by as well as my parents before I had to move on. The owl was still there an hour or so later when Kirk went to see it.

 One of the Common Ravens

Great Horned Owl, fresh out of the shrub

Ravens harassing the owl

The owl fights back!

Just after catching a meal

Sleepy owl

I continued on my route around the island, managing to find the resident Wood Duck for the winter list, some Black Ducks, Glaucous, Thayer's and Great Black-backed Gulls, White-throated Sparrow, American Robin and both species of Redpoll. On the way back to the car, I spotted one of the resident Red Foxes near the feeders. A family was sitting there feeding the chickadees, and when they moved off a bit the foxes surprisingly came in to the feeder and started eating sunflower seeds that had been scattered on the ground! I managed to get into a pretty good position, lying on the snow near the seed. The foxes eventually warmed up to me and came in quite close, not bothered by the constant clicking of the shutter. After about half an hour, I was getting cold and slowly got up and left - the foxes barely even flinched as I walked away! Definitely a good welcome home.

The Chickadees are quite tame, looking for handouts


Interesting Mallard...hermaphrodite maybe?

Black Ducks stand out pretty well amongst the Mallards

 My first view of the fox

After a minute or two they came right in!

The second fox was quite shy, but after about 15 minutes it came in as well

This was about 7 feet from where I was laying!

Taken at 70mm to show how close I was!

Yummm...sunflower seeds...

In all my years of going to the Locks, this is the first time I've gotten within 50 feet of the foxes - usually I just catch glimpses of them running away, or see them sitting out on the paths!

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