Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Quest for Owls Continues

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Location: Fisherville Raptor Preserve in Haldimand County
Getting There: On Concession Road 6, near Fisherville. Signage was down and covered with snow.
Species of Note: Red-tailed Hawks actively hunting, American Tree Sparrows, and an undetermined owl species.
Obscurity Rating: 5/5 - Not on the maps, no website, you have to search old birding listserv messages to find directions to this place! Trails unsigned.
Data: eBird Checklist

Every once and a while I'll be posting an entry about a trail that's not in Hamilton -- it's nice to get away on the weekend, and while I'm aiming to get a hike in every day, I'm not aiming for all of them to be in Hamilton. Just most of them!

In our continuing adventures to see an owl in its natural habitat, we headed for a place I had only heard whispers about on many a birding blog or listserv -- the Fisherville Raptor Preserve. From what I can figure out about this place, it is a former farm that has been now set aside as prime habitat for raptors: owls, hawks, and falcons.

As a habitat, it doesn't disappoint. Right away just off the road onto a trail we were treated to the sight of a small group of winter birds, American Tree Sparrows. These little sparrows were feeding from what most people would consider weeds -- dead goldenrod plants and the like. These weren't the birds we were ultimately seeking, but they're a good sign. Sparrows are often owl food!

We began hearing some odd noises coming from the direction of some woods at the back of the property. It could have been an owl, we couldn't be sure, so it was time to start hiking in to get a closer listen.

 Continuing on the trail we heard some new scary-sounding screeching within minutes. It was clear there were hawks nearby -- namely, Red-tailed Hawks. Two of them were calling back and forth. I don't know a whole lot about Red-tailed Hawk society, other than you don't often see two of them together. We couldn't clearly tell if the exchange was just two mates communicating, or two rivals declaring the territory theirs. It was fun to listen to, nonetheless.

Also fun to watch is the reaction some other birds have. This was around the time we spotted some Blue Jays in the area, who were none-too-happy about the hawk situation. Blue Jays are smart birds, often known to make hawk-like calls whenever they see (but not hear) a hawk in order to warn others. Due to the exchange we had already heard, it became unclear -- was the screeches we were hearing two hawks talking to each other, or a hawk and a jay? We could only see one actual hawk, but the other's call was just too far away and too loud to be a believable Blue Jay warning call.

A few minutes later we began hearing something familiar again -- the odd sounds coming from the back woods. It's hard to describe the sound we heard, other than to say they did not sound un-owl-like. As we searched the woods through binoculars for the source of the sound we briefly caught a glimpse of something large flying up, and further back into the woods. Since we did not hear the mysterious sounds as loudly as before, it appears that our potential owl has moved further away.

It had been an hour, the weather hard turned to a messy wet-snow-rain combination, so we packed it in for the day. Someday we'll be back, maybe we'll find out when next a proper birding group is scheduled to visit here, and join the professionals on the hunt.

(No pictures on this one.. sorry!)

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