Owl watching season

Owls fascinate me. They are definitely a passion of mine from a photographic perspective. But, I think that what I love most about owls is their behaviour. We learn lots from just simply sitting and observing them. This is a time of year when there are three owls that I look for – great gray owls; northern hawk owls; and great horned owls. Great grays and hawk owls are both active during the day time. Because the the leaves are off the trees, they are easier to see. Northern hawk owls can be seen in Riding Mountain during the winter months.

How to watch for owls

What is involved in looking for owls? A good pair of eyes – knowing what to look for, and learning to look at the landscape to distinguish the shape of an owl; being out at the right time of day for nocturnal owls (great horned owls, or spring arrivals of saw-whet or boreal owls); having a pair of bright field binoculars and a spotting scope; a field guide – either book or electronic editions; and being warmly dressed. Often, you are standing outdoors for short periods of time. By being warmly dressed, you’ll be able to persist and watch.

Great_gray_owl_Riding Mountain_©Celes Davar

Great gray owl in spruce

Here is a photograph of a great gray owl I noticed, as I was driving along. It swooped low across the road and then up into a spruce tree. If I had not noticed its flight, I likely would not have noticed it in the tree. It is very well camouflaged.

Earth Rhythms creates small group photo safaris to learn how to use your digital camera in new ways. Along the way we spot birds, photograph tracks, and share stories about Riding Mountain wildlife. Bring your family or friends. Combine it with a stay at a local resort or a visit with friends in the area. Call us at 1.888.301.0030, or visit Earth Rhythms online. Happy owling!


Northern Hawk Owl exciting winter resident

Northern Hawk Owl - Riding Mountain biosphere reserve

Northern Hawk Owl - Riding Mountain biosphere reserve. ©Celes Davar



Winter is a great season for walking on water and photographing aerial predators in Riding Mountain National Park.  As I was leaving the Lake Audy warden station today after having done some program planning with Angela Spooner, the Resource Conservation and Visitor Safety Specialist at Lake Audy, she tipped me off that there might be a Hawk Owl in the area.  So, with my 100-400 IS lens carefully on the ready, and my new Canon HF100 Vixia video camera, I somewhat expectantly headed home hoping to grab a “far off” frame of a delightful bird.

Imagine my surprise when, after carefully scanning the tops of trees, I spotted this beautiful bird that also goes by the names of Hawk Owl, and even “Canadian Owl”.  About 15 inches long, and with a wing-span of about 17 inches, it looks more like a falcon when it stretches out in flight, as I observed it in flight twice.  

Ken Kingdon, local birding enthusiast and coordinator of the wildlife health program at Riding Mountain National Park says, ” Northern Hawk Owls, although not seen every year, are a fairly frequent visitor to the region during the winter.   They generally favour habitats made up of forest patches and open fields, where they can be seen sitting high in the trees during daylight hours.  The area where the owl was photographed appears to suit Hawk Owls well – different owls have over-wintered in this area, off and on, over at least the last 10 years.  What makes these owls special is that they can be regularly spotted during the day, hunting for small rodents.  These owls nest in the boreal forest to the North of the Park, and there are no records of them nesting in the Park.

It seems to like to perch in aspen trees at the edge of fields.  Good view of potential food sources like voles and actually other birds (may be as much as 90% of their winter diet).  Even birds as large as sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse in addition to the usual diet of small rodents are fare for this winter predator. My thought is that because there are several farms with barns in the area, that there might be bird feeders or birds hanging around the barns that make them a perfect target for an adept predator like a Northern Hawk Owl. Also, the local area is open and there are sharp-tailed grouse along with, at this time of the year, snow buntings.

If you are interested in learning more about the Northern Hawk Owl, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or  Owling.  Lots of good information at both of those sites.

Earth Rhythms offers a year-round wildlife watch/photo safari with Celes Davar.  This is a customized outing in the mornings usually, to slowly meander looking for wildlife, birds, photographing and sharing stories about the wildlife and ecology of the Riding Mountains.  Call Earth Rhythms at 1.204.848.4680 to book your personal wildlife outing.  We never know what we may see…even if it’s just the tracks.  There is always a story.