One of my greatest joys living at Riding Mountain National Park is to head out for some “slow travel”, where I drive slowly to a random location, get out of my car and just slowly listen, walk, or snowshoe. Riding Mountain National Park is a large national park where things become so much clearer in the months between November and April. It may be that you get to see tracks in the snow from wolves, grouse, or lynx – tracks you would never notice at other times of the year. A bird on a branch. A raven calls. Things seem to be more intense, quiet, and there are less distractions. It is a wonderfully rejuvenative time of year. Yesterday, I had a quiet encounter with a spruce grouse. The male is colourful. It’s a bird that lives in boreal (coniferous forests). Notice that this one is on a jack pine branch. This bird, as described by Cornell University’s All About Birds site is the north-eastern species. “Two distinct subspecies of Spruce Grouse exist. “Franklin’s Grouse,” D. c. franklinii, found in the southwestern portion of the range, in the mountains from Alberta southward, has an all black tail with small white spots on the feathers overlying it. The northeastern subspecies, D. c. canadensis, has a rufous tip to the tail and lacks white spots above the tail.”
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.
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!