Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
February 22, 2011
Field Naturalists Brave Wild Winter Winds on Owl and Hawk Trek to Amherst Island
By Cliff Bennett
Blizzard white-outs and blistering Arctic winds didn’t deter over twenty members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists and friends from their quest for hawks and owls on Amherst Island, west of Kingston, on Saturday Feb. 20. After car-pooling at Carleton Place, six vehicles arrived at the Amherst ferry moments before the craft left the terminal to punch its way through the ice to get to the island.
Led by MVFN member Cliff Bennett, the convoy of vehicles slowly circumnavigated the island. The first interesting find was well over one hundred mourning doves flying over the roadway from a scrubby area to visit a couple of bird feeders. Soon the group discovered its first flying raptor, a rough-legged hawk. Soon after, a light-phased red-tailed hawk stirred up into the wind to hover over a farm house.
A search for a single snowy owl, reported previously on the east end of the island, yielded nothing other than nearly frost-bitten cheeks and fingers. However, once the group drove to the south side of the island, conditions improved somewhat. Tipped off by another birder, we drove on in search of a rarity, a northern hawk owl (photo above). We found it easily, perched in a tree near a house, about twelve metres away from us. Everyone got a great view of the owl and dozens of photos were taken.
Hundreds of ducks, mostly golden eyes, were noted in the rolling, ice-filled waters along the shoreline. One single bufflehead duck and a pair of mallards were also recorded. A small flock of common mergansers flew over the ferry dock earlier in the day.
Our next exciting find was a male northern harrier, in field stubble eating a rodent, again only about twelve metres away from us. Harriers are migrants and this is a few weeks early for this beauty to be here. The group also logged a single juvenile trumpeter swan, preening itself in the midst of the small ice floes. Our final exceptional discovery was a pair of American kestrels, also an early arrival.
During the day’s adventure, the group logged twenty-one species of birds on the island including cardinal and snow buntings. The youngest member of the group, nine year old Jacob Cook of Perth, proved to have the sharpest eyes of all when he spotted a pair of adult bald eagles perched in the trees alongside the Indian River on Clayton Road while on the way home.
For further MVFN adventures and lectures, visit mvfn.ca.