Saturday, 3 February 2018
3 Feb - I've just returned from a fantastic week in Quebec with a photography group, the primary object being the large influx of Snowy Owls this winter. Due to an excellent breeding season, there are a large number of 1st-year Snowies wintering in the northern USA and Canada - this species is generally fairly approachable as it breeds in the high Arctic and is unused to human company. It is a particularly charismatic species with its large size, white plumage and cat-like hypnotic gaze, as well as its aura of inaccessibility and being a very sought-after species due to its rarity. Unfortunately the world population is thought to be declining. The Quebec weather was typical of this time of year - a mixture of blue skies and sparkling snow interspersed with snow fall. The temperatures ranged from + 6 on the warmest day to - 17 on the coldest night with an additional windchill taking it to -27. Layers definitely required and I made the mistake of taking my gloves off for a few minutes and the seriously numb fingers took several hours to recover. The Owls themselves were photogenic in a variety of locations - snowy fields and trees, also telegraph poles and hay bales - anything that made a good vantage point. Fortunately one of the Owls has learnt to come to a supply of dead mice so afforded particularly good photo opportunities. Bald Eagles were also, around particularly the frozen shores of Lake Ontario and a conifer plantation here held a superb little roosting Saw-Whet Owl - very hard to find in the dense branches but nevertheless found by our amazing guide Chris Dodds. Woodland birds are thin on the ground in the winter in northern Canada due to the severity of the weather, but we saw some species around feeders both in Montreal and on the lakeshore. Colourful American Robins were particularly conspicuous in a roving flock, wary as Thrushes always are, Chickadees and Nuthatches were also very active and rather fearless. All in all an amazing experience, the Canadians take severe winter weather in their stride and life functions as normal. And they are very friendly. And the currency features the Queen's head !