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First Birds of 2011!

January 12, 2011

I almost didn’t make it out birding on Saturday. On my way to our carpool meeting place I saw a Mercedes SUV flipped on its side, tires tangled in snow; not exactly an auspicious sight at 7:15 a.m. Given that my honda civic is about one tenth the size of the SUV, I felt a little intimidated and nearly made a u-turn and drove straight home. But boy am I happy I didn’t. My first birding day of 2011 was amazing! Of course it ended with a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) chase that nearly rendered me comatose, but such is the trying life of a somewhat birder. Imagine scanning miles and miles of this:

(OK, it didn’t *quite look like that* since we were on Ravenshoe Rd. somewhere near Whitby which looks more like the Tundra, but all the Tundra pictures I could find online had moose in them, and I wouldn’t want to mislead you and give you the wrong idea about this birding trip of ours.) Imagine the above scenario with about a dozen crazed all-terrain vehicles working their magic. In any event we were looking for this:

I don’t know how good you are at seeing white on white, but I found this (hour long) exercise to be pretty challenging, verging on stultifying. In the end, our fearless leader saw what he thinks was a snowy owl, but it was too far away for me to see anything other than a white blob on a white carpet of snow. A bit on the underwhelming side of the spectrum. Thank heavens there was a flock of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) in all their black and white glory, circling around the snowy fields.

Now for the awesomeness, of which there was plenty. Remember my fascination with Cedar Waxwings? Well, I met their immediate kin, the fabulously striking Bohemian Waxwings (Bombicilla garrulus). Like its Cedar counterpart, the Bohemian waxwing sports a stunning hairdo that rivals any fancy artistry that my hairdresser Loretta is able to come up with. Check him out in all his glory:

You’ll notice that the Bohemian waxwing is more corpulent (and grayer in coloring) than the Cedar variety. And possibly a bit louder, too. Anyhow, they were having a sing-a-thon out there, early on a Saturday morning in the freezing cold. We stood around for about 20 minutes and continued on our merry way. From there, things went wild: we saw Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus) in large numbers, Common Redpolls (Acanthis flammea), which looked anything but common to me, and the coolest sight for a novice birder — a fantastic Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) UPSIDE DOWN, drumming away at a suet feeder! There he was, looking approximately like this (thanks mudder_bbc on flickr for providing the photo):

Only he was so much larger and more spectacular and, obviously, louder than this! I feel like Hairy woodpecker is misnomer — shouldn’t it have been Hairy Waxwing instead of bohemian, and perhaps Bohemian woodpecker instead instead of hairy? There’s no logic to bird names. And in case you need a refresher on the difference between the Hairy and Downy woodpeckers, hairy is basically a downy but just bigger. There were a bunch of blue jays flying around all this action, but the jays resembled gargantuan monsters next to the elegant, delicate 12-14 cm long Common Redpolls and marginally larger Evening grosbeaks.

All of these birds, including the stupendous Hawk Owl (oh no, I have no idea if it’s a Brown Hawk Owl or a Northern Hawk Owl — I’ll get back to you) we communed with on our way into the greater Orillia area are LIFE BIRDS for me! First time sightings! 2011 is off to a splendid start (in spite of the damage done to the poor SUV).

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 3:08 pm

    What a spectacular birding day! Northern Hawk Owl is one of my favorites (Brown Hawk Owl is accidental in Alaska and otherwise unknown in the Americas).
    The photo from flickr is actually of a Downy Woodpecker: see how fluffy the feathers are at the base of the short bill? The origin of the names Hairy and Downy is quite interesting; the names actually refer to the feathers of the back.

    • January 13, 2011 6:33 pm

      Thanks so much for setting me straight re: hawk owl! I had a feeling the flickr photo was a Downy, given the size and all. You and Alison should come out to Ontario at some point! Who knew the birds in this part of the province were great year round!

  2. January 13, 2011 5:09 pm

    Congrats on the Bohemian Waxwing siting! That would be truly unforgettable. You really are an intrepid birder – I wouldn’t drive in that stuff except for life and death emergency!

    • January 13, 2011 6:34 pm

      I’m still not sure what possessed me to keep going once I saw that SUV on its side. It was probably the adrenaline of getting up at 6:45 am and also the knowledge that my dear husband would laugh at me all day long (and the next day and the next) if I woke up that early and *didn’t* make it anywhere but back to bed!

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