Snowy owls are larger majestic birds, with great strength, that can be seen against stark prairie backgrounds in the beginning of our winters. A good way to spot snowy owls is to keep an eye on power poles and fence posts as you drive along grid roads and quiet highways. Although they can occasionally be seen on the ground, they are much easier to spot against a clear blue sky.
Northern Saw-whet owls are small cavity nesters with, in my opinion, very expressive faces. We had the pleasure of seeing one of these little owls in its nest cavity on one of our owl excursions north. Members also have the chance to get a closer look at a Saw-whet in early October, when they are being banded.
Barred owls are large owls with quite a round face, dark eyes, brown and white colouring, and brown stripes on a white chest. They can be found in mature mixed forests and there seems to be one that inhabits the forest around the Waskesiu campground.
Northern Hawk owls are a medium-sized owl with a distinct black border around the sides of the face. They can be difficult to spot in silhouette at the top of snags but have been successfully spotted on trips near Montreal Lake, with a little help from Marten Stoffel. However Marten says the birds are quite intelligent and will only fall for his methods once.
Long-eared owls are also a medium-sized owl, darker in colour with orange patches on either side of their face, and ear-like tufts on their head, which can be an easy way to identify them. We have seen them on few different excursions, and they have usually been spotted sitting on a large nest near the top of the canopy of a hardwood tree (such as poplar). They tend to be found in thickets and treed areas.
In contrast, the Short-eared owl is a medium-sized owl which is lighter/white underneath in flight and is a raptor of the prairie landscape. A few lucky members had the pleasure of seeing one at the Northeast Swale, near the grouse lek, during one of the bioblitzes in mid-August.
The last owl I will describe is my personal favourite, the Great Grey. A massive and incredibly magnificent bird; that despite its size manages to camouflage and blend beautifully into a dense and/or snagged old growth conifer forest. Their haunting call echoes through the silence of the night. When on a quest to find one of these birds it is more often heard than seen. We were graced with the clear sight of one on our owl excursion last year.
These winter adventures North are not necessarily for the novice though, as they do require proper planning of clothing layers for fluctuating winter days, meals and snacks, emergency supplies in your vehicle, longer periods in the car, and standing in complete silence as you take in the surroundings and wait to hear or see one of these amazing birds.
I would also like to mention an exciting new addition to our winter field trip roster, Winter Wildlife Tracking led by Renny Grilz! I’m looking forward to brushing up on my tracking skills, which will come in handy on field trips to come!
Saskatoon Nature Society
Connecting People and Nature
Saskatoon Nature Society
Box 27013 Grosvenor Park
Saskatoon, SK S7H 5N9