We made our way across the border today — having heard that one or more Great Gray owls had dropped down from the sub-polar region, and was being seen occasionally in a swanky sub-rural part of Montreal, near the Arboretum. These birds only come this far south every few years. So the chance to see one is a special treat. None of the three of us had ever had the pleasure.
We got close to the part of town we were targeting. Then, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a road that was one of the lesser of our “target areas”. We decided we’d drive along it for a ways, just to work our way get back to the prime territory.
No sooner did we comment on how annoying it was that people sometimes ogle at mansions in neighborhoods like this (exactly what some of us were doing) rather than watching for birds, than Louanne said, “What’s that on that fence post by the road? Is it a bird … Is it a big bird … Is it an owl?” To which Ali added, “Oh My God, it’s a Great Gray!”
We abruptly dropped anchor in the middle of said mansion-draped winding little suburban street and stared. The owl was about 100 feet into a field on our right. We watched from the car expecting it to spook and fly away at any moment, and then slowly climbed out, grabbed a scope, cameras, etc. and tiptoed to a better spot (Mercedes birdmobile left in the street with trunk open). We got a few looks at the owl. Then, it flew. We gasped. It landed…. Closer than before! Phew.
Clearly, it couldn’t care less about us. It just sat on a post about 75 feet away, and kept hunting. Then it moved to a post even closer. Louanne proclaimed it owlgasmic! The deep eye circles and bright yellow eyes were astoundingly expressive — with a super-owly “I’m above all that that beholds me” attitude.
It pounced again. Seemed to miss that time. Remounted its pole. Sat for another 10 minutes, and then flew off to the top of a tree a couple hundred yards away. I snapped some shots, and when I got home, sure enough, it had another mouse in its beak as it flew off.
Louanne’s on-line sources said that the Great Gray is North America’s largest owl — stands 3′ tall with a 5 foot wingspan. The birds weigh less than two pounds, but is so formidable that it will drive bears away from its nest. In its homelands, the Great Gray is known as the “Phantom of the North”, and the “Specter Owl”. It was an awesome life bird for three of us!
Chouette lapone trouvé!
Three Mad Birders from central Vermont — Ali Wagner, Louanne Nielsen, and Scott Sainsbury — spent last Sunday looking for Great Gray Owls in Quebec. Here is a guest post by Scott describing their successful outing.