It seemed odd to hear an outboard motor and watch a small aluminum boat navigating around the wharf at the same time as I was watching a Snowy Owl resting in the sunshine but that’s what happened recently when I visited LaSalle Marina and park in Burlington, Ontario.
Snowy Owls Visit Lake Ontario
For the past three years, it’s been fairly easy to find a Snowy Owl at certain parks along the shores of Lake Ontario. By that, I mean if you checked these parks every day, you’d probably see a Snowy Owl once a month.
These are big birds but they are easy to miss. Unlike many raptors, they often perch on the ground or on a dock, even if there are taller structures nearby. Their white and brownish-black colouring isn’t as vivid as you might expect, even on a bare recently-ploughed field: it’s easy to mistake them for a plastic bag or bucket, or a patch of snow.
Can you spot the owl? (You can click on the photo to get a slightly larger view.) I saw it right away and was so excited that it was still there as the last report I’d seen was from the night before. (Yes, it’s that white bump on the rocks near the tree on the left.)
Personally, although I’ve spotted two Snowy Owls without anyone pointing a finger or a lens at them, I’ve only detected them in locations where I knew they had been seen recently: at Bronte Marina and now at LaSalle Marina. I’m still hoping some day to be the first person to report an owl. As the Snowies are now floating back north, it’s not likely to happen this year.
What Do Snowy Owls Eat In Southern Ontario?
I grew up hearing about Snowy Owls and lemmings. Every nature show, text book and magazine article about Snowies seemed to talk about the food cycle: if the lemmings died off, the starving Snowy Owls came south in search of food.
So I always thought if I was looking for a Snowy Owl I should be checking fields full of voles and mice. When I noticed the reports of Snowy Owls spotted on the docks at Colonel Sam Smith Park in Etobicoke, Lakefront Promenade in Mississauga, Bronte Outer Harbour Marina in Oakville and LaSalle Marina in Burlington, I wondered why. That’s when I learned that Snowy Owls also hunt many types of birds.
I found this combination of Snowy Owl, steel mill and Greater Scaup quite intriguing.
According to the AllAboutBirds website, Snowy Owls eat quite a variety of birds including gulls, ducks, shore birds and geese. I read a report of a local Snowy Owl attacking a Canada Goose.
There are many reports of Snowy Owls hunting in farm fields so not all of them are after birds. It may just be easier for those of us living in cities to find Snowies near the Lake as there are no large open areas for these big owls to patrol.
Boaters Get Best View But Keep a Respectful Distance
When I heard a small boat start up at the marina and move out into the harbour, I wondered if they knew there was an owl close by. Sure enough, the boat moved towards the small man-made island where the Snowy was perched. I tightened my grip on my camera and tried to get ready to take pictures when the bird flew.
The Snowy did rise uneasily to its feet. The boat kept approaching but didn’t charge at the bird. The Snowy stiffened, leaning forward. And then, to my surprise, the boat eased back away. They had been quite close to the bird but when they saw they were disturbing it too much, they retreated. After a minute, the Snowy settled back into its semi-somnolent state. And I gave mental thanks to the boaters.
A Snowy Owl Against Stelco
I’m not actually sure if that’s Stelco or another company in the background but it made quite a contrast to the peaceful owl.
When I left, the bird was still resting peacefully. It made a perfect picture in my mind’s eye, even if I couldn’t quite capture it on film.
Have you seen any Snowy Owls this year? Were they likely hunting meadow mice or dabbling ducks? Please share your sighting with a comment.