Our day of birding in Ottawa was going wonderfully – we had gotten incredible views of both Great Gray Owl and Boreal Owl, and still had two more major targets lined up for the day. We were running out of daylight, but drove over to the Old Quarry Trail in southwest Ottawa, hoping to find the Northern Hawk Owl that has been hanging out there. If we managed to get the owl quickly, we also hoped to try for a female Black-backed Woodpecker that was over-wintering at another trail system nearby. Once we arrived at the hawk owl location, we had no idea where to go or what to do. The park seemed fairly large and there were at least three different trails leading away from the parking area. Unfortunately none of the eBird checklists had given any detailed comments on where exactly the owl typically spent its time, so we just decided to head down the center trail and walk around until we could find it.
Many of the pines along the trail were chewed up by porcupines and we even saw a porcupine sleeping up in a spruce. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers called from around the area and some crows flew past in the distance. We rounded a corner and the forest opened up into a beautiful boreal bog. Snags stuck up from all around and the habitat looked really great. We figured this had to be where the owl was, but after a quick scan around with our binos, it was clear there was no hawk owl there. We decided to split up and cover more ground, but then one of the birders in our group, Annette Mathes, got a phone call from Chad Kauffman. Chad had headed off in another direction before we all had walked out into the bog, and found the owl! We all turned around and pretty much ran in Chad’s direction. When we got there, we were blown away. This wasn’t going to be some far-off, scope-only hawk owl – instead, the bird was perched at the very top of a larch tree, surveying the field below him and close enough to get really great looks through binos!
The setting sun created beautiful lighting. Our group set up our scopes nearby and started shooting off photos, and taking video as the hawk owl just did its own thing. I took the short video posted above using my iPhone 4S and a Swarovski spotting scope. For the next 15 minutes, hardly a word was spoken by any of the 21 birders in our group other than the occasional ooo’s and ahh’s. Meanwhile, the hawk owl ignored our presence and continued to scan the fields and stands of larches around the area. A few Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills flew over, and a distant flock of waxwings passed by just a little too far to ID properly. This was Canada at its finest.
With only about an hour left of daylight, we reluctantly headed back to our cars to drive to the Black-backed Woodpecker spot. We left the hawk owl perched in its larch and trudged our way back through the snow. I couldn’t help but occasionally stopping and glancing back to get just one last look at the hawk owl.
Once we got the the woodpecker spot, we quickly hiked out to where it was supposed to be spending most of its time, but the forest was completely quiet. We found the tell-tale signs of where a black-back had stripped the bark off of spruces, and even found some white-wash on the sides of the trees but couldn’t find the woodpecker. It was getting darker and (amazingly) even colder, so we all decided to call it a day and head back to the cars. After all, we still had a lengthy drive to Algonquin Provincial Park left to do that evening. Please check back for more info and photos from our trip!