Readers’ wildlife photos

June 28, 2022 • 8:00 am

Bring out your dead photos! We need more!

Today’s photos come from reader Paul Matthews. Give him some naches!  Paul’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are a few bird photos of mine, submitted with some trepidation given the professional quality of some other readers’ contributions! There is a theme: predators and warblers, with one species that is the “odd bird out”. All of these photos were taken during the last few months in my home area of Ottawa, Canada.

Owls appeal to just about everybody and there can’t be many birds that are more sought-after than the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa). After I had gone out at least three times this winter to try to see one that had been found in the far-flung outskirts of the area (and after I’d wandered around in the freezing cold in vain with several other searchers), a great grey turned up later in an undeveloped area within walking distance of my house. It stayed a surprisingly long time but this photo was taken when I first got a glimpse of it. It was remarkably well hidden for such a big owl and it took me ages to spot it. The ruckus the crows were making told me that an owl had to be there.

The spot mentioned above proved incredibly good for owls this spring, and this soon brought a lot of people out to see them. Besides the great grey, several Long-eared Owls were present (Asio otus). These are usually scarce, elusive, and quick to flush. While some other owls tolerate humans remarkably well, long-ears typically don’t, so I was amazed that this bird stayed put despite all the attention it received. I will take advantage of this forum to ask anyone who sees an owl (or any other wildlife for that matter) to please try to avoid disturbance as much as possible. Many of us were concerned that the long-ears were not getting their beauty sleep because of the noisy lack of respect shown by many observers.

In sharp contrast to the long-eared owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is very “chill” and the main risk when you find one is not that it will fly away but that it won’t wake up (assuming you don’t go out of your way to disturb it). This one deigned to half open its eyes for me. It was in the same spot as the owls I mentioned above.

The Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) is a more southerly bird that historically has been at or beyond the northern limit of its normal range here in Ottawa. But we seem to be seeing more and more of them, like some other southern birds. Global warming? This photo was not taken at the owl location mentioned above but rather at a very popular birding site a bit further away. As this photo demonstrates, screech owls can be tough to spot.

In the same location as where the screech owl photo was taken, I came across this Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperi) that had had a successful hunt. Several years ago I witnessed an amazing confrontation between a Cooper’s Hawk and two Screech Owls at this same location. When I came on the scene, I noticed that the hawk had clearly targeted a fledgling baby owl as it was gazing intently at it. The hawk then flew over and grabbed the owlet but Mama and Papa owl were there and attacked the hawk, which dropped the owlet to the ground. Incredibly the baby seemed ok so I decided not to intervene. What a traumatic experience, though. Fortunately this Cooper’s Hawk had not caught an owlet—its prey appears to be a starling.

Among birders, warblers must surely rival owls in popularity because of the bright colours they often sport, their variety (25 regular species in Ottawa, more further south), and the possibility of rarities (many are long-distance migrants that can go off-course). One of the prettiest is the inaptly named Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia), a bird that actually breeds in northern forests. They can be found in the Ottawa area in summer but are more frequently seen on migration in spring and fall, as this one was.

Another pretty warbler is the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), a small ball of energy that can often be located by its buzzy song. This one stayed put out of the foliage long enough for me to get a photo.

Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronate) are so abundant on migration here that one can forget how attractive the spring males are. They may well be more numerous than all other migrant warblers combined.

The Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is the scarcest of our regular 25 species. It seems to have been on the verge of extirpation here for decades. But just when I think it’s gone from the area because it’s disappeared from a traditional spot, some will pop up somewhere else. It’s a bird of transitional habitats: fields slowly regenerating into woodland. Maybe they’re disappearing from certain spots because these places are now too far along in the transition but I’m not sure. To my non-warbler eye the places look pretty much the same as they were before when the warblers were there.

Golden-winged Warblers are famous in the bird world because of their tendency to hybridize with their close relative the Blue-winged Warbler. This is one of the reasons that golden-wings are threatened. Curiously, the two species don’t look much alike. I don’t have a photo of Blue-winged Warbler, which is rare here (not one of the regular 25) but I did find this hybrid, known as a Brewster’s Warbler. It appears to be a backcross, i.e., 75% golden-winged and 25% blue-winged.

We recently had an excellent photo of a MacGillivray’s Warbler in a Readers Wildlife Photos feature. This is its very similar eastern counterpart: the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia), a devil of a skulker (stays in dense low vegetation). This one was surprisingly cooperative … for a mourning warbler.

This last photo is for our host. Not a mallard but perhaps the next best thing? Wood Duck (Aix sponsa).

21 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

      1. I guess that owl are particularly exhilarating is because they have a face with ‘parallel’ eyes. Easy anthropomorphic expressions.
        Yes, they’re looking at you!

  1. I’m not sure why you felt any trepidation about showing these pictures Paul – they’re great!

    1. What Jonathan said, they’re great! I especially liked the Eastern Screech shot – it took forever for these tired old eyes to finally find the bird in the picture.

  2. Pretty nice pics.! Mind if I enlarge and print a couple. Just for myself. The Magnolia Warbler- since I have a bundle of Magnolia seedlings of several species growing. And the screech owl- good candidate for – spot the…….–.

  3. Your photos are lovely. The Cooper reminds me of an interesting article in this week’s New York Times Magazine about falcons being used to control food-stealing gulls on the Jersey shore. Is there a better-looking bird family than the warblers? But how come I never hear our seasonal visitors, the pine and the yellow rumper, make the first warble? Maybe the wrens, titmice, and chickadees drown them out.

  4. Yes, I have to go along with everyone else – I think they are splendid pictures, and you have nothing to feel trepidation about. The owls are very owlie, and the little birds are very hard to find and photograph. All very well done!

  5. Thanks for all the reassuring comments. With the likes of Colin Franks, Tony Eales, Mark Sturtevant, Doug Hayes, and Joe Routon, to mention just a few, making superb contributions to the Readers’ Wildlife Photos, I think it’s normal to feel a bit “trepidacious”.

  6. Such wonderful photos – thank you so much! By the way, you’re right, the MacGillivray’s Warbler is invariably described as “skulky” just like your Mourning Warbler. The photo you saw recently was of an extremely hungry bird just after a prolonged storm. Happy owling!

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