Another no owl day at Griffith Woods Park

Posted by Dan Arndt

Our walk this week returned to Griffith Woods, in search once again of the Great Gray Owl that had been a regular visitor there for well over a month now, as well as the Great Horned Owls and even a Northern Pygmy Owl that had been seen and heard there recently. The week got off to a good start, with Monday’s group having no trouble finding the Great Gray Owl, and the Tuesday group only missed it by a less than an hour before it flew off deeper into the dense spruce forest that are the hallmark of Griffith Woods.

Griffith Woods February 16, 2014

Griffith Woods
February 16, 2014

The story throughout the day was that of distant birds and minimal photo opportunities, but I was very pleased that I was able to snap the shots that I did. When I downloaded my camera card at home, I found that I had only taken 31 shots in the course of the outing, so to have  a 25% “keep” rate I think is pretty good!

The first real opportunity came when we spotted a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings high up in a spruce tree, and I was able to capture a pair of them breaking off from the group showing their rufous undertail coverts and the bright lemon yellow on the tip of the tail feathers.

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Bohemian Waxwings Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Bohemian Waxwings
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

We hunted along the trail under the power lines for any sign of the Great Gray Owl that was our quarry, but the only evidence we were able to find of it was this hunting impression in the deep snow, showing the impression of the head and wings as the owl hunted one of many unfortunate voles that had become its dinner.

Great Gray Owl hunting impression Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm 1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Great Gray Owl hunting impression
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@150mm
1/800sec., ƒ/5, ISO 80

Never let it be said that I know everything there is to know about all of the parks we visit. This week’s surprise was the discovery of another small pond on the north-west end of Griffith Woods Park. All it really would have taken was for me to look at one of the many maps that I’ve published even here on this website to actually notice its presence, but thankfully Gus Yaki came to the rescue again and showed us where all the Canada Geese we had seen all morning were flying to. Also on this pond was a lone Common Goldeneye, and much to our surprise and delight was a solitary, and very uncharacteristically quiet, Blue Jay along the hedgerow behind one of the nearby houses.

Canada Geese Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Canada Geese
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 640

Common Goldeneye Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Common Goldeneye
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Blue Jay Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Blue Jay
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Another nice surprise was a pair of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding underneath a spruce on the way back into the park after we had finished exploring the pond.

Dark-eyed Junco Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

Dark-eyed Junco
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 1600

And then the wind picked up, and everything got quiet. While we retreated deeper into the wooded trails, the birds came fewer and further between, and only stayed in sight for mere moments at a time. Even our last species of the day, this Rough-legged Hawk, disappeared a few seconds after I spotted it soaring high above the nearby homes, but enough to positively identify it with its distinct dark wrist patches.

Rough-legged Hawk Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

Rough-legged Hawk
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 320

And so wraps up another week of the Friends of Fish Creek Winter Birding course. Next week we head back to Bebo Grove in search of last week’s quarry, the American Three-toed Woodpecker, along with another Great Gray Owl, a Barred Owl or three, and hopefully a Northern Saw-whet Owl!

Have a great week, and good birding!