We were about half way to our first listening station when we spotted a Great Gray Owl perched beside the highway. The bird was very actively hunting - perching and plunging along the cut line below the hydro line - perhaps not the safest hunting territory, so close to the Trans-Canada.
A half an hour later we arrived at the start of the route. 'Though dry and dusty with a few holes and stretches of washboard, the road was serviceable. With 40 minutes to spare, we broke out the hacky sack and refreshments while a nearby Winter Wren sang his heart out in the gathering darkness...
Two and a half hours and twenty stops later we'd tallied six Northern Saw-whet Owls and four Great Horned Owls. We were surprised not to hear Boreal Owl, a species that's usually detected on this route. Black Bear, Beaver, Red Fox, American Woodcock, Wood Frog, Spring Peeper and the northern lights were also active. It was an excellent way to spend a Friday evening in April.
Here's an excerpt from most recent Ontario Nocturnal Owl Survey newsletter (pdf) summarizing the 2011 results:
"The most productive route in Northern Ontario this year was Melissa Mosley’s Highway 600 route near Rainy River. This route had a total of 22 owls including 16 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 6 Barred Owls. Hart Brasche’s Clear Lake Road route was the most productive in Central Ontario with 23 owls detected, including 16 Barred Owls, 5 Northern Saw-whet Owls and 2 Great Horned Owls.
Several owl species showed substantial increases across Northern Ontario in 2011. Whereas every species, except the Great Horned Owl, were detected in fewer numbers across Central Ontario in 2011. The Barred Owl was once again the most common owl detected with 448 recorded, down slightly from the 473 reported last year. Northern Saw-whet Owls showed another big increase in numbers this year with 202 reported, up from 139 in 2010. The Great Gray Owl was up again in 2011 with 37 detected, up from 28 individuals in 2010. Finally the Boreal Owl showed a slight increase of 103 individuals detected, up from 94 last year."
Nocturnal Owl Survey Program coordinated by Bird Studies Canada.