Last week’s Out and About article shared highlights of a recent long-distance road trip to Ontario accompanied by my friend Jim Hoyson in our search for a rare northern hawk owl. Our owl prowl turned out to be quite successful as we easily found our target species which happened to be very cooperative and photo friendly. It was a great start to our wildlife adventure with hopes of more surprises to follow. This week’s article continues our journey which took us hundreds of miles across the Canadian wilderness to unique places such as Wolfe Island in pursuit of snowy owls and winter waterfowl and perhaps to a visit to Algonquin Provincial Park where animals of the Canadian boreal forest abound.


After observing and photographing the rare northern hawk owl, a local resident who happened to be an owl enthusiast and photographer informed us that a northern saw-whet owl was roosting at a public park in Whitby, Ontario, approximately one hour away. We thanked the gentleman for sharing that information and decided to give it a try since the town of Whitby was along the way to our next destination at Wolfe Island. Around the time we arrived at Whitby Park, we noticed a lady get out of her parked car carrying a pair of binoculars and camera. We asked if she was searching for the saw-whet owl.


“I found it in the small white pines up in the field just a few days ago,” she replied. “You are welcome to join me.”


Jim and I immediately grabbed our cameras and hustled along the snow-covered trail to catch up to her fast pace. Unfortunately, after 90 minutes of searching we could not relocate the owl.


“The owl sometimes moves to another stand pine trees on the adjacent private property,” she said. “Try for it in this location tomorrow morning.”


We thanked her but said we have to visit Wolfe Island before dark, which was another 150 miles away.


“There is a great horned owl roosting in the big pines down the hill,” she directed. We offered our thanks and gave her suggestion a quick search.


Within a few minutes Jim whispered, “I found it!” He pointed to a tall white pine tree where a large great horned owl was perched nearly fifty feet up in the conifer.


Unfortunately, the secretive owl was hiding amongst dense branches and kept its back toward us, which made it impossible to photograph. We did enjoy decent looks at the bird through our binoculars and admired the owl’s cryptic plumage, which resembled tree bark. No saw-whet owl today, but the great horned was a nice find and another addition to our owl prowl, we agreed.


Next stop was to Wolfe Island another three hours away. Wolfe Island is the largest of the Thousand Islands, nearly 18 miles long. The island is located on Lake Ontario at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River and is known as a popular summertime tourist destination.


Wintertime on Wolfe Island, while populated with tourists, is quite attractive to wildlife; especially hawks and owls due to the extensive grasslands, farm fields, hedge rows and conifer groves.


The coves surrounding Wolfe Island are home to wintering waterfowl and another bonus to our adventure. Access to Wolfe Island is by the Wolfe Islander Ferry, which happens to be free to the public. We arrived at the winter docking area, parked the car behind a line of automobiles and waited 20 minutes until the ferry boat returned.


Late afternoon was fast approaching but the 20 minute ferry ride to the island went pretty quick. We drove off the ferry boat and headed to the center of the island’s farmlands where snowy owls were observed hunting the previous day.


The roads on the island intersect numerous farm fields and made birding quite easy; however, not an owl was to be found.


We drove along the perimeter shoreline in hopes of finding a snowy owl, but to no avail.


Fortunately, large rafts of ducks including lesser scaup, greater scaup, common merganser and common goldeneye gathered in the coves kept us entertained.


Sunset was fast approaching and the gray skies were growing gloomier. We had to make a decision when to leave Wolfe Island considering we had to drive nearly four hours north near Algonquin Provincial Park and hope to find a hotel to stay the night.


“Let’s give it one more try,” I encouraged.


Once again, no snowy owls, but only snow-covered fields were to be found. As luck would have it, we finally spotted a snowy owl perched in a tall tree near the edge of a field several hundred yards away.


The iconic owl was too far away for photos as only a white silhouette composed the ending to a phenomenal day. It was time to head back, so we proceeded down the farm road toward the ferry dock.


Suddenly, a flash of brown darted out from a stand of white pines along the road and into a snowy field. There stood motionless in the field a majestic eastern coyote.


We watched its thick luxurious fur colored in hues of brown, silver, white and black wave with the wind. It slowing looked in our direction, then turned to its right and focused on something in the field that we could not. Within seconds, the crafty canine vanished out of sight but not as fast as the snap of my shutter. “Did you get a nice pic?” Jim asked.


“Time to go,” I smiled.


We had a wild time of Wolfe Island and were quite satisfied in finding a variety of wildlife that gloomy but gleaming afternoon including rafts of wintering waterfowl, a snowy silhouette and a crafty coyote.


Stay tuned for next week’s highlights from our trip to Algonquin Provincial Park as we had a boreal bird bonanza and blunder at the border.