Winter wonderland with snowy and barred owls

This weekend was my first foray into the wilds on skis in 2000. It’s possibly the latest date that I’ve ever strapped on my skis for the first breathtaking ski of the season. But that’s what you get when there has been such a scant snowfall coupled with -50°C windchill. Brrr.

Finally there's some snow cover. But we're deeply concerned that this weird winter will be followed by another dry summer. That will pose severe problems to our farmer friends. Let's hope for a ton of snow.

As usual, Eric and I were eager to read the tracks in the fresh snow to discover what woodland denizens had been there before us.

We found a truly outstanding network: it must be a good season for rabbits by the look of their well-worn “highways.” As well, we spied deer, squirrel, mouse and porcupine prints. The latter are characteristic of the short-legged, waddling-gaited critter, for porcupines create long tunnel-like depressions in the snow.

Their tracks usually lead from one tree to another. Look up and perhaps you’ll spy this mostly unpopular denizen of the woods. Anyone who operates a woodlot will understand me: the porcupine causes a lot of damage because it dines on tree bark, and if they ring trees completely, the plant will die.

Although both of us are keeping our eyes peeled for the snowy owl I spied a couple of weeks ago, it has so far eluded us.

What a sight! It was winging its way toward the bush, flying low over our western field before swooping quickly up to alight on a nearby branch, right at the verge of the forest. Such precision; such beauty.

The only other wild snowy owl I’ve seen was during the ice storm of 1998. Eric and I were on board a VIA train bound for Québec City. We were watching Québec Hydro crews working on hydro towers that were crumpled as if giants had just walked past and crunched them in their massive hands. Destruction, everywhere.

Suddenly, atop a hydro pole beside the train track, we saw it: just a glimpse, but a definite sighting of a snowy. I remember how excited we were.

I rarely see owls.

However, on Thursday last week, I saw a barred owl at Murphy Point Provincial Park in Lanark County, Ontario.

Tim Wood, the park’s Children’s Program Coordinator, confirmed my sighting. What was odd about it, I thought, was that the owl looked as if it was being chased by a flock of chickadees. Have any of you seen such a sight? Both of us have seen great horned owls thronged by crows. But never by songbirds.

I got a very clear look at the barred owl. It was a light gray colour with dark vertical bands, or “bars” along its breast. Great wide eyes peered down at me and for all the world it seemed as if I could reach out and touch it as it flew past me. Thrilling, especially as I saw it flying against a dark backdrop of evergreen, on a sunny afternoon. Best conditions to see anything, I think.

But back to our Pontiac woods and pastures. My feeders are crowded and the birds are chewing through the birdseed at quite a rate.

We inherited two more feeders from Eric’s parents who just moved to Victoria. One feeding station hangs in front of our east window and is popular with the common redpolls.

We hung the second in the protection of the lilacs to the west of the house. It’s a good spot for it, because the birds greatly appreciate the shelter and protection of the shrubbery.

Sharp-shinned hawks will prey on songbirds as the hungry little creatures concentrate on the food at the feeders, at their peril. It’s important, therefore, to hang feeders where visitors can get some shelter.

And of course, it is shelter from those chilly -50°C winds that the birds are enjoying, too.


Eric and I visited Tim Horton’s Children’s Camp in Quyon this past weekend. What a lot of fun people were having. Kids were skating, sliding, others cross-country skiing and still others were being towed on the ice in giant inner tubes. Fun! And, stretched before us was the beautiful Ottawa River. This is the old Pontiac Village site, precursor to Quyon and the site of the Horse Canal. There’s lots of history here, and if any of you know some of it, I’d love to hear about it.


Thanks, too, to all of you who telephoned to talk to me about St. Ann’s Cemetery, after I wrote about it the other day. It always intrigues me to discover which topics create the most interest. (Over these 10 1/2 years of writing this column, it’s birds, hunting, birds, the trail, history, birds... You get the drift!)


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based in Quyon. Reach her at