Northern Hawk Owl

It was a warm day, already at noon it was a couple of degrees over freezing. March 29th, half way through my spring break and already I’m looking for something to do. So I decide to head out to Votier’s Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park with my brother and sister. Votier’s Flats is located off Elbow Drive and consists of a mix of both coniferous and deciduous woodlands with Fish Creek running near the paved path.

That day, we were not expecting to see anything. Noon is not the most productive time to bird and besides, we were hardly going to be going for a long hike. We started out doing a short loop before climbing up the hill beside the parking lot. It was there that I saw a hawk flying…no wait…not a hawk, a Northern Hawk Owl!

First impressions.

Northern Hawk Owls have a long tail and a falcon-like profile, distinguishing them from other owls in North America. The facial disk is somewhat whitish, bordered by black on either sides, framing two pale yellow eyes that scour the ground, often from an exposed perch at the top of a tree, searching for the next meal, some unfortunate mouse or vole.

We did get some great views but the Hawk Owl was some ways away and only stuck around for a couple of minutes before vanishing into the woods, never to be seen again, until…

My dad heard about our incredible sighting and, as you can imagine, was quite jealous. This paved the way for a return visit. The next day, as the sun slowly fell from the sky, we made our way back to Votier’s Flats. We searched for a couple minutes, coming up with a Great Horned Owl calling; beautiful, but not quite satisfying. We wanted a Hawk Owl. We carried along the paved path for a short ways when we spotted something. Is that it? Had we done the improbable? There it was perched high on an exposed perch, just waiting for us.

I see something...

We had to leave the paved path to get some better views. I was first, stepping into the snow with much gusto, only to find myself sinking into snow over a foot deep. As I was carrying a camera with a heavy 500mm lens, this was not good news. I righted myself after a couple moments and we carried on, undeterred.

Insolent birders.

It was a long way and we kept advancing through the snow that was as deep as ever, only to see the owl fly away. Luckily, it was not too far and we caught up, only for him to fly off again. We decided to carry on once again, stumbling up a steep hill with a heavy camera and an even heavier tripod, slipping on mud and ice, following a deer trail covered with unpleasant evidence of the deer. Finally we caught up to where the owl was waiting for us, seemingly amused. We got some amazing views and some great shots.

Is that dinner?

We came home, exhausted, wet, muddy, covered in burrs and happy; extremely happy. We had seen a Northern Hawk Owl, a difficult bird to see at the best of times and very rare here in Calgary.

Posted by Matthew Sim

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3 thoughts on “Northern Hawk Owl

  1. I’ve only been an birder for a couple of years now, and haven’t had much luck with owls in general. I’m jealous! Amazing shots and an incredible story to boot!

    • Wow! That is extremely cool and great photos to boot. Now I have an owl dilemma for tomorrow – near certainty of Short-eared’s at Frank Lake or possibility of Hawk and Pygmy in Fish Creek!

      • There are many of us with the same dilemma! I’m counting on reasonably decent weather for both weekend days, and hoping for a two-owl weekend…Or three. Pat Bumstead

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