Wildlife and Nature Photography

Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

snowy 3 - Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario

December often marks the return of Snowy Owls to our area. With several sightings reported this week within a 30 minute drive of London, Ontario, many area birders will begin searching for these overwintering owls.

With December now upon us, birders across the region will be focusing their attention on locating one bird in particular, the Snowy Owl. Sightings from around our region were reported this past week from both the Strathroy and Lucan areas, two locations well known for supporting overwintering Snowy Owls in previous years. Early December can be a great time to search for these large white owls as the lack of snow makes locating them much easier.

When searching for Snowy Owls there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, patience is key. Once an owl is located, be prepared to return to the same location many times to achieve an optimal view or photo. Many times these birds will be too far from the road to get a great look or a decent photograph. By simply returning another day the same bird may be in a better location providing excellent views and photo opportunities. Remember to be respectful of property owners, fellow birders, and most importantly the owls. So often I see people chasing the owls out in the fields or from fence post to fence post hoping to get an optimal look or photo. Keep in mind many of these birds are on private property and land owners do not want birders trespassing on their land. Chasing the owls puts unnecessary stress on the birds, and denies other birders the opportunity to observe the bird. If the view or photo you are hoping for doesn’t present itself, return another day. Snowy Owls will stay in the same area until February or March if not disturbed.

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Snowy Owls can be perched high or low, so take the time to thoroughly scan an area when searching for these large owls.

When you do come across a Snowy Owl and wish to photograph it, stay in your car. Snowy Owls are less stressed by humans in cars and you will be able to achieve better and longer views than if you try to approach on foot. If needed, circle back to position your vehicle in an ideal location so you are not shooting into the sun, but stay in your car. Again be patient. If you need to drive down the road to safely turn around, do so. There is no need to jam on the brakes and pull a U turn if you suddenly spot a Snowy Owl on top of a hydro pole. In fact, erratic car movements such as quickly braking, accelerating or turning are more likely to startle the owl and cause it to fly. Once in position, roll your window down but stay in your car. You might be surprised at how quickly a Snowy Owl will spook by the clicking sound of a door handle. Placing your elbow on the door’s armrest will help steady your camera to ensure a sharp image.

If adding a Snowy Owl to your year or life list is something you wish to achieve, the eBird species map is a great resource for finding recent sightings in your area. Simply type in the name of the species, in this case Snowy Owl, as well as your location. Reported sightings to eBird will then appear on the map. Zoom in on the map to then view specific locations where these birds were reported from. Submitting your observation to eBird will keep the database updated and help other birders locate Snowy Owls.

As I mentioned earlier, the area to the west of Strathroy, Ontario is a great place to observe Snowy Owls each winter. The large block bordered by Egremont Drive to the south, Cuddy Drive to the north, Seed Road to the west, and School Road to the east, has numerous Snowy Owl sightings every winter, including one this week. Roman Line, northwest of Lucan, Ontario is another location that typically has Snowy Owls overwintering annually. The section of Roman Line between Fallon Drive and Mooresville Drive is traditionally the most rewarding. Areas south of London, Ontario have also had multiple Snowy Owl sightings over the past two winters. Manning Drive between Wellington Road and White Oak Road near the city dump, is one area where I have seen several Snowy Owls in previous years. Further to the east, Westminster drive between Wellington Road and Old Victoria Road, and Scotland Drive between Wellington Road and Old Victoria Road, have also yielded great views for me.

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By staying in my truck I was able to photograph all three of these Snowy Owls without stressing or startling the birds. I left the birds exactly how I found them, at ease on their perches ready for the next person to enjoy.

The previous two winters we experienced Snowy Owl irruptions (a dramatic unpredictable migration) with large numbers of these birds migrating south for the winter, and experts are predicting a third straight irruption year this winter. Wisconsin in particular has already seen an unprecedented number of Snowy Owls sightings with as many as 30 birds being reported as early as October. Snowy Owls irruptions are believed to be produced by an abundance of food during their breeding season as more available food leads to larger clutch sizes.

Take the time this winter to get out and search for Snowy Owls. Use valuable resources like the eBird species map to improve your odds and narrow your search. We have several months to enjoy these beautiful birds while they are in our area, so be patient and you will be rewarded with quality views. Remember when out searching for Snowy Owls to be respectful of property owners, other birders, and most importantly the owls.

Good birding,

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8 Responses to “Snowy Owls Have Returned To Southwestern Ontario”

  1. Eve Graham

    Your updates are FANTASTIQUE !
    The camera I spoke to you about (a year ago) was discontinued + have not purchased one thus far consequently I look forward to your photos + valuable info. Excellent!
    I have taken the liberty of using an owl photo as my screen saver.
    If you disallow please inform me. It is for my pleasure only.

    • Paul Roedding

      Hi Eve, Thank you very much for the kind comment regarding my updates and photos. I am glad to hear you look forward to my photos and find the information I post valuable.

  2. Elizabeth

    Thank you for clearly explaining and demonstrating how to be respectful of birds. I’ve met photographers who are too aggressive with birds. It is very disheartening. I hope they read this article:) I’ll pass it around.

    • Paul Roedding

      Thank you very much Elizabeth. I see it far too often myself where people approach too closely hoping to get a photo. There is a saying that I live by when out shooting “If my behaviour changes their behaviour, than I am too close.”

  3. Nadeem Sufi

    Hi Paul. I am planning to visit Ottawa in late Feb and was wondering what is the update on Snowy Owls as I would love to photograph them in the vicinity, or wherever you recommend they might be found. I know there are no guarantees but I would like to try. I will be visiting from St Louis U.S.A and would have 4 days to search for them. What do you recommend? Your post is very inspiring!

    • Gillian

      Hi Nadeem,

      There are a few around Ottawa in their traditional overwintering areas both east and west of the city. I don’t know about the east end owls, but the west end owls tend to be surrounded by photographers every weekend – they even cross the farmer’s fields to photograph them, though I don’t know if they have permission. So you have a good chance of seeing them, but if you’re looking for a peaceful, natural experience you may be disappointed.

  4. Greg Ross

    Hi Paul,

    My wife and I saw a Snowy Owl near Kincardine, about 15 min south just east of HWY 21, on Saturday Feb 20th I got some pictures and would like to send them to you, how?

Comments are closed.