Guided by Sam Woods.
This short custom tour was set up at the last minute (in early February), when news came through of fair numbers of Great Gray Owls around at that time in Ontario. The person, for whom this was arranged, had the main objective of finding this so-called “Phantom of the North”. For this tour we were accompanied by Tom Hince, who has many years under his belt chasing owls and boreal birds of all sorts throughout Canada, and so was the perfect companion, with his owl-finding skills and vast network of local connections, ideally suited for us on this “owl quest”. The tour started and ended in Toronto in Ontario, but we also ventured into Ottawa and Montreal too, to allow us to cast a wide net in which to search, where needed. Our Great Gray Owl quest was entirely successful (eventually), with us being able to spend ages staring at this boreal beast, as it sat nonchalantly above us. We had the bird all to ourselves for most of the time, and we didn’t need to use the controversial method of baiting with mice that some others choose to do. The tour was designed with a little flexibility, and so, once we had this marquee species in the bag, we opted to visit Algonquin Provincial Park, which held some notable new species for the participant John, and was somewhere he had wanted to see all the same, birds or not, for it is one of Canada’s most revered parks. This yielded our most productive day’s birding, with Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, White-winged and Red Crossbills, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker, and even a confiding American “Pine” Marten seen during an immensely enjoyable day there. In the end, we racked up 4 species of owls, and added a suite of cool boreal winter birds with it, like Bohemian Waxwing and Gray Jay, to complete a really gratifying short venture into the beautiful boreal north.