I have been on the lookout over the past couple of winters for pygmy owls. Friends have regaled me with pygmy owl stories and Facebook is full of images from lucky photographers who have seen and photographed of these, the smallest owls in Alberta. Alas, my wanderings and searches have yet to be rewarded with a single sighting. If you know of any locations where these owls are hanging out, I’d be grateful for a location tip (or any other tips about interesting local wildlife as well)!
However, I shouldn’t complain, as I have had some interesting winter wildlife encounters.
Large flocks of Bohemian Waxwings are often seen wheeling their away around urban neighbourhoods during the winter, gorging on mountain-ash berries. This individual was one of a small group that showed up in my yard one cold afternoon to gobble the last of the berries remaining on a cotoneaster bush.
The American Kestrel is our smallest falcon. They overwinter in the southern U.S. and Central America, although loners will occasionally remain behind. This individual was able to survive an Alberta winter because it honed its skill at dining on house sparrows that were concentrated around a feeding station.
Red foxes are locally common throughout Central Alberta. While their rodent-eating habits endear them to farmers, foxes will also feast on the eggs of ruffed grouse, native sparrows and other ground-nesting birds.
Coyotes are one of the most interesting, reviled, persecuted and intelligent of our wild neighbours. Although they do sometimes prey on domestic animals, they provide landowners with a great ecological service by controlling rodent populations. It is always a thrill for me when a coyote allows me to get close enough for photographs.
Seeing a hawk owl is always a treat. These uncommon owls, which look hawk-like (hence their name), typically nest deep in the muskeg. They are most often seen in Central Alberta during the winter, when they wander widely in search of mice, voles and other prey. They are one of the few Alberta owl species that hunt during the day.