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Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

The bird is the word, and the word is out

Birders making the trek to St. Jacobs trail following sightings of an elusive barred owl


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Weighing in at up to a kilogram, the barred owl is by no means the smallest bird on the bark. With its dark soulful eyes, roly-poly body and distinctive “oo-ah” call, the melancholy barred owl is a sight to behold … if it can be found to be seen at all. Though known to venture up across the southern Canadian border, the molted brown and white bird can seamlessly blend into the wooded forests during the daytime hours.

So feathers were definitely ruffled when local residents and avid birdwatchers spotted the elusive nocturnal bird out in the St. Jacobs countryside.

“I was walking a couple of weeks ago [along] the Three Bridges, towards Front Street on the mill race,” recalled St. Jacobs resident Yvonne Kurtz. “And just before the farmer’s bridge, I noticed a tree was cut down, one that a beaver had eaten. And then I was looking down, I looked up right into the eyes of the barred owl.”

Kurtz was out for her daily walk along the village trails last Friday when she came upon the bird hiding, as it were, in plain sight.

“I’m not a fast walker, and I just love walking the mill races. I think it’s stress relief, and you get to see so much,” said Kurtz, who was out walking the trail Tuesday.

As she talked, she fed lunch to a small handful of birds that were milling around her, including blue jays, the white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker and black-capped chickadees. Kurtz has kept track of the birds she’s encountered during her walks, and to date says she’s come across some 106 varieties along the trail.

“About 12 people walked past the owl and didn’t even notice. It had come down to eat and went back into the woods maybe about 30 feet, and you couldn’t see it unless it moved.”

The sightings prompted other birders out to navigate the St. Jacobs trails, including members of Waterloo Region Nature. The group travelled an hour up the Mill Race Trail, stopped for coffee and refreshments, and then made their way back.

“We have outings all the time, all year long. And this is just a little mid-winter walk to walk along and see whatever species we can see,” said David Gascoigne, who led a group for a morning walk on Tuesday.

“But the star attraction here has been the presence of a barred owl, which my wife and I first saw on the 4th of December. It’s still hanging around, people are seeing it, but owls are pretty elusive. They’re hard to [spot]. If it’s just perched on the other side of that tree, then you don’t see it, of course.”

Gascoigne has had a lifelong fascination with nature, and has travelled to exotic locations around the globe to see the world’s fauna and flora. He’ll in fact be heading out on a trip to Costa Rica today (Thursday). But the local trail still holds a fascination for him.

“The other part that’s attractive about this trail, we can maybe show you: you can hand feed the birds. Chickadees will land [in your hand],” he said. He demonstrates by pouring some seeds into my hand; and indeed, almost immediately a black-capped chickadee alights on my open palm.

Though the barred owl did not seem to make another showing on that particular outing, the group seemed to enjoy the morning walk nonetheless.

“It’s just an opportunity to get out on a really nice trail in the winter time with David, who knows a lot about bird and is so enthusiastic. Just being out in nature,” said one birder, who was content despite the barred owl’s absence.

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