The Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count was held on Sunday, Dec. 15. I covered the area along the Ottawa River from the Champlain Bridge to the Rideau Canal, more or less south to the Queensway. By far the most exciting moment of the count, for me, involved Diana, our resident downtown female.
Late in the afternoon, Jon Ruddy, Jeremy Bryan and I had yet to find either of the downtown Peregrines, despite several scans of the Coats Building at Tunney’s Pasture, one of their favourite hangouts. So we decided to try the Delta Hotel at Albert and Lyon, just outside out official area. As we drove up Slater St. toward Bronson, Jon spotted the same enormous, heavily barred Snowy Owl we had seen earlier in the day behind the War Museum. Now she was in the air, flying southeast toward the downtown core.
Excited as I was to see the owl again, this time in flight, I said something like, “Oh crap, it’s headed straight for the falcons!” Someone else said, “I wonder who would win that battle?” I didn’t have to think long before replying, “My money’s on the falcons.” Sure enough, as we crossed Bronson, we saw Diana (our name for the female Peregrine) come flying around the corner toward the owl, which was now right in front of us.
It all happened very quickly (as things do with angry Peregrines), so I can’t be entirely sure of the sequence of events. From what I recall, Diana easily caught up with the now panicking owl over the empty lot on the south side of Slater. It took a hit, scrambled for a foothold on the side of an apartment building, tumbled down, and finally found a perch on the edge of a balcony. But the falcon continued to attack, so the owl took off again and disappeared somewhere behind us, still being chased.
It was an awesome sight, which I think Jeremy summed up nicely in an email the next day: “I don’t think I’m likely to ever again witness a Snowy Owl and Peregrine Falcon engaged in an aerial dogfight. It really was more reminiscent of a scene from an action thriller than a bird count as the combatants tumbled down the side of the building fighting. I’m glad that the Hollywood ending dictated that the owl got away in the end!”
And she did. Our heart rates back to a manageable speed, we continued on Slater, up Kent and back along Albert to see if the male Peregrine was at the Delta. No sign of him, but we didn’t really care at that point. As we continued west past Bronson and back down the hill, we saw again the owl again. She appeared uninjured and was flying south … hopefully not toward the other resident Peregrines at Heron Rd. and Bronson!