Back in early May, I had heard from my friend John that our neighbourhood woods had a new guest in way of a Great Horned Owl. He and a mutual friend, Graham, had spotted it a few days earlier.
Angie and I had just started our holidays with many plans on the go already but were going to try and squeeze in some time to hopefully see this Owl so close to home.
Friday May 11th, we happened to be out in Whitby at another famous wooded area which can be quite a hotspot in the Spring migration for Warblers and others migrants since it is right along the lake line. We happened to see the resident Great Horned Owls this particular morning, and had a great viewing of the mother and one of her chicks as seen below.
We arrived home in the mid-afternoon, ready for a bit of a nap after such an early start. I had just drove the GMC up the drive, didn`t even have it in park yet, and my cell phone was ringing. It was Graham. I assumed he was down in the woods and had spotted our hopeful new resident. I was correct except this was followed by `I think there is something wrong with the Owl`. Graham and John had nicknamed him `Popeye`. I wish I could tell more of their story with him the days earlier but I wasn`t there.
My friends had seen the Owl a couple times in the past week but today he was sitting on the paved path for walkers and cyclists. He did not move as bikes raced past him. Owls typically do not sit on the ground, perhaps upon the catch of a meal, they may eat it there, but for the most part do prefer to sit high up in the trees. Graham had seen it on the ground a day earlier; he had caught himself a Garter Snake and was consuming it. But with what was going on this day, it was very clear the Owl was not right and well.
Graham had called me seeking out emergency wildlife care numbers that I knew of. The only one I had come to mind was The Toronto Wildlife Centre.
Angie told me to get myself down there and see what else I could do, since she knew there was no way either of us was going to relax now. She stayed at home, researching further on such situations, and staying by the phone. I gathered some towels and the animal carrier if needed and headed down there. This is how I found the Owl...
I met Graham and it was a long couple hours with a number of phone calls to various places like TWC, The Humane Society, another organization some passerby suggested to my friend. And I also called my friend Tracy from The Canadian Peregrine Foundation for any further assistance, such as over the phone instructions on the situation. Tracy has rescued many Peregrine Falcons in the wild so I figured a Great Horned Owl is very similar.
We all knew TWC was our best hope for this guy. But TWC is run mostly by volunteers and being early May, its their busiest time of the year. Between all the animal babies arriving for one reason or another to countless injured birds through migration, the centre is just swamped. And their volunteers are beyond busy with caring for every creature and taking phone calls with more animal emergencies every hour. Its unfortunate their response time cannot be as quick at this time of the year.
Graham had called and left a message. About an hour and a bit later, I also called and left another message. John was notified earlier about what was going on through Graham and luck have it that John was actually working up near TWC. He was finishing up, called us to see how things were going and decided to stop into the centre to hopefully speak with someone regarding the situation with the Owl. It was almost as if fate stepped in right when needed. And I believe moments after John had arrived at the centre, one of TWC`s volunteer drivers, Andrew, had just returned to the centre. Another moment of fate it seems! And soon after, John and Andrew were on their way to our favorite wooded spot near home to hopefully rescue this Owl.
From the time John and Andrew arrived on scene, it wasn`t long after that Andrew had Popeye in his hands and was walking back to the van with him. We all worked together, under Andrew`s instructions and guidance, to distract the bird with various light noises like breaking fallen sticks on the ground, snapping our fingers and low whistles while Andrew set a net over him. Popeye put up no resistance; another sign he was clearly unwell.
Andrew made a few phone calls back at the parking lot, even one to The Owl Foundation.
I was raising my hand to take him there right away if possible since I
had been to the Foundation back in the fall. But the decision was made
to return back to TWC for further assessment. Andrew had already warned
us this Owl was emaciated (meaning deteriorated from within due to
starvation) and one of his legs was black and pretty much mummified due
to a tie or wrap around it of cable of some sorts. One can wonder how
the cable ended up around his leg and so tight but it doesn`t matter
now. And with the lack of use with this leg, his other leg was now very
Sadly but understandably so, after his
arrival at TWC, an assessment was made with the vets and it was best for
him to be euthanized. We had such high hopes for this bird, especially
after the adventure with him this day and what my friends saw of him
earlier in the week. But at least he wasn`t suffering any further and
kept his dignity in the end, something we all hope for.
realized that afternoon something else, I missed my friends John and
Graham. I used to see John quite often down in the woods, which I
realize I never made mention of what woods... Lambton. It was there
where we met and became friends through our mutual interest in wildlife and
photography. And it is also where I met Graham. And John and Graham
also met there. But with changes in work schedules for me and other
events over the past year and a bit, we`ve just not run into each other
very often. During the wait this day, Graham and I had a lot of time to catch up and share our recent tales from the wild. And after the smoke settled later in the day, John and I had time to catch up as well. Hopefully after the summer, when most people leave the
parks as the weather gets cooler, we`ll be seeing more of each again
through fall migration and into the winter months. Yes, I know it`s
July now; but the colder months are far better birding months than the
summer. They are good guys, and over the past couple years, I`ve had some shifts in friendships for one reason or another; and have met a number of great people out there who share a common passion with the wild world around us.
Here is a nice photo John took of Popeye. I can see through this why he got the name he did.
But that is life, it`s constant death of one, birth of another. We were treated to a young Great Horned Owl sighting during our trip to Point Pelee National Park less than a week later.
This Owl caused some commotion amongst many people, creating a bit of a traffic jam in the park with so many trying to see him just mere feet from the road.
And we learned of another Great Horned Owl family west of Toronto. This is a mother Owl who has at least one chick behind her up inside this bridge. A very odd place to have a nest but also very safe being a few hundred feet up in a concrete structure. No predators to worry about and that bridge is about the strongest nest a bird can have, it can take one hell of a wallop from Mother Nature and remain standing.
I wanted to tell this story a while back; but with Spring migration, and then the Falcon watches, there wasn`t the time to piece this together... until now.