So, how did you spend your Thanksgiving Monday? Did any of you find yourselves up in the middle of the night, the unholy hour of 3am, scurrying around and getting ready to hit the road ASAP in order to hopefully see a bird? I know at least four people who did, myself included.
"A bird? What kind of bird?" you ask. To my birder friends, is there a bird out there that would get you up and moving for, regardless what time it is, regardless how little sleep you got? Obviously this was one for us. And honestly, if I had a "bucket list", this would be on it, that being a Great Gray Owl.
I've always marveled at the appearance of Great Grays. And the fact they are not common to anywhere near us made it a dream for some years now. I always figured there'd be a trip to north Manitoba later in life, in hopes of spotting one. But an interesting chain of events have happened over the past 18 months which certainly helped to make what happened today, happen. And Angie did a fantastic re-telling of it herself on her blog, so I will attach the link at the end.
Lets just say it was an exciting dark trip up the highways to get to our destination. And as we got closer, the weather began to take a turn for the worst. It started raining, and in no time it was a heavy slushy rain. Not ideal weather at all for birding, and especially if someone wanted to take a few photos of this monumental moment we were all soon to experience. I was a passenger this morning, forever grateful to our friend Jim, who seems to have very few issues when it comes to driving the distances for us when we go out; and I was searching for weather radar sites to see what was going on out there and hoping for a break in the precipitation. I am not tech savvy so it took some time and I think I read the screen right with a break coming up very soon. And it did, right as we parked to meet another individual you will read about in Angie's blog.
We started our walk along the road, vehicle safely parked away from traffic. I add this because some people could care less when it comes to them and something like this. Anyone remember the stories of the Great Gray Owl in Kingsville from this past winter? In my terms, although I never went, it became something of a "shit show" as the days went by and more and more people arrived to the area to see that bird. People parked wherever they chose, often illegally, and stupidly, putting themselves and others at great risk. I saw the media attention given to it, and heard the stories from a few I know who went to see that Owl.
It was a quiet walk, very few cars on the road, even as the sun was up by this time. Some light soft chatter amongst us. I knew we were all full of hope and excitement, praying to catch a glimpse of this Owl. You cannot predict nature; there was a very good chance we'd see him but not guaranteed. We heard no birds yet but did see this Buck cross the highway just behind us.
And then the precipitation started again. Only this time it came down as snow. Big fluffy flakes of it. And for a short bit it REALLY came down. We could barely see through the thick flakes and not far through them either. Not long after our "guide" found the Owl across the way. If we went up there on our own, despite the general directions (general being the area where the Owl has been seen most), we'd never have spotted the bird through this snowfall.
As it was said by someone, it was like a Christmas morning. I couldn't have summed it up better myself. And for a good fifteen minutes or so we took in the sights of this bird from a more than respectable distance the best we could through the heavy snow with some praying for a break once again in the weather. And then, suddenly, the snow stopped. And we were left with a very clear and breathtaking view of this Owl and the landscape around us.
The Owl gave very little attention to us. It seems they don't know what people are. But the odd shift of someone would occasionally have him take a glance at us momentarily. And then he'd go back to his business of hunting for breakfast. We were treated to a few short flights of the bird as he moved from one perch to another, viewing/listening to the ground around him.
We couldn't have asked for a better "first time" with this species. Just four good friends, a lifer for us all, a perfect landscape setting... and a charming likeable young man who helped make this happen.
And with a few "sweet shots" to boot! I'm having a difficult time trying to figure which photo I love the most. The one that will be framed, and make our calendar; to bring a warm glow over us every time we look at it.
As an added bonus, on our way back to the van, we were treated to the sights of a couple American Pipits walking along the side of the road. Another lifer. A bird I only ever heard of, never gave much thought to, and if it weren't for the man who took us for this walk, we'd still be puzzled by these birds if we even took notice to them all. I mean, 24 hours later, all of us were still in a buzz about the fact that we just saw a Great Gray Owl!
For a more in depth story, please view Angie's blog here. It will lead you to yet another blog, one that I suggest every one of you to take the time out to read.