As promised to friends I made mention about this upcoming blog, I decided to stick to my word about this title. It pretty much sums up the weekend which overall was a great one despite the antics of a few individuals.
Saturday had Angie and I go out for the afternoon with our friends Dave and Andrea. We did a road trip to Cayuga and from there we snaked along many back roads making our way down to the shores of Lake Erie in Nanticoke where it can be Bald Eagles a plenty on a good day in the winter.
The day did start out slow in Ruthven Park. The banding station was closing up but the feeders were still active with regular winter avian visitors. We were hoping for the appearance of a Tufted Titmouse (there's 6 in the park now) but none showed up. Most unique during our stay was a handful of Common Redpolls.
Dave drove as he knows the area better than me. And I am forever grateful to my friends who don't mind doing these long drives. I find they burn me out too much some days, especially when I am unfamiliar with the area. Plus, our GMC Jimmy is a thirsty truck and fuel consumption would have been double compared to Dave's PT Cruiser.
Through the afternoon we saw so many Red-tailed Hawks that we lost count.
The biggest flock of Snow Buntings we chanced upon somewhere along the way. I estimate there was 400 or 500! We found a few smaller flocks but this one in particular. Holy! What fun watching their amazing flight show.
And through the mixes of Snow Buntings, we were also blessed with some great views of Horned Larks. I really like these birds. They sure do look like they have horns. And a treat to see in Southern Ontario through the winter months.
We finally made it to Nanticoke and luck have it that we got a young Bald Eagle near the side of the road! Don't let the age fool you, they are still enormous sized birds. Both Angie and I think the young'uns look much bigger than their parents.
We were pretty certain we saw a couple more Eagles in flight over the power plant but as quick as we saw them, they were gone just as fast.
A field near by had us spot somewhere in the range of 50 or so Wild Turkeys. Big goofy birds they are to me; but nice to see.
And down in Lake Erie had Angie and I get a lifer in way of many Tundra Swans. From a distance they sure look like Trumpeter Swans only missing the big yellow ID tags most have on their wings. I tuned into their calls, double checked with my Sibley's guide on my mobile, and confirmed they definitely were Tundras. For whatever reason, my camera would not focus on those birds far out on the lake. Our friend Dave snapped a few photos despite the distance. I mean, hey, why not?
As we headed back, we chanced upon a Short-eared Owl. Apologies to those asking "Where? Where?" but I don't publicly post Owl locations. The road appeared to have a few cars with birders and photographers on it. Some were walking along the edge of properties and one could only wonder if they had permission to do so.
Andrea spotted the Short-eared Owl first. And before we could do anything, this small silver Volkswagon comes around us and parks right in front of the tree where the Owl was sitting just off the road and not that high in the tree. Two guys jump out, one with a big ass lens and try to get it's photograph. Of course they spooked the Owl and it flew up the road. We were furious! Short-ears are a rapidly declining species and I believe on the endangered list in Ontario. We wanted a view too, and a few photos, which we were willing to do so from within the vehicle.
Dave pulled upside them and voiced an opinion all of us shared on what these two, yes... assholes, just did. The one guy apologized but soon after said they had been chasing it up and down the road for the last half hour or so. "Are you serious?!?!?!" is what I was thinking. UGH! It's kind of a blur after that, not sure how much else was said, and then we slowly drove ahead. We found the Owl again, on the other side of the road, a few hundred feet up. Dave pulled over and we watched it for a bit, took some shots within the car. It was rather comical as for Andrea and I, we were having trouble taking photos, trying to shoot across the car from the inside and out the driver's side windows. Dave offered to be my tripod and had me set my 500 mm lens, full zoom out, on his arm and shoulder. He leaned right over to help me try to get some photos. I don't know if my excitement at seeing this bird or my laughing at our situation in the car was the cause for so many shaky shots. We all were having some good laughs and enjoying the moment. We long forgot about those two guys who were parked behind us now but not getting out of their car.
Angie suggested she take my camera and try some shots out the window since she was closer and could use the window for support. I am glad she did, because she captured a few nice clear shots of this not commonly seen species of Owl, despite the distance between us and the bird.
And sure enough, as soon as well started to pull away. Those two guys jumped out of their car and went after the Owl again. We have no idea if they stayed on the road now or ventured onto the property where the tree and Owl were.
I felt bad for this Owl. I feel bad for so many Owls. Just about every one I have chanced upon this winters has had to put up with some real selfish people. But I was happy we pushed these people out of the moment with the bird, we didn't give them the power to ruin our time, and just know they could never get close enough to the Owl to harm it. Yes, I am fully aware their constant flushing does harm in its own way. What more can we do? Give them a bit of a scolding and hope they back off. Anything else can land us in trouble.
So, as we headed back Burlington way for supper, we noticed a huge "herd" of White-tailed Deer in a field just outside of Cayuga. I counted 40. Never seen such a number of Deer in one spot. Apparently they aren't called a "herd" but that's what I call 'em.
Sunday was supposed to be a rather low key day after the big outing on Saturday. But I ended up doing a small grocery run. Then home. Then back out again with Moonie riding shotgun as we ran a few more errands and he got a little trimming at the pet store along the way. We do this every now and then since he's still got some attitude when he's flying around. Misfit comes and goes as she pleases, but always ends up back in her cage. Not sure what Moonie's deal is but he never goes home unless we trim the wings back. He made a friend at the drive through for lunch which was funny. I laughed at the praise he was getting and one line I said to the girl was "no, he does not eat french fries but thanks for the offer".
Later Sunday afternoon Angie reads a report about a Snowy Owl appearing not far from our place. I kinda bounced around a little bit. Sure I can be a little cuckoo for Snowys but also with it being March now, they aren't going to be around southern Ontario for much longer. So off I went, but Angie passed on the idea, still not feeling 100% after some recent surgery.
Before I get into my bit on the Snowy Owl, which I saw almost immediately, let me jump ahead to the unexpected lifer I had that afternoon being a Western Grebe that has been reported along Lake Ontario, being spotted in a couple different parks. His presence was pointed out to me by a kind birder who had been viewing him moments earlier. This bird is well out of his winter range which is actually along the Pacific coast. I don't know much about this species but if you would like to know more, check out this link.
So, ya, it was pretty awesome to see this bird. And as some said to me, no binoculars required, which was so true. I watched him for a short bit in the bay and eventually he swam to my side of the shore and he was maybe 30 feet out from where I stood. Wow! The lighting was pretty bad now as the sun was setting but I was one happy guy.
Now, back to my Snowy story...
If you remember the title of this blog, "Owls, Lifers and Assholes. Oh my!" Much like the earlier story with the Short-eared Owl and those assholes; I once again found myself seeing this Owl and yet another asshole. I tell my friends I cannot wait for Spring migration and the Warblers. I love and hate Owl season all in one breath.
I spot the Owl out in the marina. She's sitting on one of the docks. It's quite a distance from the shore and bay is about 95% ice. A few open spots are close to shore. I figure it's 300+ feet from shore to the docks but a friend, with the help of some computer tools or whatever, says it's more like 500 feet which I can believe. And everyone over the years that has seen a Snowy in this marina or any other in the GTA all say they are very safe out there with the ice and water separating us. I was a firm believer in that as well until Sunday afternoon when I watched this man, or can I say "asshole" walk out onto the ice from the east shore, with his dog on leash and head towards the Owl sitting on the dock.
I stood there in shock. I was fuming too! Mainly for the fact of where he was going, right for the Owl. It was upsetting that he put his dog in a dangerous situation too. And as he neared, of course he spooked the Owl and it flew to the next line of docks just west. The guy stood there, watching it fly and where it landed, and he continued onwards towards it for another look. He had no camera and no binoculars. I guess he wanted a close look at the bird.
I'm not one for being loud in public, I really got to be pissed for me to speak up and this was one of those rare moments. I'm not sure all I said, shouting across the ice at this guy, but "what the hell are you doing, you fucking idiot!" was in it. I know there was more but I was blind with anger and frustration at this guy.
He made the Owl fly yet again and then he stopped. He watched it go further out on the ice and then he turned to look at me. I guess I was still shouting who knows what at him. And then he decided to get off the ice, heading to the southern part of the land that surrounds the marina.
Funny thing is I had no idea there was a young woman layed out on the bench right behind me during my rant. She was tuned in to her ipod and enjoying the frosty lake air. She was actually asleep as hard as that is to believe but once I was started freaking out, she jumped from her sleep and sat up, stunned and puzzled at me. I explained to her what my problem was. She was still puzzled. She said "isn't High Park full of Snowy Owls?" I was too pissed at this point to give much of an educational lesson and replied with "no". I apologized for my outburst and disturbing her. I pointed to the guy just getting off the ice now with his dog and said "what a #@*" one last time and walked west to where the Owl flew and where I soon learned about the Western Grebe.
Once I saw the Snowy, really out on the ice now, I convinced myself she was safe for certain from human disturbance. She was not safe from a few angry Gulls that began to dive bomb her; but she gave little notice to them and zoned out for a while. I enjoyed a brief viewing of her now, with no other people around. And I forgot about yet another asshole disturbing an Owl.
As you can see, by this time, the Snowy forgot about him too. :)
If anyone recognizes this individual, perhaps they could ask him what the hell was he thinking that afternoon? I never take photos of people doing stupid shit in the field, as much as I want to; but I felt compelled to this time... proof to what some people are capable of, and how stupid they can be in the moment. And also if this guy happened to go through the ice, there would be a photo of him if something tragic happened to him and his dog.