We are just over one month into winter now, yet it feels like we've gotten over the hump of it already. I took notice to the daylight still showing itself at 5:15pm about a week ago. News people have been commenting on Spring and counting the days. A male Northern Cardinal has been belting out his song since New Year's, even the neighbourhood House Sparrows have all changed their tune to something I am more familiar with in the Spring.
Why are we rushing this season along? Who can forget the 2013/14 winter? The ice storm? The frost quakes? The countless extreme cold weather alerts? This winter is definitely nothing in comparison. A much milder winter and one I am embracing as should others. Every season has something to offer, giving us something to appreciate if we chose to see it. For Angie, many of our friends and myself it's the different birds winter brings us... and more specifically this winter, yet another Snowy Owl invasion.
example of an eBird map with reported Snowy Owls in a 2 month period
I know some people in the GTA who still have yet to see a Snowy Owl despite 3 big years for them in the last 4. A person really isn't trying that hard or at all if they have not seen one and want to. Of course not every sighting is going to be something up close, not needing binoculars, and giving someone with a camera an amazing photo opportunity... but any sighting of such a beautiful bird is nothing to complain about (so I think).
As I stated in a previous blog, I am not making much effort to see them like other winters, I am not after a big count. I will take them as they come along and enjoy them for what they are. I really should have started jotting down the number of sightings this season instead because it's almost staggering in the last couple weeks. This is a wonderful surprise because I am seeing birds on average of 3 nights a week on the way home from work (after 10pm). The bird counts range from 1 to my new record of 4 in an approximate 5km stretch.
My drive home has me pass the south side of Pearson Airport and despite the trapping/relocating of 14 Snowy Owls around Christmas, birds are appearing. There was a lull for a few of weeks which I suspect is because of the trap/relocate program; so are these new birds or the return of those previous visitors?
A few co-workers go the same route home as I do and I am always asking them if they saw the Snowys in this stretch. I always get "no". It stuns me because the birds are so obvious to me and these guys even say they are keeping their eyes open for them. One of my buds, Tim, says either you have an eye for them or you don't (and he doesn't). Seems he's had some discussion about this with another friend of ours, Chantal (seeing if you are reading this). I think once you spot one or two, you tune into them with future drives.
Of course one must pay more attention to the road than look for these birds. And spotting one is just that, you see it and you keep going because who can pull over on the side of the 401, day or night? In some cases, depending on where I see a bird, I may pull off at the next exit and back track along the side roads to try and locate them.
I've been practicing shooting in manual these days with my camera, and while the night photos aren't anything overly spectacular, I am liking the captures with that neat sepia effect. But to me, it's more so the memory. I love watching them from the truck, the birds aren't being flushed and chased, they are flying because they want to fly, and I am having those zen moments with them.
Not very often do I come across such a specimen like this one, nearly all white.
Winter night birding! Who would have thought that possible? After a long aft/eve at work, I am always excited to punch out and head for home, and this just adds to my thrill of leaving the "pop shop". Sure it's just another Snowy Owl to some people sick of the birds this winter but for me... "holy s**t, there's another Snowy on my way home from work!"
We are in the last week of January now and in the next 5 weeks or so, these birds will be on the move north again. Enjoy them while they are with us.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning this past weekend, 3am to be exact, Angie woke up and minutes later wakes me up and asks if I want to go look for Snowys. It took me a few minutes to process this and then I said "yes". She had hoped to experience some of what I've been lately, seeing the birds after dark and doing their thing. We lucked out and found two in a 10 minute drive from home. Both birds were chilling out on lamp posts, paying little attention to us below in the truck. Feathers blowing in the wind, scanning the grounds below. A couple minutes of watching and then we moved on. Gotta love having a crazy passionate spouse with common interests, eh?!?!
The ones I have been spotting after work, watching off the busy 401 have been great. The big white guy I shared a shot of above did some spectacular flight displays for me, hunting a field, swooping down and then returning to the same lamp post.
This bird below has been in the same stretch of road for a week now, and usually on the same lamp post.
Although one night he was further along, at the off ramp (pretty sure it was him). I watched him as I waited for the light to turn green. He started doing the dry heaves like a cat with a hairball and then he expelled a pellet right there, which almost landed on the truck. This was 12:30 in the morning, I had the window down so I could see him better, and I heard the pellet go splat on the road. No other vehicles around, I put the truck in park, jumped out and scooped up the pellet with some paper towel (it's drying now and I look forward to picking it apart). Who knows what could be within? Rodent skulls are the prize in my opinion.
Only a couple nights have I had my camera with me. I'd leave early for work during the day, taking the side roads west, hoping to spot them sitting out in one of the fields but have yet to find one. I always see the Red-tails in my day searches though. After dark, the Hawks disappear and out come the Owls.
I've inspired some to get out looking since sharing bits on social media and maybe some who've yet to see a Snowy will try a little harder soon before the birds are gone.
this isn't just about birding anymore either. I've decided to try and find something good in every day, no matter how miniscule or how brief the moment is, but something which will impact me positively. There's so much shit and stress in our lives, we all have more than our share of negatives and I am making the effort to fight back. I am not avoiding the issues that need to be dealt with but acknowledging these better moments sure helps me keep going. It can be these Snowy sightings, an exceptionally great cup of coffee, not hitting any red lights on the drive to work; or listening to petty complaints and negative rants from those I have to deal with daily, that I don't consider friends, and that I don't let sink me down with them but instead walk away with a smile on my face and silently thank that I am not them.
Soon I will be looking for the returning Red-winged Blackbirds, first flowers of Spring and the rise of the Wooly Bears. But for now, these Snowy Owls sure do wonders.
I can't say I'm happy with the title of this blog. I always try for something creative, but much like the name of my blog overall... it's to the point.