With most of us returning to work this week after the Christmas and New Year's time off, I took advantage of a bitter cold Monday morning before I started work to scope out a lake park here in Toronto for any Snowy Owls. I figured I would be one of the very few crazy people out there strolling around in the deep freeze. And I was right in every sense of that last sentence.
I'm not in hot pursuit this season to see as many Snowy Owls as I can like I was the last few years. I went from a proud light search in 2011/12 with 13 to "I stopped counting at 2 dozen" in 2013/14. Who doesn't love these majestic birds? In no way am I sick of them. I've decided to not be in competition with myself this season and just take it easy.
The only thing I was hoping for this season was one great sighting. By that I mean a bird in decent range, get a lovely photo and it didn't have to be a flight shot either... and if possible have that zen moment I like with the birds (no bullshit due to some selfish idiot trying to get the perfect shot by any means). And yesterday I got all that... mostly.
I decided to hit a different lake park where one was being reported near home throughout the weekend (actually there may have been two). It was nice and sunny out but no way could anyone feel the warmth of the rays with those cold lake winds. I was bundled up and only had to deal with a freezing face through my walk. The search for anything was looking pretty bleak unless I was into Canada Geese where I found dozens. That's okay. It's part of the thrill of the "chase". And the fact there were so few people around made things even more pleasant.
I was giving up after 40 or so minutes out. The walk back to the truck seemed so long. I was okay with not seeing a Snowy Owl. I chalked this walk up to getting some fresh air and hopefully burning a few calories from all the holiday treats. The truck is in sight now and suddenly so was this...
The Snowy was sitting here the whole time, almost in front of the parking area. But from the view point of the lot it could not be seen due to the lower elevation along with shrubs and rocks.
I got moving rather quickly now, heading up to the road with a quicker pace instead of staying along the lake trail where my movement despite being far off may spook the bird. From his location, there was a higher level of rocks on land that I could sit and watch the bird with ease. He was just over the mound out on the water. No full body view but it was nice to see his head, partial body and take in a peaceful moment with the bird. He was aware of my presence and tolerated it, not giving full attention to me. I watched, took some pics, and just chilled out with him. As time passed, my stillness paid off and bird went back to preening, yawning and just doing his thing.
I was accompanied by another person. They were in awe at the sight of this bird. They could not believe that Snowy Owls show up in Toronto. It's great to see the joy and excitement in another individual. They were taking pictures throughout our time.
Unfortunately they weren't content with this for very long and wanted to move in closer. I said "please don't, the bird is going to fly away" but they didn't listen. I also said that from down below they would not be able to see the Owl, that this was the best spot of viewing. I watched them climb down from the rock ledge and try to sneak across the rocks going out from shore to this small island (not sure what else to call it). I wanted to yell and lose my shit on this person but didn't. She was 5 foot nothing and seemingly just an inexperienced overly curious person. I didn't want to terrify her or the Owl. I chose to sit back and watch as I was certain how this was going to play out, and maybe a lesson would be learned. I also expected a photo op coming. I knew she wasn't going to harm the bird. I figured worst case scenario would be her losing her balance somewhere out there and maybe damaging her gear.
She tried very hard to get closer to the bird. The Owl was well aware of her the whole time. They can hear rodents under 3 feet of snow, they certainly can hear us big humans clunking around, trying to keep our balance on rocks over the lake. The Owl would stretch his head up as she moved closer (the above photo was about as close as she could get).
And as expected, the Owl took flight and got out of there.
He landed further down the beach.
She stood up, laughed like a happy little girl and said "you so lucky!" I said "I told you so". It was near time for me to leave for home. I waited for her to climb back to land and tried to educate her one last time about respecting the bird's space. As conversation continued I realized she wasn't such an innocent overly curious person. She talked about the St. Catherine's Snowy Owls from last winter. And everything to do with these birds was about how close she could get to them for photos. UGH!
The Owl was just down the hill from the main path now. The foliage in the top of the photo has the path right behind it. More people were out and about now and not one person saw him.
I talked to her a little more, suggesting to try and just enjoy the bird where he is, maybe use the path and foliage as a shield like I intended for one last opportunity.
All was good and now I really had to leave. I said "goodbye" and silently wished she would not try any further goofy antics. Instead of a goodbye back, she says to me "you owe me." Huh? She asked that I now take steps towards the Owl, flush him, so she could get some flight shots. I said "no way!" instead of the profanity I fought to contain. My last words were along the lines of "please leave him be where he is" and I left. As I neared the lot, I turned back and she was still in that same spot taking pictures. I hope it ended that way with her just walking away.
I expected to just get in my truck and head for home, embracing the moment prior to the goofy crap when I was stopped by an older man. He commented on the beautiful Snowy Owl, how cold the day was and all to which I agreed. He then asked me if I would like to go up to his condo for a hot chocolate and watch a porno! I used to say that the worst question asked to me when out on a nature trek was "do you know where any Owls are?"... I think this one trumps that one by a long shot. I was totally shocked by this. I said "not interested" and quickened my steps to the truck. He didn't follow me, just stood where he was, watched me get in the GMC and drive off.
See, I told you only the craziest of people would go out on such a bitter cold morning!
If you care for another uncomfortable bird outing in Toronto of mine, check this blog!