Good Friday I wanted to go out and do one of the route surveys. It was a beautiful day, up until about 5pm, when the rain showers started. The weather predictions all weekend were looking not that good for any sort of nocturnal Owl surveys.
About 9pm, the rain stopped. I pondered over the next half hour about going out. Finally I made up my mind and went for it.
I had scoped the routes out a week earlier, I knew the spots well as they go through the Rexdale area, around my old high school, neighbourhoods and parks I frequented with friends back in the day. Funny looking at some of the route stops and I would have a flashback to something over 25 years ago. There is one spot that takes me back to memories about 40 years ago now. *gasp* All good memories because I don't like to dwell on s**t.
I opted for route 2, as in my opinion, it looked more appealing to me in way of habitat for finding any Screech Owls. All the stops aren't much more than a 2 minute drive from each other. I should have done the route in just over an hour and a half. But I didn't. 2.5 hours later I called it a night and went home.
Why so much longer? It was my first Owl survey. I gave it my all. First stop was a large park along part of the Humber River. So many potential spots. I ended up trying to call a bird from a couple spots in the park. I did the same thing in another neighbourhood as well where I tried both ends of the street.
In the end, no Owls called back to me as hard as I tried. But I did meet up with a Rexdale gang. The sounds I emitted from that small speaker certainly got their attention. And in a few minutes I found myself surrounded by three members. They said nothing, just stared back at me. I did not move. They circled me, kept staring right at me, and one got within about 5 feet of me, still locking eyes with me and not saying anything. This trail was near pitch black. I could see their eyes and not much more. I could see the road, Islington Avenue, from where I stood. And I could see my truck. If things got ugly, that's the direction I was going. Head for my truck, the lights from the road, and passing traffic. Maybe someone would stop if I needed help. Maybe the realization that more people were around would send them back into the darkness. Oh the mind was racing with a variety of scenarios as I stood there.
I wasn't scared. I do know a few friends of mine who probably would be crapping their pants at this moment though.
I lifted the flashlight to one of the gang members and then my camera.
This would probably read better if you didn't see the photo until after reading that last big paragraph. Oh well.
I call them the welcoming party. I tried for a couple other pics but nothing else came out.
It was my last stop of the night, so I think it ended on a high note despite no Owls.
I wondered about the Owls. Maybe the earlier showers kept them laying low and quiet? I had a lot of noise interference from airplanes since I wasn't far from Pearson, as well as road traffic, and in some spots the river flowed hard. Maybe I just couldn't hear one with all the other noise? It was only Friday. I knew I would try again sometime over the weekend. Plus I have the coming week to have a go at it again.
Saturday evening approached and I was thinking about it. I was tired and once again the weather turned for unpleasant conditions (it snowed heavily for a while).
Raccoon in the bath basin about 8pm Saturday night, having a good time for many minutes.
Also, throughout the day our bird bud Kellie was chatting with me about calling in Screech Owls. She's quite experienced in it and doesn't require an electronic device, she can whistle it well, and it brings her some success. We talked about weather, time of day/night and so on. She said she has better luck in the early morning hours over the evening. I kept all what she said in the back of my mind. I fell asleep on the couch about 9pm, woke up at 1am and went to bed. I woke up about 4:30am, stared at the clock and debated going out. I was tired and in a warm comfy bed. I didn't want to get up. But as the minutes passed, the bird urge was pressing in my mind. I thought about how it's Sunday morning and this would be my only chance until next weekend to try to call in Owls at such an ungodly hour. Sure I work afternoons and could do this during the work week but it would mess me up. So I got out of bed.
I was out the door before 5am and at my first stop shortly after 5am (very close to home). I allowed myself a couple hours to have a go at this, wanting to be home by 7:30am to get the Budgies up for the day. I went for route 1 this time. I came up empty. I didn't have much traffic or plane noise but the song of the many Robins was something else. I skipped one stop because there was no place close enough to park. I also thought this stop was much too open for a Screech Owl. Maybe Angie and I will try this stop when we do the survey this coming weekend? One of us can go out and try it while the other stays at the truck?
It was shortly after 6am now, the sun was starting to rise in the east. I decided to revisit a spot from route 2 since it's only a couple blocks north from where I was.
Many of my friends thought I was crazy doing this. So early in the morning. That was just nuts! Call me passionate and determined.
I get to this stop that I favored from the other night. It looks perfect for Owls even though it is in a residential area. I park the truck, roll down the windows and play the call. Even if I get nothing, I got a fresh cup of Tim Horton's with me and that was making my morning.
The trills are playing, with moments of silence in between. It wasn't very long before I hear a call back. Another trill from the speaker and I hear another trill but from the other side now. At first I think I am hearing things. But as this goes on, the return calls get louder. The bird, maybe birds, are coming in closer. Bird nerd moment, as I'm getting all full of goose bumps. I love the trill of the Screech Owls. It's eerie. Where I am parked on the side of this residential street, there is a dark wood lot right next to me (houses across the road). This spot looks more like somewhere up north with the dense woods, cottage like settings and a narrow road.
I can't see a bird out there for the life of me. I try to keep a look out when the calls come back. Suddenly a shadow goes across the front windshield. Holy s**t! It was like something out of a horror movie. The quick passing shadow of the predator/monster/vampire bat... whatever. There's that imagination of mine again.
I roll myself out the door as quietly as I can because I want to get a look, more so if there are actually 2 birds or is it just this one that is going back and forth? Maybe I should have gotten out of the truck to begin with but I was chilled from the morning out already, and I really wanted to enjoy my coffee.
I only saw the 1 Owl so I cannot confirm a second. This guy may have chased the other one off because he was an aggressive bird. How aggressive? I see him on the wire near the street lamp, he looks at me for a brief moment and then dives at me! A tiny Owl is the Eastern Screech Owl but he had no issues about doing something about my presence. I was hunkered down along the shoulder against the guard rail.
After this swoop, I stopped the calls from my mobile. He was stressed enough. Perhaps has a nest in the vicinity? Tis the season. Where we were, the time of the morning, it was unlikely a car would be coming along anytime soon but that was another concern of mine.
The bird calmed down instantly, meaning no more swoops, no more trills, and he backed off to some trees on the residential side.
Can you see the Owl silhouette?
I got back in the truck, fired it up, got the heat on, made some notes and took a sip of my coffee. I grinned at the encounter I just had. I've never experienced anything like this, seeing a Screech Owl fly, and call like he did. Of course I won't make this a habit. It's for a survey to get an idea on the population of Screech Owls in Toronto. You won't find me going out in the wee morning hours after this, attempting to relive the moment. I do need my beauty sleep.
On the way home, I did stop at a location near our home where I've spotted a Screech Owl this winter. I've not seen the bird in almost a month but thought I'd try anyway. I did get one calling, and not from the spot where I've only ever seen the bird. I will make a note of it for my reports to submit.
Unfortunately I won't post the locations, one for the Owl's sake, and for the property owners. There are people who would certainly use this information to seek them out and may not proper birding ethics. Not everyone is like that, but all it takes is one selfish idiot.
I am happy I went out that morning. Big shout out to Kellie for her inspiration! I wish luck to everyone else doing these Owl surveys!