Hi everyone who steps into the world of Rob and the Animals!
I'm jumping right in on this blog... short version of what may or may not be a long story here is recently we were contacted by The Owl Foundation about the possibility of releasing a couple juvenile Great Horned Owls. One of which I had met back on March 1st when I brought him down there after a short stay at Toronto Wildlife Centre. Someone had found him on the ground far below his home some 60+ feet up a tree. Attempts were made to get him home safely, but that wasn't possible due to the height of the nest. So arrangements were made to get him down to The Owl Foundation and introduce him to "Big Red" who is an amazing foster mom Great Horned.
As you can imagine, all went according to plan, from getting him down there, the introduction and some months of him being raised by Big Red, learning how to be an Owl, or better put to be an independent wild Owl. It still blows my mind that these permanent residents at The Owl Foundation, who all are still wild Owls now in captivity due to their injuries, are fostering Owls of the same species and giving them a second chance at a wild life of their own somewhere in the future. Note, residents at The Owl Foundation have very little human interaction. Most monitoring is done with cameras.
So to be in the first part of this bird's life, helping him get to the help he needed was an honour. Now to be a part of the next chapter, getting him back to the wild, well, "epic" is an understatement. I'm sure my statement there can be mirrored by his finder.
We had planned for sometime over the weekend of October 3 and 4th, weather pending. As of Friday the weather was looking decent. By Saturday morning we had another story which was cool, cloudy, damp and windy. Not ideal conditions for release, especially those winds. Angie had been in contact with the finder and we kept our hopes up the release was going to be sooner than later. All of us were quite anxious to be a part of this. The weekend passed without a release as the weather never improved.
Monday arrived and finally the weather turned for the better. It still wasn't quite what they had predicted 12 hours earlier but it wasn't nearly as windy or wet.
Thanks to my new temporary shift at work, I ended up having Monday off and was able to play a part in this as planned. It sucked that Angie couldn't do the drive with me down. I left early in the afternoon, tunes cranked and my mind was wandering with how this day was going to play out.
I was at TOF in record time. Stacy met me in front of the house with a volunteer and away we went. First off was to catch the 2 Owls for release. Stacy went to it in the large enclosure and sure made it look very easy. First up was the High Park "kid".
What a face!
She asked if I would like to help with the banding of the bird. I said "yes". Really I don't do a whole lot except hold the Owl while she does all the work. But what a thrill to hold such a bird! Obviously the Owl did not like us nor what we were doing to him. Thank goodness for gloves as he got my fingers in his talons more than a couple times. If you look at the above photo, you can see he is wrapped up in a blanket of sorts (more like a straight jacket) both for his protection and ours. Everything goes much smoother with a patient who co-operates or is unable to put up a fight. I was thrilled at this opportunity but also a little intimidated because these are powerful birds. I wasn't afraid of getting hurt but afraid of hurting him even as contained as he was. It was a very new experience to me. I kept thinking about the Screech Owl I helped back in the Spring, so much easier to work with even if his hatred to me matched this Great Horned.
No photos were taken of me with the Great Horned since Angie was not there and I forgot to ask someone to snap one. Ah well, the memory will be with me for a very long time.
After a weigh in, wing measurements, banding, etc. he was put in a carrier.
Next up was "Blondie". A feisty young female from the Vaughan area. This was one beautiful but nasty snarly bird chocked full of ferocity and attitude! She hissed and clicked at us, voicing her disapproval to everything. I opted out of helping with her because I knew the whole process would probably take much longer to do with me, and I feared one of us getting hurt due to my inexperience. I know well enough that no one at TOF would let that happen. But in my head, if I am not completely comfortable with it, best not do it. I got a taste of how it's done so I was happy.
You can see why she was nicknamed "Blondie". Look how light in color she is!
You can see she wasn't keen on us and all that was happening.
Just sit back and relax.
Look at those feet!
Weigh in time.
Some measurements being done.
I bet after this she never wants to see another human being again in her life.
After she was done, she too was loaded up in a carrier and soon after I was on my way back to Toronto.
I had been keeping in touch with Angie as well as Gray who is the finder of the High Park "kid". Basically keeping them up to date on where I was, time schedules and so on. Everything was going according to plan, well almost everything, except that Angie could not join us. Disappointing to Gray and I, but it is what it is, life gets in the way at times. Our good friends Jim and Lynda were meeting us at the release location and they too were disappointed with Angie missing this.
The four of us meet on time, I grabbed the carrier and we went for a walk. Dusk was approaching, the evening was mild and we found a spot which seemed suitable for the release, and it was quiet (meaning lack of people). I talk about how I am going to release the Owl from his carrier, something I had explained to me earlier at The Owl Foundation. The door to the carrier isn't exactly wide enough for the bird to come out of. I have to take the whole top of the carrier off, and while I do, I must ensure I am still holding the metal cage door as well otherwise it may fall back and hit the bird. It probably wouldn't harm the Owl but certainly would add a lot of stress.
Having set the carrier down, I am unlocking all the latches.
Now I am slowly lifting the top of the carrier off, ensuring I have a good hold on the door.
Carrier top and door are almost off, and everyone gasped at this moment, first sight of the Owl.
Nobody stood in front of the Owl. We corralled some 6 ft back from him and watched.
He sat and watched us too in between scoping the surroundings.
The Owl did not fly off immediately. He must have sat there for 10 minutes but it sure felt longer. The wait and wonder on when he was going to fly consumed us. We enjoyed seeing him at such a close range but the anticipation on when he would fly was overwhelming. And then, out of the blue, people started coming through the park area from all different directions... some with dogs, a few with off leash dogs! My main focus was on the bird and his well being. I commend my friends on taking care of the people and especially the off leash dogs. I really only remember Lynda at this moment, halting a guy with a rather large Rottweiller type dog not on leash who was watching us some 50 ft off. Lynda may be small but don't let that fool you, when it's something she's passionate about... look out! Thankfully we did not have to see her fiery side come out. Everyone who chanced upon us was great, co-operating, standing well back and watched or hustled along quickly. I was bewildered by those who hustled off. This was something most of us have never seen, nor would ever again (slim chance). Oh well.
Then, suddenly the Owl took flight. He flew across the stretch of field to the edge of the wood lot, gaining height, and finding a branch to sit on and take in his surroundings. His actions did not go unnoticed by other inhabitants of the forest, some 5 or 6 Blue Jays voiced their disapproval and even took a few swats at him.
The Owl stood his ground with the attacks and eventually the Blue Jays gave up and left.
Moments later the Owl left this branch and went deeper into the woods.
He landed in another tree deeper in.
I'm sure we all wished him the best of luck in his new life and we left the area, headed for our rides, said our "goodbyes" and away we went. Everyone headed home while I had "Blondie" still waiting for me in the truck. She hissed upon my entry into the GMC (the carriers are in the back of the SUV).
It was almost dark now, and I knew where I was going, so I wasted no time in getting there. I brought a flashlight with me just in case. What I wished I had with me upon getting to the next release site was bug repellent as the mosquitoes were brutal! Who would have thought on October 5th that those buggers would be an issue?
I grabbed the carrier as gently as I could, walking her to the release site like I was carrying a time bomb. Blondie still hissed and even thrashed about a few times within. As I worked to remove the lid of this carrier, she fought, pushing hard to open it. Smart bird! I barely had it off when she jumped out onto the ground, stretched her wings, turned to look at me for a split second and then took flight. She landed in a nearby tree for not much more than a couple minutes, surveying the area, and then took off again. It was like this bird knew exactly where she was going. Crazy!
Serious tweaking of the manual settings to capture this crap record shot of Blondie just before she took off into the darkness.
Wow! Epic! I will refrain from some blue collar terms I have playing in my head right now. LoL!
Here I am earlier in the adventure, this is my happy face. I'm told it can be seen in my eyes.
I am very thankful we have such wildlife places like Toronto Wildlife and The Owl Foundation. I can't imagine our area, heck even the province, without them. I'm sure thousands of animals are too in their own way. I am proud to volunteer with them where I can, no matter what it is I can do to help them, to help wildlife. I always tell people there are so many ways to help from donations of money to items they use regularly (check their wish lists) or sign on as a volunteer be it for driving, in house cleaning and care, fund raising and so on.
The glow from the Owl releases had me go to bed grinning, dreaming of Owls, and the next afternoon I went for a walk near our home in hopes of spotting one I see semi-regularly who I have named Grace. I hadn't seen her since September 16th. I found her on this afternoon just chilling out. I hope the two I released the night before are somewhere enjoying their wild and free lives high atop the trees.