On Friday I took advantage of a beautiful late October morning with the warm sun and blue skies. I knew Saturday was calling for rain. So I went out for a woodland walk not far from our home. I was in the mood to be alone, not for any real reason, just wanted a quiet peaceful outing with all nature had to offer. Sure I live in Toronto and that can be hard to accomplish but I know some spots.
I'm walking for an hour or so, looking and listening. I see probably 8000 American Robins in my journey and little else. Yes, slight exaggeration on the Robins but there was a lot of them regardless. If this was all I was to see in my outing, so be it. I'm at peace with the world in this moment and that's great.
I'm walking in the woods, the canopy of fall colored trees is breath taking. The trail is covered in the colorful fallen leaves. I know the trail well and don't have to worry about straying off. Suddenly up ahead I see another human. He was completely decked out in camouflage gear from head to toe and carrying a big ass lens like mine. Some days I wish I didn't see some individuals like this, wishing their camo clothes would REALLY work on all. I had hoped to pass the person by without any words being said other than maybe "good morning" but that wasn't the case. The guy pretty much blocked me on the path, no hello or nothing, just "have you seen any Owls today?"
Fuck! Why one of these types? It's like clock work, late October and out come the shit heads. I recognized the guy from a couple encounters a few years ago. I was hoping he would not recognize me but I guess that is hard to do since I have a tendency to stand out in a bird crowd with my not so stereotypical appearance... a stereotype that really isn't as common a sighting in this day and age with bird people (we come in all shapes and sizes, ages, etc).
So yes, he did recognize me, but didn't remember my name. He just said I remember you from the other winter. "Uh huh" was all I could say. I knew what the guy was going to talk about since he's done this every time I've seen him in the past. It's all about his photos. His memory card is full of them, photos from 2, 3, 4, 5 years ago. He prides about these glorious shots of his, which really aren't all that good. He's no pro, neither am I, but I don't go running around bragging even when I do get something pretty awesome. He's a self proclaimed expert on Owls, Coyotes, Hawks and Deer with a love for the Bucks in full antlers. I remember his talk about Owls the other winter and so many times I had to correct him on his sprees about them. He didn't know many of the species migrate and that Toronto is a southern region for them. He has this bizarre belief that Saw-whet Owls are tame birds and enjoy the presence of humans, so much that "in your face" is acceptable because the little Owl does not fly away.
He tried to show me his photos, and I showed him my lack of interest. Some pics I had seen how many years ago? I would even tell him that. It's not very often that I am rude to people but this guy does get that side of me. What's really sad is he is so into himself that he doesn't see the lack of interest on my part, the slight insulting jabs, nothing. He asked me about a few creatures we both knew of from the other winter. I told him they all died and gave him slight stories on each one and how they met their demise. I could see the wheels in his head turning, really wondering if I was fucking with him or not. Why am I wasting my time with this guy right now? He doesn't deserve any of my time. In the past I've had to endure this person follow me, never shutting up and if something came in our sights, he would chase after it. Of course he would spook the hell out of the creature and ruin it for all. A friend and I ditched him a couple times one morning, he'd go one way after blabbing our heads off, and we would simply go the other or turn around and head back the other way. He would notice us ditching him but somehow later would find us again; try and gain our friendship, or probably just an ear to listen to his bullshit and hopefully "oooooooooooo" and "ahhhhhhhhh" over his photos.
This morning as he yammered, I gave him little eye contact. I kept looking elsewhere. I even told him at one point to be quiet because there was a very pissed off Cooper's Hawk in the area. The bird was vocalizing every 30 to 60 seconds, sometimes taking flight from the tree and I could see through the leaves it was after something in the same tree. After saying that, I cursed myself because maybe he would tune in, figure it out, or decide to follow me. Once again, the guy was too into his own bullshit and photos to get it. Luck have it for me though, I believe the light went on in the guy's head that I had no interest to be in his company any longer (not that I ever did). He quieted for a second and then was saying "see you later" or something but I was already many steps up the path, leaving him standing there. Thank Jeebus he went the other way!
I advise people to keep their eyes and ears open, and to shut their mouth when out in the wild world. Listen to the birds and animals, they will tell you things. The Cooper's Hawk continued it's squawky aggression at something high up a tree in the area. A few Squirrels cried out their unhappiness to whatever was going on as well. I slowly made my way over to the area of interest, occasionally looking over my shoulder to ensure I was not being followed. No sight of that jack ass. I already had a plan to not hit the location if I saw him following me, and would do a route out of the area and back to the parking lot. So ya, with him gone, I'm really feeling lucky now!
The trees are still quite full of leaves, while I could hear the Hawk, I couldn't exactly pin point which tree the commotion was coming from. With all the yellow leaves above, it was like all the trees melted together. The Squirrels were all around me, clinging to the sides of the tree trunks, crying away. I waited and watched, hoping to spot the Hawk take another flight. Finally he did. I refused to turn my head or blink. I even pointed my finger up at the spot while I got my bins out with the other hand. I'm looking and still don't see anything but the Hawk on a branch. I know something is there. I suspect an Owl. I scan and scan and scan some more. I watch the Hawk, it's still pretty pissed, and takes another flight. I kinda see something now. One move to the right and I lost all sight. Two moves to the left and I see a grayish body with some streaking. I'm betting my left nut it's a Barred Owl. Though I was in disbelief at the height this Owl was at; I'd never seen one so high up... 60 ft maybe. He was in the leaf cover, occasionally getting some sun as everything blew around with the warm gusty winds.
Can you spot the Owl in the leaves?
Finally I see a face. Yes, there is a Barred Owl up there and it's looking right down at me now.
The Cooper's Hawk cared little about my presence down on the ground. He wanted this Owl out of his turf. The dueling pair making some eye contact up there.
I don't like to see animals fight but I was pretty pumped about discovering this Barred Owl; it being the first of the season for me. I really don't see them throughout the year but somehow have been fortunate to spot one or two the last few Autumn seasons. I always wish Angie or a couple good buds of mine were present with these finds, but nothing can be done about that, so I take in the moment. A few photos, watch a bit, a few more photos. I'm well away from them physically but I still think about my time there, how their focus can still be on me, I'm added stress. I leave the area and go wander elsewhere for a little while. Some Jays, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers but nothing comparing to what I left back there. Sure those birds are great, I love them all, we see them daily in the backyard... how often do I see a Barred Owl? It's getting near time for me to leave but I make sure I pass the area one last time on my way out. The Cooper's Hawk seemed to have given up as it was no where to be seen or heard. The Squirrels even stopped their cries. The Owl was still up on that high branch in the leaf clutter.
I went home just beaming about this outing. I didn't forget about the guy I ran into prior to the Owl. I laughed about his misfortune. "Serves him right!" is what I told myself. Of course if I ever run into him again I won't tell him what he missed. He doesn't deserve that kind of information and more so I just don't want to converse with him.
I had the opportunity to revisit the area about 6 hours later, and I did. It was late in the day now, the sun would be setting soon. The area was quiet. I decided to start my search where I last saw the bird. Of course he was not there. No birds were alerting me to his presence. The Squirrels were doing their thing, either oblivious or they knew he wasn't around now. I started to walk the trail south and a few short steps along I spotted him just to the east. He was maybe 20 or so feet up a tree, just watching the world go by. Amazing views of him from the path! The only downfall was the dim lighting due to the leaves above us. Occasionally the wind blew the leaves apart, letting in the last light of day. I worked with what I had to capture a few more photos of this bird. A few years ago I'd have been screwed to get anything since I had no clue how to work in manual settings.
Total zen moment with the bird.
He's well aware I am there and watching him. An Owl can hear a rodent under 3 ft of snow so surely it can hear a 175 lb guy walking on crunchy leaves.
I'm not a fan of full frame shots of most birds especially in the fall when Mother Nature paints such a beautiful background. I'm loving this shot below.
It was quite dark from this angle, so I cranked the shit out of my ISO and some other tweaks. Gee I'm using some colorful words today!
The larger Owls seem to have less concern over a human presence compared to the smaller species. Plus I am not close to him thanks to my 500mm lens.
I could have sat there for the next hour and watched him zone. I probably would have leaned myself up against a tree and passed out too. Notice the changes in the photos? Messing with them settings.
So take my advice if this is something you don't really do already... eyes and ears open, mouth shut. But don't shun all the camouflage wearing, camera carrying people though as some of them are really nice, some are my friends.