I've been pleasantly surprised to see a Snowy Owl near the Pepsi plant (where I work) the last 8 days! It's been a much slower winter this time around for this species of Owl in our area. I really wish I kept at documenting my encounters with Snowy Owls in the 2014/2015 season because in my mind, it was astounding. 3 nights a week, average was 2 Owls in a 10 km stretch but some nights I did see up to 4 Owls.
Early December of this season I was seeing a Snowy on my way home. It favored one lamp post along the Hwy 401 south of Pearson Airport, east of Dixie Road. Unfortunately this choice post was right in the middle of the 401. West bound on one side, east bound on the other. There was no way in heck I could ever pull over anywhere to have a safe view of this Owl. All I could do was catch a glimpse of the bird as I passed it, keeping my speed, going with the flow of traffic that is pretty steady even at 10:15PM.
The Owl stopped visiting this lamp post and area about a week before Christmas. I've not seen one there or anywhere along the way since.
Well that is, until recently, January 19th to be exact. I was on the on-ramp to the 401, heading for home after work. Like always, one eye on the road, another just keeping watch for big white "globs". I saw one this night but I was already on the highway. Shit! I decided to get off at the next exit and backtrack. Sure I've seen a lot of Snowy Owls in the last few years but I'm always happy to see another. This was the first one for 2016. I really wanted to have more than a split second view.
I'm back at the spot about 15 minutes later and the bird was gone. Did I really see one? I'm sure I did. It had to be!
Next night I re-route my journey home, side roading it momentarily and I brought my camera along. Luck have it, the Owl was back and even on the same lamp post! I smiled, pulled the truck over (remember I'm not on the highway this time) and I watched the bird for a brief bit. Then it was photo time. I tweek my settings, working in manual and cranking the heck out of my ISO plus some other things to capture something in the dark, using the street lamp as my only light source. Do I really need another photo of a Snowy Owl? No. But it's fun to take a few shots and share to the world what I saw on my drive home from work. I hope to inspire others to get off their couches and get outside, look at the wild world around us and maybe see something very cool and memorable.
I find it surprising when I share on social media with how many people I know who have never seen a Snowy Owl. I guess with the countless sightings I've had since these irruptions started up a few years back, I figure everyone must have encountered at least one in the last 4 years because the birds have been seemingly everywhere. Last winter one favored a lamp post outside the Metro store at Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke. Those who did spot it were stunned that such a big majestic bird would be sitting in such a spot. One Snowy was seen on a home owner's rooftop just outside of High Park in Toronto. A Home Depot sign in Oakville. I had one many times right outside a Tim Horton's in Mississauga. The list goes on.
This Snowy of mine (seems I'm the only one seeing it) has popped up several times in the same area since I first spotted it just over a week ago. Two of four days last week and I'm three for three with the bird this week. Does it get boring? Not really. I'm not out for photos and I don't linger around. I've only gone out of my way to sit and watch the bird a couple times. Other encounters I pass it, acknowledge the sighting in my brain and just keep going. It's pretty awesome to see such a bird after dark when much of our neck of the planet is unwinding or asleep. Who could ever complain about seeing a Snowy Owl minutes after leaving their job? 8 hours of work, I quickly forget the shift as I put the tunes on in the truck and leave the parking lot but having a Snowy Owl chilling on a lamp post moments later sure adds to the "Work? What work? Did I just work a third of my day away?" Some of you may get this.
I don't get out of my truck when I stop to view the Owl. What's the point? He's up on a lamp post, doing his thing and isn't bothered by my truck. Thousands of vehicles pass him day and night, so what's so different about mine? Now if I get out of the truck, suddenly there's a large creature noticing the bird, in the mind of the Owl I could be a threat and in the blink of an eye the Owl goes "buh bye" and flies off. Why ruin the moment?
The bird's attention is not on me a whole lot. He will take notice to the truck, maybe the head lights as I'm across the road from it. It could be when the truck comes to a stop in a parking spot that he looks over and observes. The bird is hunting, he's looking all around, and in chance moments I get the glance. It's nice to see the eyes of the Owl for a second, to get that shot, but much of the time it is just this...
In my encounters I have been fortunate enough to see the bird leave it's post, dive down in the field and once I saw it actually catch a mammal and bring it back to the same post. Who needs to go home and watch the nature channel?
Sure the night shots aren't National Geographic worthy. But I'm a nature enthusiast. I'm NOT a photographer. This is my enjoyment during "me time".
I like the contrast of these photos and they give me some smiling memories.
Here is a cell phone shot of the Owl.
I did a blog about the Snowy Owl night sights from last season, you can check it out here.
If you are still here, time for some crazy shit. I've learned something... have Owl, have new friends! Social media sharing gets many pm's about Owl locations and friend requests galore. Kinda funny. Some stranger who has never said "boo" to me suddenly wants to be my friend after I share an Owl photo. A lot of my buds experience the same stuff so this really isn't too crazy. The pathetic part is when someone tells me they've never seen a Snowy Owl, or never seen one the current season, yet a troll of their personal page and what do I see but Snowy Owl photos! Liar liar pants on fire! Yes I really do wish some of you would have your gitch light up in flames, and the pains of a smoldering crotch will give you something else to think about instead of where this Snowy Owl is. Shit, better tuck those devil horns of mine back under the hair. Ha ha!
Okay, how about this... I was telling someone that I saw a Snowy Owl after work. It was just simple conversation, catching up and the reaction from this person set me back for a moment. The reply to my verbal about the sighting went something like this... "Wow! Really? It was pretty cold and damp and windy last night. What a stupid bird being out on a night like that!" In my head there was some good filth flarin' flim flam, calling them a few names and reminding them that this is a wild animal, they don't have a home to go hide out from the weather, they don't go to Loblaws to get their meat, they don't have a freezer to store it in, etc. That makes for a good story to tell my bird friends.
Have Owl, have new friends... have Owl, have idiots!
Last winter while viewing a Snowy Owl at a lake front park in Toronto alongside a couple who both had cameras, the boyfriend of the pair asked me some questions regarding these birds. Are they the biggest Owl? Do they sleep all day? Do they eat cats?
I'm wondering if he has a problem with ferals or something, wishing the Owls to come down for the winter and eat them all but nope, that's not it. He continued his bit explaining why he asked such a question. "I see people giving away kittens and cats in the papers and on Kijiji all the time. Imagine getting a shot of a Snowy eating a cat!" So many things I wanted to say to this man but all I could get out was "You are f**ked" and I walked away.
Here is a blog from last January that some of you may remember. Apparently I owed this woman for flushing a Snowy. Then it ended with an offer for a nice hot beverage from an older gent along with some choice adult movie viewing.
Now some of you may see why I really enjoy my alone times with the birds. And if my best Snowy Owl moments are me and the bird, long after the sun goes down, I am very much okay with that.