We live in an area with a remarkable amount of bird-life, which is why you can often see bird-watching enthusiasts out in one of our local parks, sporting fancy cameras, tripods and 3-foot long lenses. Early one morning I was out in the park with The Partners and came across two people (who must have been very cold) hunkered down on one of the beaches, wearing full camo gear, squatting, cameras at the ready, waiting for some bird or another to appear.
I appreciate the obsessiveness of the activity. There was a time I was equally obsessive about casting for trout with a fly rod, identifying insects at their various life-stages and creating imitations using bits of feathers and so on. I was up on the Latin names of umpteen different insects, and I’ve waded hip deep in trout streams flowing through out of the way spots in various provinces and states. How many times have I been transfixed by the specter of a rising trout? I’m fascinated by the relationship between the bugs and the trout and the birds and so on, although these days I only get out on a trout stream a few times each season.
I can also be found in various forests through the summer, foraging for mushrooms. I never used to see the mushrooms, because I wasn’t looking for them. Now I see a whole world of fungi, from tasty edibles to deadly poisonous Amanitas and Gallerinas to very difficult to identify “little brown mushrooms”. I do spore prints, smell the mushrooms, even bruise them in the hopes of making an identification and there are usually a couple tattered field guides driving around with me in the car.
I enjoy observing nature in the park on a much more casual basis. Yesterday, though, when I saw the snowy owl, I wished my little point-and-shoot camera had a much more serious zoom.
Snowy owls have been visiting the park each winter for years. If you didn’t know an owl was around, it is unlikely you would see one. A visiting owl will find a spot to hang out and often stay put for a long time without moving much at all. Some people have been fortunate enough to see one in flight, but I’ve only seen them sitting around, usually a good distance from any human interlopers.
I hadn’t seen an owl all winter, although I looked around for them several times. I had figured they had left by now, flown back to their northern habitat. Early in the week I heard from two or three friends that the snowy was still around, and yesterday afternoon, George the Newf and I went out for a look. Sure enough, there it was.
When I first heard about the snowy owls visiting our part of the Lakeshore, somebody in the neighbourhood told me they started venturing this far south when the population of lemmings crashed a number of years ago. I nodded my head, actually knowing not a thing about lemmings. In fact I really have no idea how long the owls have been visiting. I’m sure there are some bird experts around here who know all the details. I only know that they are regularly seen around here come wintertime, usually in the same area.
In 2016, we celebrated the coming of the snowy owls by making a couple larger than life snowy owl mosaics, made from a variety of items from tiles to broken crockery to plastic poker chips.