...two days in row, beginning with last Sunday, when Chris asked me to join her on a last-minute road trip to transport two injured owls from the Toronto Wildlife Centre to The Owl Foundation in Vineland. An Eastern Screech-Owl and a Northern Saw-whet Owl had both been found in York Region. One had been covered in sap but had since been cleaned up in Dawn dish detergent (yes, those ads are true!!), and the other had sustained a wing injury, but were both expected to make full recoveries after further cage rest at the Owl Foundation.
Even before we got on highway 401, Chris and I were shocked to hear the Saw-whet begin tooting from his box in the back seat of the car, it was totally amazing and it continued off and on the whole way down to Niagara. Chris and I unsuccessfully tried to restrain ourselves from "ahhhhhhhhhhhh"'-g each time it started up again, it just broke our hearts!
Upon our arrival at the Owl Foundation, we handed off our two feathered passengers to Kara so she could check them into their "rooms" at the spa. Kay McKeever greeted us as well, inviting us into her home for a visit, as well as a cup of tea, such gracious hospitality!
Here's Chris outside of the facility:
TOF was founded by Kay and her husband back in the seventies, and is an owl rehab centre that focuses on helping wild owls that have been injured or orphaned. The ultimate goal is for them to be released back into the wild, but only if it's determined that the owls are able to survive on their own, which is not always the case, unfortunately. However, this means that Kay has some very interesting companions in her home!
Chris asked Kay if it was possible for me to meet "Big Bird", and she quickly obliged, escorting Chris and I to the living room where this large stuffed owl was perched on the back of a chair. I suddenly realized it was alive and real when it slowly did that slow-mo head turn that owls are famous for!!!
Big Bird is a beautiful female Great Gray Owl that was injured near Wawa back in 2005, suffering neurological damage, as well as the loss of vision in her left eye, but she has found great comfort at home with Kay over the years:
Much to Chris' and my delight, Kay then put Big Bird on a portable perch and we took turns holding and caressing her on our laps, can you imagine, we were thrilled!!!!
Kay then invited us to take photos, but "only if we wanted to" as if - I tried to control my excitement as I flew to the car to get our cameras!!!
Chris' photos of her with Big Bird have gone missing, or so she tells me, but she sent me these ones, thanks so much, Chris!
What an amazing day, never in my life did I expect to get this close to a Great Gray, let alone hold one in my lap and tickle it through the feathers!!! Plus having a black cat wander around with Big Bird in the room was a tad surreal, too!
Kay shares an extremely special bond with this owl and it was incredibly touching to see them both together in the same room. We thanked Kay for her wonderful hospitality and left after a couple of hours that I'll never forget, thanks again, Chris, for the phenomenal opportunity.
The Owl Foundation's website lives here...
...and the Toronto Wildlife Centre's lives here:
From there, Chris and I made a few
futile stops at birding hotspots around the west end of Lake Ontario, including Gray's Road in Stoney Creek Chris was thoroughly impressed with my navigational skills- NOT, the lift bridge at Hamilton for a pair of Peregrine Falcons under major construction, yielding yet another navigational nightmare, arghhhh , and an almost-stopover at LaSalle Park in Burlington frozen solid, why bother!
The best spot for birds was at Spencer Smith Park in Burlington, where we finally saw some! They included some Long-tailed Ducks, Canada Geese, Redheads...
...and a Greater Scaup that Chris and I originally thought had an injured leg, but it was just the sunlight playing tricks on us:
Trumpeter Swans were also present here, as well as further east along the lake at Sioux Lookout:
We returned home from there, while Chris joyfully shared some of her best rescue and release stories with me from her time-well-spent at the TWC.
On Monday I lived another dream, in fact one so obscure that it had never even occurred to me: snowshoeing to see eagles Bald, Golden, I wasn't choosy...
I arrived at Dan and Susan's home in the Kawarthas where Cooder attempted to greet me with his usual enthusiasm but his mouth was frozen shut:
Dan and I planned our strategy for the day and began at Jack's feeders around the corner where it was fairly quiet compared to other times there. Jack's the kind fellow that ambitiously maintains over thirty feeders and brings them inside each night. I thought it time to include a photo of him with Dan:
Common Redpolls, American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, and numerous Blue Jays eventually arrived, once a Northern Shrike left the area, as its presence tends to break up a party....
From there we headed off to the area where Dan and another local birder had recently seen eagles, but alas, the snowshoes were back at Dan's, so we watched from the road as dozens of Common Ravens noisily flew around off in the distance, and in the end we spotted one immature and three adult Bald Eagles, either flying or perched in trees until they were harassed off by the ravens.
We were thrilled but still eager for closer views. Dan had already obtained permission from the landowner to access his property, so we would have to return after lunch with snowshoes to gain closer views of the treeline where all of the action was:
We made a few other stops to some local spots before returning back to Dan and Susan's for lunch, as did their Snow Buntings!
So my day of reckoning was now upon me, would I or would I not survive these??
Dan fitted me with the snowshoes and I was thrilled to discover that I wouldn't have to climb over a gate to access the field sorry to disappoint you, Ann!
Dan thankfully broke the trail ahead of me there is a god as he dragged a sled with my scope on it I was way too big to fit on it, drat , so off we go!
Common Ravens continued their raucous behaviour as we continued on, seeing all sorts of critter tracks in the snow:
Dan scouted out the area ahead of me, while I stayed behind with my binos looking for eagles...
In the end we decided the better approach next time would be to stay close to the treeline for several hours, giving the eagles plenty of time to safely fly in or land close to us. As Dan said, the ravens continued to blow our cover as we schlepped ourselves across the snow. But it was certainly great exercise and helped keep us warm in the arctic temperatures.
Plus I admit to being in total awe of myself for managing to be actually mobile and upright....
OMG, not again. . .
...only to discover that my latest frenemy DAN, instead of helping me up, snapped away with my own camera, no less, arghhhhhhhhhhh:
I couldn't believe it
Well, actually, I could: how this happened was by me suggesting to Dan to get a pic of me with one foot lifted up out of the snow to show off the snowshoe, what an idiot I was/still am
Plus the fact that I was on the top edge of a valley, just tempting fate to roll down it if I moved the wrong way, just perfect :-(
Dan spoke to me in his teacher voice, reminding me to go back to Grade Five, I recall code word for: "SHADDUP AND LISTEN TO ME", and I made it out alive once again as he talked me through it. I asked him if Ann had put him up to taking incriminating pictures of me throughout the day, which he denied, but I'm still not convinced!
I did the Snowshoe Shuffle of Shame back to the car without further incident, but we enjoyed some of the wintry landscapes along the way:
Our last stop for the day was over in the Carden area, after making a quick stop in Fenelon Falls for possible Bald Eagles on the ice. The target bird at a feeder in Carden was a Brown Thrasher but it was too late in the day, so I bid farewell to Dan for yet another fine adventure in the Kawarthas.
Thanks again, Dan, for a fabulous day and putting up with my shenanigans (it seems that even without Ann I can get myself into ridiculous situations), and I look forward to hearing that teacher voice again soon!!