Seen this morning – Saturday, February 15, 2014 – on the Leslie Street Spit in Toronto.
There are five photos in this gallery. Click any photo to launch.
Patience is a virtue.
The last time I went down to the Leslie Street Spit looking for Snowy Owls (on the strength of a sighting report) I did not see any Snowy Owls. It didn’t really surprise me. Toronto is within its winter range, but towards the southernmost edge of it, so an absence of owls should not come as a shock. (I did see a Mockingbird, though. It mocked me.)
Today I went down again, with a vague hope that I might have better luck.
The day was one of those perfect days you get in February – cold but brilliant. Although midday light is normally not the best for photography, you can often get away with it in winter in Canada, because the sun is so low in the sky that the shadows are soft even at noon. The light was so bright that even with my sunglasses I was squinting. I saw lots of animal tracks – mostly rabbit and mouse, but also (I think) fox – but no animals except for a flock of Bufflehead Ducks and Scaup out in the lake.
I knew that Snowy Owls like big open spaces, so I figured that the best place to look for them would be at the artificial lagoons that have been created in the middle of the spit. When I got to the first lagoon I went up onto the observation platform to see if there was anything visible. The lagoon was frozen solid and covered in a thick layer of snow, but the area appeared empty of any animals. There was, however, what looked like a lumpy, grubby, snow-covered stump about three-quarters of the way across the lagoon, and I decided to go around and get a better look at it, on the off-chance that it was actually an owl. When I got a little closer I used my lens as a telescope to get a better look at it, and decided that I had fooled myself – it was just some snow on a stump.
Then it turned and looked at me.
I spent a happy quarter of an hour bouncing around the edge of the lagoon taking photos of it. It kept an eye on me but didn’t seem particularly interested in me. Finally it flew away, and I got a good look at its incredible talons, which until then had been buried in the snow. They’re big birds – their wingspan can be as much as five feet – and their claws are ferocious.
(On my way back to the road I stumbled across the leftovers of its lunch – some scraps of fur, a lot of blood-stained snow, and a little pile of innards. So gross.)