Monthly Archives: March 2017

Face to face with an owl!

It was a cold Sunday morning but at least it was a dry cold; the sun was shining and there was no wind. I felt great. I knew that on a day like that most people would simply stay indoors, but not me. I love photography and love a challenge as well, and taking pictures in -20 degrees Celsius or -4 degrees Fahrenheit for my American readers is certainly a challenge.

I was in the botanical garden, a place that I know well as it is barely fifteen minutes from where I live. There one can find foxes, raccoons, groundhogs as well as all sorts of birds, including large birds such as hawks and of course, owls.

I had previously seen owls in the garden, but all were seen from afar as they tend to stay in high in trees or they are well hidden sitting on a branch inside a conifer. I had previously seen a barred owl sitting on a branch not too far from me and I had taken some nice pictures but the owl was in the shade. This time it was different.

I had walked for well over 90 minutes with nothing to show for. Of course in winter just going for a walk let alone walking 90 minutes in freezing conditions is good for one’s health, but not having taken a single picture and going home empty-handed is bad for one’s morale. And waiting for the bus with nothing to show for is even worse. I was now in the last moments of my stay in the garden and I knew it. I was ready to cry uncle and leave as there are limits to my patience as well as my stamina. I was entering an area called the alpine gardens. I looked around the area and thoroughly searched it visually as well as physically, no small feat as the area was slippery. I then decided to return home by going by the same way that I had entered, a rarity for me as I usually do the opposite. For once it served me well.

I was walking towards the path when from afar my eye was attracted to something on a branch. It looked like an empty beehive with its characteristic gray color. I decided to use my lens and zoom in on the object and it was then that I realized that it was not a beehive. What I saw was a beak, a small yellow beak. I looked at the rest of the image and discovered that it was a small owl called a saw-whet owl.

Immediately I was seized by excitement, followed by fear. I was too far to take a picture and I imagined someone walking towards it and forcing it to flee. I started to walk towards it slowly, taking pictures at regular intervals. I did want something to show for. But as I got closer I was able to see that the small owl was not moving as it seemed to enjoy the sun. It was opening its eyes and did sway its head to locate the birds around it but it looked content to remain as is, sitting on a branch in the sun.

I was finally able to get so close to the owl that I could have petted it on the head. That close. For over thirty minutes I took pictures from every angle possible and still the owl would not move. I believe that it must have eaten soon before as I discovered in looking over my pictures a drop of blood on its body.

About towards the end of my stay a walker arrived behind me. I was torn between showing him my discovery and just seeing if he was going to discover the bird by himself. He walked by the bird without seeing it. I was not surprised having long thought that most people walking are simply not there, the body being there but the mind is away.

Having had my fill of good owl pictures I left the owl in the same area as I had found it, happy that in spite of frigid conditions I had seen a bird that people rarely see in broad daylight. Now only if that sort of thing happened every day….

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Micro plastics are choking the oceans.

Add another item to worry about; micro plastics in the oceans. It seems that this pollutant of a new kind is everywhere in the seas. Off the B.C coast a sample returned 25,000 plastic particles and fibers in one cubic meter of water. Astounding.

What surprised me in reading the article is that even laundry produces fibers that eventually are found in the oceans. A single sweater could release as much as 10,000 particles of micro plastic fibers. Let us go naked…

This is not only a Canadian issue but a global one. One estimate is that the total amount of plastic dumped in the oceans is equivalent of a garbage truckload every minute. At the rate we are going by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish!

What is more scary is the effect of these plastics and fibers on the ecosystem. Already when shellfish have been tested they found fibers in every sample that they studied. What is the risk to humans? We do not know, but at a certain level it cannot be good. I foresee the day when officials will tell us that one should eat shellfish only once a month perhaps.

And what about fish? Micro plastics can accumulate in them as well. I can see a future when people will only eat fish coming from farms rather than from the oceans. I for one will not wait, and will stop eating fish more than once a month until more is known about the risks of eating ocean fish. All this is disheartening especially when one see what the Trump administration is going to do to the E.P.A. Clean air and clean water is basic stuff.

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An early spring is not a good thing.

I was amazed when I read an article about spring arriving earlier and earlier and being detrimental to birds trees and people. I was of the opinion that an early spring was good, at least good for humans. I see it around me with red-winged black birds having arrived last week, much earlier than before in the Montreal area.

It seems that the trend is to see life emerging from winter earlier and earlier. Leaves on average now appear 20 days earlier than before. Insects also appear much earlier as well as birds. But if it is too soon, and a cold snap re-appears then these insects will die compromising the survival of birds. It also means that long-distance birds can decline if they arrive at the wrong moment contrary to birds that have a short migration route. There is evidence that those birds who have a short migration route can sometimes halt their migration or even slow it down.

Humans can be affected by this warming trend as an early spring will affect the ground. An early snowmelt will dry out the ground earlier than usual which in turn can affect farmers and their crops, thereby raising prices for consumers. If forest dry out earlier in the year that means that the fire hazard will grow. A dry winter and an early spring greatly affected the Fort McMurray fires of last year.

We still do not know who will be the winners and losers of climate change, but it is possible that on balance we may have more losers than winners, and there will be a cost to this.

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