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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