The Swan Song of the Urban Snowy Owl
After my first encounter with the urban snowy owl of Toronto’s Colonel Samuel Smith Park, I was determined to find the beautiful bird again.
Yes, I had great images, but it’s about quality and quantity, right?
For three weeks, I would take the street car from our apartment in the city’s core and make my way out to the park in order to lay in the snow, slush, ice and mud in obscene temperatures in order to document interesting behaviour displayed by my new friend.
While I began to understand its habits and pattern, for the life of me, I always had trouble finding the snowy when I’d first arrive at Sam Smith.
One day, I thought I’d kill time while waiting for it to appear by taking a few shots of merganser ducks diving under the water, because, well, why not?
It was the best flippant decision I ever made.
The snowy, per usual, suddenly appeared, scarred off my subject and landed about 50 yards from my camera.
Talk about blind luck.
I must have taken a 1000 photos of the owl over the next hour as it would fly around a small part of the inlet.
It would sit on the ice…
…think deep thoughts…
…and generally look beautiful, illuminated by the setting sun.
With minutes before sunset (like she too was a wildlife photographer and knew what I needed her to do in order to capture great images), the owl took-off and flew toward a startled group of swans and chased them toward the horizon.
Though I saw her several more times after this encounter, I never again was given an opportunity like this one.
It didn’t matter.
Despite the cold, it was all worth it just to observe such a magnificent creature. It was as much an education on snowy owls as it was a brilliant photo shoot, which I love.
One of the more quirky aspects to my friend was that while most snowy owls had travelled south in search of lemmings, this owl had come in search of ducks.
In fact, this owl was so good at killing ducks, it would just take a few pecks of each bird and leave the rest for later – or, in some cases, just leave it altogether. She was more picky than a judge on Chopped.
But apparently ducks were only her appetizer.
A mute swan was my owl’s main course.
One evening I watched her carefully observe the birds from afar and as I left the park with dusk setting in, I heard a commotion from behind me. I assumed the owl caught another duck.
When I returned the next day, I learned that the noise I heard was, to my great shock, the snowy killing a swan.
It was the owl’s swan song before her northward journey. And it was a remarkable end to an incredible few weeks in the wilds of downtown Toronto.
Tags: merganser, nature, outdoors, owls, photography, sam smith park, simon jackson, snowy owl, swan song, toronto, transit, urban wildlife