by: Mike Lushington  

I had broken out this new snowshoe path a few days previously. In all, it extended west from home for nearly four kilometres, traversing two large clear-cut areas and the woods that remained between them. It is an area that offers winter shelter for moose, foxes, various smaller animals, winter birds, and, I suspected, several deer. It was with these deer in mind that Sasha and I were prowling around.

We didn't find any deer on this morning, but we did find that, at least temporarily, another creature had taken to visiting the area.

We had left home perhaps half an hour earlier, and, despite the -25 cold of this intensely beautiful morning, I had warmed up nicely during my stomp through the woods. Now, I stopped for a minute to adjust my clothing, pulling my toque back down over my ears, and zippering up my jacket. I could feel the breeze again as I stepped out of the protection of the trees and began to cross the open.

We had almost reached the far side. There is a little patch of uncut stuff there, mostly small cedar and spruce. There are also several brush piles and the mice and voles had obviously found them to their liking. A fox had been investigating and regularly and so had something else. Suddenly, silently, with the lightness of a bundle of feathers, this apparition in brown lifted from a snag off to my right, and with slow, elegant grace, drifted across my path and alit in a small White birch just to my left. "Owl", I realized instantly, and almost as quickly, "a big one."

Sasha had seen the bird at the same time that I did and was now energetically punching a path of her own to the base of the tree, rather to the bemusement (I thought) of the owl. It immediately became more concerned with a raven that had spotted it and that immediately charged over to investigate and to protest its very presence. (Ravens, crows, and jays detest owls and do everything they can to make their lives miserable.) Realizing that it was vulnerable, the owl moved to a large tree, one with several branches that afforded it some protection from the aerial assault. With all of the attention that it was devoting to the raven and to Sasha, it had little time for me and that was fine as far as I was concerned. I had begun to suspect that this was no ordinary Barred owl and I wanted to get as good a look at it as I possibly could.

Slowly I began to circle the tree in which it sat. I had noticed something of its size when it had flown into the tree; my first impression was that it was easily larger than the raven - it self a big bird. Its colouring was greyer, more "frosty" than the Barred owls that I had seen over the years. And then, there were the eyes.This bird did not have the large, black eyes of Barred owls. Everything began to add up. then I remembered that several knowledgeable birders had mentioned in recent days that there was an invasion of Great Gray Owls from the west. these birds had been appeared in record numbers in eastern Quebec, moving eastward along the Saint Lawrence, and that it was likely only a matter of time before they began to show up in northern New Brunswick. Could this be one of the first of those birds?

It was! By the time I got back home to check my references, I was certain. My first ever Great Gray Owl - a spectacular bird - one of the more exciting moments of the winter - and it was practically in my backyard. How long would it stay around? Would I see it again? I didn't know, but, for the moment at least, I was content to have seen it, to have been "in the right place at the right time." I counted myself fortunate indeed on that cold, gorgeous morning.


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