On May 3, after a long afternoon walking the Bruce Trail in the Bruce Peninsula National Park, the international BPBO team drove back to the station buoyed by a full sunny day. Arriving near the gate, where the landscape opens up into a large wetland rimmed by the sheer cliffs of Middle Bluff, we glanced over and saw a perched silhouette. As the mental gears quickly clicked into place, I stepped hard on the brakes and yelled “Great Grey Owl”! Pandemonium ensued in the crowded, tiny car: binoculars were raised to 16 eyes, shouts of joy and bewilderment erupted in three different languages, smiles cracked wide over all the faces!!!
It was indeed a Great Grey Owl that was perched immobile on a skeleton of a tree: a huge grey body surmounted by a dome of a head. The bird was facing away from us but its massive head swivelled from time to time in the unmistakable owl way to reveal to us deep fiery yellow eyes and the characteristic black and white “bow tie”. We soon fell into a revered hush as we lovingly drunk in the sight, the magnificence of this creature having overtaken us all. It was a first for all the volunteers and, being sighted so soon after the Snowy Owl, it was even less expected.
The half-dome of its head moved from side to side, like a captain surveying his ship, all senses alert. Suddenly, the owl was aloft and swooped down low, before gracefully flying up and perching again slightly further away. It seemed oblivious to our presence, despite our eyes feasting on it hungrily. Once again, it flew. This time, it alighted on the wispy tip of a tiny cedar, showing how light these large owls are, despite the massive wingspan. The grey ghost of the boreal forest is mostly made of feathers and has larger bones that are hollow, save an internal lattice-like structure, for maximum strength and minimum weight.
Finally and reluctantly, we peeled ourselves away from the gem before us. Little did we know that a big, black surprise awaited us: a black bear with a white crescent on its chest, was wandering the opposite shore of Wingfield Basin in the evening light. It was my first bear of the Spring but it also was the first ever for our truly lucky volunteers from Belgium and Nicaragua. The bear let itself be admired by us from every angle. After it had disappeared into the forest, we scanned the shoreline higher up and realized that the adult Bald Eagle was perched above the bear on its favourite tree. Oh! Did I mention the Peregrine Falcon we saw during our hike? Some days get etched into memory and this one certainly was.