The Snowy Owl

Dear reader,

I feel like Owl's are on the top of many people's birds to see list. There is something beautiful and mysterious about them and in movies they are often portrayed as magical or mystical. On Tuesday January 2nd I set out with the intention to find my first Snowy Owl, which would be my second Owl sighting ever. I bundled up as much as I could, full long johns, thick socks, a t-shirt, a sweat shirt, jeans, scarf, gloves...you get the idea it was -20c. I had heard a couple different times from different people Snowy Owl's were in the area and I had researched as much as I could so I knew where to look. It was painful to get my camera out of my bag because it was so cold and I had to take my gloves off to put the lens on. I started off down the path nearest to the shoreline, scanning the shore with my camera the whole time. Not too far into the park not expecting to find an Owl because I was looking with my naked eye and couldn't see anything I scanned the shoreline with my camera and right in front of me was a Snowy Owl sitting on a pile of bricks and old rusted metal pieces. Snowy Owl's are well camouflaged in the winter, they are very hard to spot. I freaked out internally but was sure to not make a sound. I took a picture and checked all my settings to make sure I was ready to get the best picture possible. After getting some insurance shots from my current position I walked around some bushes to get closer hoping it would be there when I got back around. It was and it was so beautiful. Now I was pretty close. It just kept scanning on it's neck axis with half opened eyes. It didn't notice me so I took more pictures. I knew about an Owl's neck rotation but it was really cool to see an Owl scan in person, think the Exorcist. It's neck almost did a full circle. Since it didn't seem to notice me I tried to get closer without bothering it. I crept closer. It seemed to notice me now so I stopped. I took a few pictures and it went on scanning. It didn't care I was there. I moved a bit closer and it sat with no signs of stress. I took pictures from different angles and it never flew away, it just sat there. after getting what I thought was a good picture I left the Owl alone. I thanked it for changing my life forever and then text my girlfriend to let her know how amazing the experience was. I was feeling a bit cocky because when I told her what I was doing in the morning I didn't say going to take pictures I said going to take pictures of a Snowy Owl and it happened. I was so happy, any other birds I saw that day were a bonus.

 

Sincerely,

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who Loves Birds

The Friendly Raccoon

Dear Reader,

I was down in the Evergreen Brick Works, a beautiful spot but hit or miss for birds. This time was amazing. the snow was beautiful and the Cardinals, Woodpeckers  and Chickadees were everywhere and willing to pose. After a great afternoon at the Brickworks I continued to the Don Valley Trail but on my way I saw a Racoon walking on one of the rails of the nearby train tracks. I walked down a small hill from the bike path I was on to get a picture of the Raccoon. There was a fence dividing us but it noticed me and started towards me. This was great for pictures. It didn't seem aggressive at all so I just let it come towards me until it got right up to the fence and started to climb under it at my feet. I backed up and started distancing myself. I was still taking pictures and it was getting closer to me and I felt I had enough pictures so I went back up the hill to the bike path. I noticed the Raccoon slowly followed me up the hill, not being aggressive at all. It got to the top so I stopped and turned towards it. There was also a busy road right beside the path and I didn't want it walking into traffic. I started walking down the path and it followed me slowly like a neighbourhood cat looking for affection. This was confusing to me, what was going on with this Raccoon. It didn't look sick and it wasn't aggressive but I was weary. I kept walking and it followed me. Maybe it was used to friendly humans and was overly trusting. All of a sudden it took a slight left turn towards the busy road. This is where it got difficult. I stopped a couple of on coming cars and coaxed it back to the path. At this point I realized this was partly my fault. I had accidentally led it to this point and I was very concerned, when I went to get a picture I never thought this would happen so I started back down the hill towards the tracks hoping it would follow. It started to follow and then turned towards the road again. This time it kept going. Again I stopped traffic. Eventually a couple of really sweet people parked their cars blocking the road on each side even with ten cars honking aggressively at them. I was yelling at it to come back and patting my lap as if it were a dog. One of the drivers gave me a bag of nuts to try to lure it back and it came for a minute but then started back under the car. The man in the far lane car got out and the raccoon came towards him. The Raccoon grabbed his boot but in a friendly way almost like it wanted to be picked up. This was a disaster. We couldn't get the Raccoon off the road. Finally out of nowhere, many minutes later, it decided it was done blocking both lanes of traffic. It walked to the far side away from me into the forest. I really hope the Raccoon is ok. The whole time I had my phone and I was trying to call the Toronto Wildlife Centre but it was too crazy with all the cars. When the Raccoon finally took off into the forest again I felt it was ok and didn't call. I hope I didn't make a mistake by not calling them.

Sincerely,

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who Loves Birds

The Northern Harrier

Dear Reader,

I get very excited about birds of prey as you may have realized. I was out taking photos in Tommy Thompson Park with Justin Peters @birder_justin. Justin is a wealth of knowledge about birds and much more. We were standing watching Caspian Terns fly around a pond when out of nowhere a juvenile Northern Harrier flew and landed right next to us. I managed to grab a few pictures, it was hiding in the brush on the ground. Afterwards Justin realized it was likely more concerned with a Mink we saw near by more than it was concerned with us. You wouldn't think a bird of prey would be scared of much but Mink can be very aggressive especially to a juvenile bird. I have seen Mink take out ducks a few times, it is quite a sight. I felt like the Northern Harrier had a very sweet soul and I feel like you can get that from the picture attached to this blog.

Sincerely,

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who Loves Birds

Eastern Screech Owl at lunch

Dear Reader,

I was out for lunch with my girlfriend Mollie at a sushi spot near a busy intersection in Toronto. We sat right near the front window of the restaurant. After we ate I was sitting staring out the window and noticed something sitting on top of a For Sale sign outside the restaurant. I had to look closely but it looked like an owl. At first I thought it must be fake but then noticed the feathers were blowing in the wind. I pointed it out to Mollie and she thought it was fake as well. At this point I was getting very excited. I have never seen an owl in the wild before and I was convinced this wasn't a fake. I walked by cautiously hoping not to scare the bird. I noticed it opening one eye and following me as I walked by. I got so excited I ran back into the restaurant and told Mollie it was real and asked her to try not draw attention to the owl so it would stick around until I got back. The restaurant wasn't far from where I live so I ran home to grab my camera. When I got back the owl was still there. I got a few good pictures and then left it alone. I didn't want to disturb it or draw attention to it considering we were near a busy intersection in Toronto. Also the stink eye it gave me is very clear in the photo. No one noticed the owl. It was so amazing finding such a unique animal just hanging out in an urban area like that. An Eastern Screech Owl is definitely one of the most unique birds I have seen in the wild.

 

Sincerely,

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who loves Birds

Juvenile Bald Eagle

I was in Edmonton staying at some friend's house. They live a little bit outside of the city and the first thing I heard from them when we arrived at the house was that there is a Bald Eagle's nest out back. It was literally a two minute walk from their house and the Eagles were there. It felt a bit rude but I immediately grabbed my camera and I was off towards the nest. I noticed three Eagles in the area. Two with the white head, the parents and one with a brown head, a juvenile. What is true in many cases but not all the adult birds are more cautious and aware from life experience and the juveniles haven't learned all the dangers of the world yet so they are easier to get close to and photograph. I eventually got a couple photos of the adults but not until the third day of trying. The adult Eagles would fly away before I could get close enough for a good photo. The juvenile on the other hand didn't seem to mind me taking pictures and would pose for quite a while. I would leave after a few good photos so I wouldn't harass it. It was so big and beautiful. Very intimidating and powerful. If it wanted to take me down it easily could have. At one point when the Eagles were gone I walked under the nest. It was pretty gruesome down there. There were feathers and half eaten smaller birds everywhere. The Magpies didn't seem to mind all the half eaten birds, they were right there with me under the nest eating the scraps. Being that close to Bald Eagles was an experience I will never forget.

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who Loves Birds

The Curious Deer

One of the most special moments I have had while out taking photos didn't have to do directly with a bird. I was looking for a Blue Jay that was hiding from me in a tree. I heard a slight rustling in a bush beside me and when I looked over a Deer was staring at me. It didn't seem scared at all just very curious. It was so close to me it was hard to get a picture with my 150-600mm lens. I took a few photos through the bush and I guess it had finally figured me out because it calmly went on it's way. Moments like this are why I love going out and taking photos. It is such a rush. 

I hope everyone has special moments like this with animals and realize how special nature really is. Please write any of your special encounters with animals in the comments section, I would love to read them.

Talk Soon,

Danny Miles- The Drummer Who Loves Birds

Sunrise on a Red-tailed Hawk

Dear Reader,

I am still adjusting to the time change from our UK tour. We just got back on the weekend so I was up at 5am yesterday.  My home is in Toronto, Canada so it's a five hour time difference from the UK. I got ready and got a head start on the day. I was in High Park by 7am and there wasn't enough light for a good photo but I was in position for a potential sunrise picture. I immediately saw a Coopers Hawk chasing a Black-crowned Night Heron. I went in the direction of the hawk. After 20 minutes of looking for the Coopers Hawk I found a different Hawk. A Red-Tailed Hawk was sitting in a tree scoping the area with it's intense eyes for anything that could be breakfast. At this time the sun was coming up over the trees and the light was beautiful. The hawk didn't seem to be bothered by me at all. It noticed me but didn't seem to care and kept looking around for food. Because of the amazing light and such a good subject I was able take some of my favourite pictures I have taken to date. I hope you like this photo of the Red-tailed Hawk and more will be coming soon.

Danny Miles-the drummer who loves birds

The Story Of Why I Love Birds

I am the drummer in the band July Talk. We are often on the road for months at a time all over North America, Europe and Australia. On a long tour sometimes I need some space and time to be on my own. I often cure this feeling by going for hikes or long walks. One day when we were on tour in Florida I was walking through a neighbourhood and saw two Sandhill Cranes. They were just hanging out on a front lawn, I thought they were so beautiful. I was taking pictures with my cell phone and I was so fascinated by them. At that moment something had changed for me. For the rest of that tour I couldn't stop thinking about birds. When we got to Montreal on the same tour I was out for another walk. I found myself at a bookstore in the bird section, I felt very weird being in that section of the store. I was almost embarrassed for some reason but I got up the courage and bought my first Birding Field Guide. It was a rush, I quickly left the store and ran up the mountain in Montreal. I was looking for any bird I could find so I could identify them with my new field guide. I only saw a few Chickadees but I was hooked. Soon after that I got my first camera and ever since it has been a passion to go out into nature and take photos, a passion only met by my passion for music.