April 09, 2006

Twelve O'Clock And Owl's Well

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Early April means it's time for the annual nocturnal owl survey, a spring ritual my friend Jason and I have done now for five years as part of a Manitoba Conservation study. Survey volunteers are able to choose any number of predetermined ten-mile routes across the province, and from the get-go we've always selected the most rugged and remote one possible: a dark, often hair-raising, ends-of-the-earth stretch of logging road leading from just north of Pine Falls into the gut of Nopiming Provincial Park – a beautiful wilderness I'd visit more often if it was passable for most vehicles. Washouts, washboarded gravel roads and recent overland flooding have made that a truth.


The trip always begins with a rest at the still-frozen Shoe Lake after the two-and-a-half hour drive from the city. We usually dawdle here while it gets dark (the survey begins a half-hour past sundown), and then head to the start of the route a few kilometers away. The route is broken down into one-mile stations with a two-minute listen at each stop. This year was ideal; no wind, a bright moon, temperature about zero. And it paid off, with no less than 14 owls (two long-eared, two barred, two boreal and eight saw-whet owls) heard over 20 stations – our previous high being four. Also heard in the dark were the wing-thumping courtships of ruffed grouse, the overhead whistling of flying ducks, one unknown ground-pawing creature in the bushes and other odd noises that sounded like empty mustard bottles being squeezed.

I love the owl survey. It's always the first chance of the year I get to really disappear from the city and winter, and out in the park and along the routes we're often literally the only people for miles. I love the quiet and the near-creepiness of the deep boreal woods at night, and that it only takes two hours in these parts to truly "get lost".

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top: a lonely stretch of logging road north of Pine Falls, nearing midnight. above (clockwise from top left): a busted CD player meant we were back to the classics; Jason's new GPS unit shines on a particularily bumpy part of the road; the almost-full moon; the still-frozen Shoe Lake at sunset.

10 comments:

Allan L. said...

Beautiful photos, dude.

Jeope said...

The big photo is a lot darker here at work than at home where I post these things. Can everybody see it OK?

Ekota (kgiff) said...

The photos are beautiful. And the trip sounds awesome.

lew! said...

yeah the big photo looks great.
what were your settings?

Jeope said...

With a tripod I used the Rebel's time-value mode (I set the shutter speed, in this case 30 seconds, the max allowed under this mode - and the camera sets the aperture). There was also Photoshoppery involved to sharpen and brighten clouds, stars, etc.

Ian said...

sweet night shot! How's the noise?

That's the cool thingabout digital, that shot would have been impossible 5 years ago.

Ian said...

Oh and Miami Vice soundtrack? Jan Hammer? very cool

Jeope said...

Actually, there's a lot of noise in that shot ... hence the Photoshop surgery. Even still, it's prolly best as a web image or something small.

Princesa de Chocolate said...

It's like a dream J-man! Great photos! Now about the 'miami vice' lol...

Michelle said...

I know that lonely stretch of road well. My Dad had a cabin out in Nopiming, at Beresford Lake, which is a little further north of Shoe Lake. I have now inherited that cabin. The images you captured are gorgeous Jeope.

I'm not sure what it is about Nopiming compared to other lakes/parks that I have spent a lot of time at, but I've never experienced such a sense of lonliness and uneasiness as I do when I am in that particular stretch of wilderness. There is no indoor plumbing at our cabin, and whenever I have to go out at night by myself I run like crazy to and from the outhouse, usually with my eyes closed. It's not a fear of wild animals, or anything realistic and I'm not sure how to explain myself exactly. I guess it's just that usually I feel that nature is my "friend" at other places, but out there it feels like it is just so much bigger and powerful, and we just don't run in the same circles. Maybe it's the long drive out there in the middle of nowhere, or the northern lights and lighting spectacles that I've had the privilege to be a witness of, or all the abandoned mine site, or the "lone grave" on the side of the road towards Bisset, close to Beresford, (it is a "point of interest", with a sign that actually reads "lone grave").

Your owl surveying reminds me of the last trip I took out there with a friend of mine last fall. We left the city late at night, so the whole drive was in darkness. We had to pull over in the middle of no where because my friend got carsick (the roads were especially washboardy). We finally made it to the entrance to Beresford and there was a HUGE owl sitting in the middle of the road. Luckily I didn't run into it because it could care less about my car being there and wasn't too interested in moving. (It wasn't hurt or anything and did eventually fly away. We saw a few more owls that weekend, so hopefully they are doing well out there!