For most, Sundays are generally a day of rest and relaxation. They aren’t so much for me, since I work on Sundays, but I do try to enjoy them.
This particular Sunday in May promised warmth and sunshine. After an endless winter with almost no birding, I was determined to bird my heart out. Once I’d escaped the walls of my workplace, I decided to run up to a local city park for a bit of birding.
I’d once promised my friend that I’d take him birding sometime. He was about to move to another state, and we’d probably not get another chance to bird together before he moved. So on a whim, that “sometime” had finally arrived.
I called him up and said I’d be by to pick him up in 10 if he was willing. He was.
We set out, with only a few hours of daylight to spare. The park greeted us with a sign: “Gates are locked at 9:00.”
Essentially, get out by 9:00 or get in trouble.
Being a Hermione Granger wannabe, I took note of the time and mentally mapped our route.
The park has so much to offer birders, and there was no time to show my friend all of my favorite birding spots. I would have to make a decision.
I chose to go around a trail along the water, which promised loads of visible birds, and if there was time, we’d go visit the Great Horned Owl chicks on the other side of the park and exit out the 2nd gate.
So, on we went, around the trail.
We made record time and saw numerous birds: yellow warblers, woodpeckers, tree swallows, herons, coots, and even a bald eagle.
My friend was impressed. “How did you manage to see that? He’s so well-camouflaged.”
“Magic… or knowing where to look.”
We eventually trekked our way up the hill on the other side of the loop (why do I always go the way that takes me UP the hill?!), and we soon emerged in the parking lot.
We raced to the car and quickly said “goodbye” to the Turkey Vulture that lives by the parking lot and began our drive to where the Great Horned Owls were, parked, and started speed-walking down the hill.
It was 8:40.
We had twenty minutes.
All of a sudden, we hear over a loudspeaker: “The park is about to close at 9:00; you’ll need to leave soon.”
At first, I thought it was a general announcement to all of the people in the area. We continued on our trek until he repeated the warning.
We turned to see a police officer sitting in his patrol vehicle.
I nearly jumped out of my hiking boots.
Me, being me, I immediately started to go back. My friend hesitated. He’s not a fan of the police, but he wanted to see the owls.
The officer noticed the hesitation and asked what we were going to see.
I said that I just wanted to show my friend a bird on the hill and we’d leave. I told him the bird was right around the corner.
The officer said over the speaker, “Well, okay, but if you’re still here after 9:00, you’ll get a ticket.”
I promised that we’d be gone in five minutes.
And we were.
We ran up the hill, to the owls, glimpsed the babies in the nest, and got out of there before you could say bubo virginianus.
We still had five minutes to spare by the time we left the park.
Now, I would not recommend you race the clock in a city park and narrowly miss getting a ticket to see a bird, BUT the look on my friend’s face after seeing the owls was priceless.
I’m really thankful we got the chance to see the owls, and I’m extremely thankful the officer allowed us to go, peacefully.
My friend’s day had been made, and I was able to fulfill my promise to him.
In the time since our adventure, I learned the tree the owls nested in fell (long after the babies fledged, thankfully), so it’s very likely that we would never have gotten another opportunity to see them.
It was a fun (albeit thrilling) way to introduce my friend to birding, and it was awesome to see some very sassy-looking baby owls.