The year 2021 is now behind us. Covid has had a disastrous effect on many people’s lives and livelihoods and it’s no wonder the term ‘mindfulness’ has entered everyday language. For me that means spending time with wildlife.

As I look back on the year I realize I have had some incredible wildlife encounters – all local. Here are some of my favourites!

The return of snowy owls to southern Ontario is always a wonderful distraction from the biting cold winter temperatures. I became well acquainted with this female owl which frequented the same farmer’s field most of the early winter. That was until a red tailed hawk claimed her valued hunting spot as its own.  

Here the owl has just caught a meadow vole, swallowed it and then begun her return flight to her favourite tree. This was in January – a great start to the year!

I spent the next few weeks getting to know her habits often wandering into her field but keeping my distance so she would become comfortable with me. Eventually, after a cursory glance, she ignored me. In one of my favourite encounters I endured harsh weather – freezing rain, a head-wind gusting to 85km/hr and I had to constantly wipe clear my lens – to find her on the hunt. While I sat on the side of the road, knees bracing my camera against the wind, she has spotted a meadow vole and flew past me like I was invisible.

For most of the year I visit a bald eagle nest near my home. On this summer day the heat had taken its toll and the adult eagles I had been observing were tucked away in the shade of nearby trees. That’s when I spotted this red fox as it appeared out of the woods.

For a moment it stared at me before  taking a drink from the river. It was nervous even though I was standing 35 or 40 metres away. I didn’t move other than to lower and raise my camera. Maintaining distance was key to getting shots.  After a few minutes the fox decided I was not a threat and, to my surprise, walked into the river and swam across to the other side.

At the end of July I drove down to visit my friends at The Owl Foundation in Vineland, Ontario – a wonderful rehab facility which specializes in raptors.  I had transported an injured snowy owl down there in April. The poor thing had been found starving to death in a farmer’s field and, at first, transported to Wildlife Haven in Waterloo. There she had been nursed to health on a diet of rodent meat. Expert care at a bigger facility was necessary though to help prepare her to fly and to hunt again – hence the move to The Owl Foundation.

After nearly four months at TOF she was ready to be released up in James Bay a few days after my visit. I photographed her being banded and weighed. Here Annick Gionet Rollet, Senior Wildlife Rehabilitator and Zoologist, is fastening the band to the owl’s leg.


In the course of my visit I was invited to also photograph the release of an immature bald eagle that had been in care over the winter.  That’s Annick  releasing the eagle which quickly enjoyed its freedom.

Airborne, the eagle banked a hard left with the wind and landed in the adjacent field. Once it got its bearings it would establish its territory and begin life in the wild. The Owl Foundation exists on donations and volunteers. That’s Amber, a volunteer and future zoologist,  in the background here.

In  early July three bald eagle fledglings were exploring the Nith River. I had encountered this one several times one-on-one. She was the largest of the three and often found herself at eye level with me. I am assured by wildlife biologists that eagles, like owls, recognize individual people.  I love this photo as she flew past me extremely close.

A few weeks later I was completely surprised when she flew down to the river for a drink while I sat on a pebbled beach snapping away. It was a wonderful 45 minute encounter.

One day last summer while I sat by a pond waiting for a couple of great egrets to come close I noticed this blue heron perched on a log. It remained perfectly still as if asleep for a couple of hours. Suddenly it sprang to life.  Quickly darting into the shallow water it caught this toad. For a few minutes it delicately maneuvered the toad, careful not to drop it, until it could swallow it whole.

During daylight hours I keep my camera on the passenger seat of my car just in case I spot something while driving. This coyote was crossing a farmer’s field about ten minutes away from my home so I quickly pulled a u-turn. It heard my car stop and turned to look back. It’s the unexpected that gives such a thrill.

As the year ended I was back in snowy owl country looking for my favourite species once again. This one I have encountered a half dozen times already. Here she decided, after about two hours on the ground, to fly up to her preferred tree from where she likes to hunt. 

I hope you enjoyed this blog and photos. I want to wish everyone a happy new year!


  1. Jerry Bouma

    Paul – your photography is outstanding – a product of your discipline, patience and pursuit of excellence. You present a world that is literally at most people’s doorstep (in Southern Ontario) and observe nature in a way that most don’t take the time to consider, let alone explore. Continued best wishes as you pursue this passion in your life with the same verve you applied to your previous pursuits. Wishing you a productive and Uber-observant 2022 which will to more photographic delights.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Great to hear from you, Jerry! Thanks for your kind words. You picked up on the fact that these species are right outside the door if one takes the time. And we do need to take time in this crazy world. Happy New Year Jerry!

    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks for reading and for commenting, Megan! It takes time to establish trust with snowy owls, and indeed, with all wildlife. Had I tried to approach that fox I am sure it would have run back into the woods and vanished. I am sure that it was comfortable taking a drink and then swimming across the river because I kept my distance and never once tried to get closer.Thanks again for commenting! Happy New Year!

  2. Brad Morley

    Paul, this is the first of your blogs I’ve checked out, and I can hardly keep still for the interest and excitement it has engendered in me. I’ve most recently felt a similar excitement when I discovered the return of a Peregrine Falcon to the tower of the Basilica of Our Lady here in Guelph in mid-December. Keep up the fine work.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Brad, many thanks for your kind words. The foremost objective of my blogs IS to inspire people to get outdoors and enjoy local wildlife so I am pleased to hear this one has had that effect on you. I have never photographed a peregrine falcon……maybe one day!

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