Here at our new home, human-made sounds are unusual, rather than the norm. In the city, of course, you’re constantly surrounded by the sounds of humanity: traffic, car horns, sirens, lawnmowers, your neighbours. Even at my parents’ old place, even though it was rural, a major north-south regional highway was just a kilometer away, and could always be heard in the background, along with train whistles and a fairly regular passage of aircraft, both local planes and commercial jets flying in to Pearson.
Here, however, when I step from the house and look out over the lake, all I hear is the chatter of the chickadees and finches at the feeders, the rustling of the dry leaves still hanging from the branches, and the crunch of my feet on the snow. We’re too far from any major road to hear traffic, and we’re not underneath any major flight routes to notice airplanes. Over the course of a day we may have ten or twenty cars drive by along our road (depending on day of the week and time of year), and in the summer the occasional motorboat would zip by on the lake. But that is it.
So when a helicopter flies by low overhead, it really stands out. This one did a few circuits today, and after it had gone over twice and I’d oogled it both times, on the third pass I remembered to grab my camera. It also happened that on the third pass it was flying low, and it went virtually directly above our house. All three times it headed out to the park and disappeared over the crest of the trees, only to reappear half an hour later, and then swing south to follow our road presumably toward the city.
A close up on the ‘copter. They were down so low, you can actually see the face of the guy in the rear passenger seat, peering out the window (easier to see on the large size)! You can also pick out the white expanse of the lake and the bright rectangle that’s our house in the reflective glass under the cockpit.
I did a search for yellow helicopters in Ontario, and it turns out this belongs to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. I couldn’t tell how many of this type they owned, only that they have two types of ‘copter that do duty for them. I found photos of a couple, this one (#7) and another (#9). This ‘copter seems to get around. I found Flickr photos of it at airports in Buttonville (north of Toronto) and Muskoka (interestingly by the same guy; he also gets around).
The OMNR’s website indicates that this ‘copter is used for “Aerial survey, forest fire fighting (with Bambi bucket), medivac, search & rescue, cargo/passenger transport, sling work, aerial ignition.” The photographer of those Flickr photos indicates in one that “This helicopter is routinely used to fight forest fires” and in the other that it belongs to the “Aviation and Forest Fire Management Branch”.
I don’t know that they were out there fighting, or even looking for, forest fires, but they could ostensibly have been doing aerial surveys of some sort, either for animals, like a White-tailed Deer count, or of the landscape. I’ve never been up in a ‘copter, but Dan has, while doing bird surveys up in the remote wilds of Northwest Territories. They flew in to their survey sites by ‘copter, and then out again. I also know large animal surveys, particularly of such things as bears, are routinely done by helicopter. So that’s a reasonable possibility.
Or I could also see them being called in for medivac, rescuing a hiker in the middle of the forest and taking them down to Kingston General (of course, I don’t know why they would’ve needed three trips then). Possibly even searching for a lost hiker. I briefly considered calling the MNR to inquire, but there was absolutely no reason for me to know other than to sate my own curiosity, and the chances of me actually reaching someone who knew why the ‘copter was out was pretty slim anyway.
So, as a friend of mine used to say in such situations, it’s a mystery.