Wildlife

An owl and a weathered tractor

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7538

I have loved photographing one old, weathered tractor for years.  It sits in a field that is home to horses now and I think it has been enjoying its retirement there for many years before I ever found it.

For the first time, I met the gentleman who owns this tractor, the horses and the land this past weekend.  We had a pleasant conversation while we enjoyed watching this Great gray owl hunting along his fence line.  Peter was very familiar with this owl and it was great to learn some new things about it.

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7434

Shortly after he left, the owl flew off the fence line and into a stand of trees near the tractor.  I set up for a dive I hoped would come but was very happy when the next flight was not into the grass but over to the steering wheel on this much admired, at least to me, tractor.

Great gray owl on a tractor - © Christopher Martin-7448

From this perch, the owl’s glowing eyes scanned the surrounding grass.

Scouting from the steering wheel - © Christopher Martin-7534

After a few minutes it hunched down, signalling that it may fly.  It paused for a couple of seconds and then launched.

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7539

This bird is an excellent hunter so it was no surprise that the strike was successful.  As they like to do, after the pounce the owl looked around to check his surroundings as they are vulnerable when down on the ground.  It stared at me to check that I hadn’t made any moves or movements that signalled a change in my intent.

Great gray owl on the field - © Christopher Martin-7550

It swallowed the mouse on the ground and then flew back to the same perch on the tractor.

What's up? - © Christopher Martin-7630

It idled on the wheel for a couple of minutes, preoccupied for a moment with something it noticed in the sky above, before heading into the trees.  These were the trees where I had gone into when I was photographing him on the tractor so I had a front row seat to the forest hunt and three different perches before he flew uphill and out of sight.

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7712

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7769

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7800


A golden owl rising

 

Great gray owl off the ground - © Christopher Martin-6709

A golden owl… or rather a Great gray owl in soft, golden morning light.  This owl had swallowed a mouse a few moments before and here she was readying her jump into the air.  The single downstroke of these broad wings being enough to get her airborne.


An owl in the muskeg

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6926-2

Muskeg is not a landscape that I think of owls hunting in but that is probably due to me not spending much time in them.  The word is Algonquin for grassy bog and in the Bragg Creek area there are only I couple places that I visit which would qualify.  On the weekend I was in one of these spots as they are a spring and summer haunt for moose.  I was surprised to find a Great gray owl perched on one of the stubby trees.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6877

I was using a long lens and was able to follow it as it flew around the bog landing in several spots.  The last perch it settled on a weathered fence post.  Despite being worn down and long out of any real service, it served as a good scouting tower for the owl.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6892-2

Within a few minutes, she cocked her head a couple of times, raised her wings and then dove into the grass.  On the ground, she hopped around a little bit and when she flew up to the post again had a mouse in her beak.

 

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6894

 

The owl fussed with the little creature for a few seconds to get the right grip.  With the meal secure, she flew away from the muskeg and up into the open forest nearby.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6911

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6917

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6918

 

 

 


An evening in the forest

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5762

The owls have been spoiling me over the past couple of weeks so please forgive yet another Great gray post with images from these most wonderful birds!

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5794

I found this owl hunting deeper in the forest and then worked the fence line on either side of the gravel road I was on in West Bragg.  After a mouse there, it moved out of the shadows and into the late day sunlight filtering through the forest.  These photographs cover that time where he flew between trees and dove into a couple of grassy spots.  All the effort yielded two more field mice and some great opportunities for me.  After another hour passed, he flew towards a field as the sun dipped behind the hills across the valley and I headed home.

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6120

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6125

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6145
Great gray owl in spring flight - © Christopher Martin-6243

 


Two seasons, one day apart

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6690

April 17th was a warm day, even when I went out in the morning.  I photographed this Great gray owl perched over a field in the early golden light and it felt like summer was just around the corner.  Shortly before finding the owl, I spent a few minutes watching the moose below as it grazed on these brambles.  With lots of sunshine all day long, the temperature rose up to 20°C by the afternoon – which is lovely for this time of the year.

Bragg Creek spring moose - © Christopher Martin-6645
The next day, was a very different story as snow fell overnight and changed the land completely.  I happened to find another owl and another moose while I was out in the white winterland.  I am used to our wild weather swings but I still found the difference striking.

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6736
Bragg Creek spring moose - © Christopher Martin-6754

Dawn hunter

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6402

I was out early on two consecutive mornings to greet the Great gray owls as they continued their hunting.  After dawn breaks, and before the sun gets too high, they often catch a couple more field mice and then retire to their nests for the day.  This owl was working the same area at the same time both days.  There was no trouble catching the rodents so it seemed like great hunting grounds which may explain the repeat efforts.  The second day the owl flew into shafts of sunlight which added to the quality of the images.

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6445

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6449

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6458

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6493

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6411

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-5365


Evening on the hunt

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4561

After hunting in the forest for a while, the owl flew to the edge of the tree line and operated from the fenceposts there.  He snagged two field mice within a couple of minutes, consuming one in the grass and one on a post.  He then flew deep into the woods.  Possibly to share with its mate or to continue hunting in another area.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4603

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4618

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4619

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4667


Forest Flight

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4314

I had an incredible weekend all centred around wildlife in Bragg Creek.  There was a heron, some geese, a couple of beavers, a coyote, a moose and even a crane that I had the opportunity to watch for varying amounts of time.  But the owl encounters were what made the mornings and evenings so special for me.  It started a couple of days earlier with my first Great gray owl time this spring where I photographed one hunting at night.  Then I was able to find two other adults hunting, each in a separate location.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4354

Of the three owl pairs that I have photographed for the past six years, all are represented in their respective regular haunts.  There was a male Great gray owl killed in an apparent collision with a vehicle in that area a couple of weeks ago so I suspect that one of these couples is without its mate.  That loss had brought great sadness so it was uplifting to see the others hunting and doing what they all should be doing.  I suspect the lone female will not raise chicks this year but it could have been an owl passing through the area that was struck so maybe all three pairs will have broods.  I have never scouted out any of the nests as I need to learn much more before I feel comfortable getting close and knowing I will not adversely impact the chicks.  So, I may never be able to confirm which, if any, of these pairs lost their partner.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4319

… back to the uplifting part – I’m really excited about the photographs from the weekend as the owls were unperturbed by my presence and stayed visible for long periods of time while successfully hunting in the forest and the fields.  It was a lot of unbroken time where I was able to be a part of their environment.  So lucky for me!  I will post a few entries of the individual encounters and start today with the Friday evening where one of the owls was hunting in a small opening in the forest.  I watched as he flew between fence posts and perches on stubby trees.  His attacks into the tall grass were hidden from my view but I had great chances to capture his flight.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4361

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4320

 


Night Flight

Night owl - © Christopher Martin-4069-4

I found an owl hunting after dusk had settled over Bragg Creek.  It was getting dark quickly and I had go back to my car  for a flash at one point.  I started to photograph this Great Gray around a stand of trees on the edge of a field.  After a while she moved out onto the yellow grass and then went to perch on a fencepost.

Night owl - © Christopher Martin-3923

Retrieving the light, I mounted it in the hotshoe and it didn’t take long to relocate her.  We then spent an hour together as she hunted on either side of the fence line while I watched from 40′ away.  She was very comfortable with me there and flew to a post closer to me on a couple of occasions.  It was challenging to shoot the owl in flight but a lot of fun.

Night owl - © Christopher Martin-4059

At one point we traveled along the fence with her stopping every 100′ until I caught up.  When we had returned to the edge of the trees, the owl flew back out towards the field.  It was a very powerful encounter for me.

Night owl - © Christopher Martin-4049

 


Spring Robins

Spring Robin - © Christopher Martin-3454

Robins are heralds of spring where I live.  Our weather can be 20°C in the middle of winter or have a snowstorm in July so we have a lot of fits and starts between each season.  I know that winter has mostly retreated when the robins return to our backyard.  This one showed up with its partner about a week ago and I photographed him having a drink in the pond over the weekend.  It was a mild winter but I’m still very glad to be enjoying spring now.

Spring Robin - © Christopher Martin-3448-2


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