Owls

An owl’s launch

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1931

Last Friday I spent an hour watching a Great gray owl as it hunted in a bramble field west of Bragg Creek.  This series is from a great launch where it stared right at me while leaping into the air before banking off to its left.

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1930

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1932

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1936

 


Owlets starting and staring…

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9592-2

On a walk a couple of weeks ago I came across a Great gray owl nest in Bragg Creek.  I had noticed an owl perched high up in a tree and while watching it, I heard its very soft hooting, about 10 seconds apart – almost like a slow, steady beat which was not a vocalization I was familiar with.  A bit of motion higher up in another tree about 50′ away drew my attention and I could see two owlets in a large nest.  The activity was the larger one spreading, and flapping, its wings.  The vocalization seemed like a steady reassurance to the owlets that mom was close by.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9061

I’m always a bit anxious when I find a nest as I don’t want to stress the chicks or, in a very much worst case scenario, cause the parents to abandon them.  This nest was very high up and the mature owl did not appear to be agitated so I took a few photographs and then carried on my way.  The sight lines to the nest were not great but I planned to come back in a couple of weeks to see how the little ones were doing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9438
Earlier this week, I returned to the path and walked back towards the nest.  Rounding a corner, another flutter of activity caught my eye.  This time, it was not at the nest as I had been expecting but about 30′ off of the ground in a tree neighbouring the nest’s holder.  It took me a second before I realized it was one of the chicks perched on a branch flapping its wings for balance.  I looked around and soon spied one of the parents perched in an aspen watching intently.  It seemed the owlet had left the nest at some very recent point, and was making its way to the forest floor.  That’s being a bit kind – as I watched for the next couple of minutes it somersaulted, tumbled, grabbed and slid its way down the branches in a series of 3 to 6′ drops until it half flew, half crashed to the ground.  I had my longest lens on a tripod and was set up to watch this even from my spot about 150′ away.  The birds hadn’t noticed me as all of their attention was presumably consumed by this flight of the still mostly flightless owlet.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9446

The little owl righted itself and peered around to get its bearings.  I moved up the path a little ways which gave me a good line to the bird and we stared at one another for a few seconds.  Mother dropped down to a fallen tree and the little one jump/flew over to it.  The two of them moved off to the side towards a bit of an opening in the trees.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9483

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9641

I lost sight of them and was picking up my tripod to see if a spot a little further up the trail might afford a better view when I looked up and saw the second owlet (the first picture in this story and the one below).  About 20′ away, perched about 12′ off the ground and staring at me.  I retreated to the edge of the trail, set up again and was able to photograph this beautiful creature.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9655

All the while I could hear the other owlet flitting about and crashing around in the underbrush.  I circled away from the smaller owl in front of me and found a great spot a good distance from that owl with a nice view of the first one I had seen fall out of the tree.  It had now managed to fly up to a bent branch about 8′ off the ground.  Its mom was perched 5′ directly above that on another aspen.  I closed to about 80′ away and watched them for several minutes.  The highlight was when the father swooped in and fed the owlet a mouse.  The actually handoff (beak off?) happened just out of sight from my position so I didn’t photograph it but it was so cool to see.  The father flew off back towards the nearby fields and the mother found a new perch a little higher up.  I left the chick in its spot watching me languidly as it digested supper.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9757

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9742

I checked on the second owl, which was noticeably smaller than the other, and it was still in the same spot.  The sun had dropped and was tracing an outline of the bird’s profile which I found to be appealing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9875

One of the parents had flown to a perch nearby and was watching this owlet.  My ears picked up the soft, steady hooting once more and I thought that was the right time to leave the family to themselves.  I had no interest in delaying this one’s supper as I expected the next mouse caught would be hers (or his).

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9856


A Great gray owl on the edge of the Kananaskis forest

Great gray owl flying in the forest - © Christopher Martin-8140

Great gray owls blend into the forest effortlessly so it is easy to lose track of them.  When I have a chance to photograph one flying through the trees it is very special for me.  I discovered this owl while hiking a trail on the edge of the Kananaskis Country park area west of Bragg Creek.  It stayed on the perch for a half an hour keeping track of other creatures nearby and following unusual noises around.  I can’t count on which way a bird will launch when it does decide to fly so I was happy when this one flew in my direction and flew to my right.  It climbed to a higher perch on the opposite side of the trail which is where I left it to its business.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-8055

 

Great gray owl gliding - © Christopher Martin-8144


First owl flights in May

Great gray in May - © Christopher Martin-7873

Owls don’t care about what day it is, but, on some level I guess I do.  I went out this morning when the sun was shining and the day was quickly warming up.  I was happy that the first day of May picked up where April left off as I was able to continue spending time with owls.  This owl was hunting around a farm field and a horse meadow in Bragg Creek.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7874

This Great gray owl was landing on some strategically placed posts in the middle of the field and successfully grabbed a couple of mice over a short span.  I haven’t watched owls hunt on this field before but I will be back as it appears to be a very productive spot for this owl.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7881

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7917

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7939

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7951


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


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