Owls

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

 


A hot Snowy owl on the prairie

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1721

The early spring this year may see the Snowy owls leave their wintering grounds around Southern Alberta soon.  When I was in Irricana photographing this owl, it was 16°C and she was panting to stay cool.  I’m not concerned about their health in this heat as their nesting sites in the north get into, and above, these temperatures in the summer.  However, I don’t know when it, or something else, will prompt them to leave as they always do.

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1697

 

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1702


Snowy owl on the hunt in Irricana

 

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1653-2

This Snowy owl’s dive into the grass directly below was a great moment to watch.  The bird’s intense focus when it started tracking the prey from the perch on the fence through to the awesome descent to attack were welcome rewards given the time invested.  I found this Snowy on this fence post a little after 9 am and quickly set up my camera and lens across the field from her.  For the next 2 1/2 hours, she shuffled, scratched, preened, and dozed.  She seemed to have little interest in me, the field mice or in flying for most of that time.  She kept watch of everything going on around her but her talons may have been nailed to the wood!  I was hadn’t expected to wait that long but with her relaxed manner, I hoped when she did fly it would be in the direction she faced when I first stopped.  That direction was facing towards me and in the end she did do that.  I thought if she flew that way, I would have a few in flight opportunities but this dive was short in both time and distance.  I was happy to have captured a couple of frames before she disappeared into the grass.

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1654-2

I waited for about 10 minutes for her to climb out of the tall grass and when she did it was heading away from me.  Given the time on the ground, I would wager that she did catch the prey and spent the time out of sight enjoying the meal.


Clutching at grass

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1864

One of the Snowy owls that I photographed recently made a dive while I was watching.  She came up without a mouse but had a clutch of grass instead.  I’m sure it wasn’t her preference but it was a bit unusual to see one of these raptors flying around with a talon full of grass.  She gave a couple of good looks around as she looked for another target during the same sortie but had no luck on this flight.

Snowy's stare - © Christopher Martin-1863

Prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-1859

 


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