Owls

Autumn animals… before the season is too long gone

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-3346

In between the absurdly early snowstorm in September and the first winter cold snap that started last week, we had a great autumn here in the Foothills between Calgary and Banff.  I spent a fair bit of time on the prairies and enjoyed some good encounters with their wild residents.  The Great Horned Owl above was from a stand of trees west of High River during a great day where I had two separate encounters (one and two) with these beautiful owls.  The one below is closer to home being a few miles south of Cochrane.

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-4927

A beaver in the lake at Wild Rose, west of Bragg Creek, let me watch him swim on an overcast day where the ripples were soft and provided some nice opportunities.  On another visit a pair of muskrat preened on the lake’s shoreline before returning to the water.

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-7120

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-7113

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-6745

White-tailed deer are regularly seen in the fields as they stock up for winter.  It was cool to see the young stag in the second image that was stag traversing the blackened earth in a much less recovered section of the Sawback prescribed burn that was done in 1993.

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-5786

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-8338

Another White-tail on the prairies stood on alert in a field south of Cochrane where I watched two stags rutting.

Autumn animals - © Christopher Martin-9399


An owl in the woods

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3303-2

A Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) brought in the day with me last week.  A short while after leaving there, I visited a stand of trees that line a gravel road south of Frank Lake.  There is a nest for a pair of these owls which has been used for decades.  I photographed the nest last spring and wanted to drive by to have a look.  The chicks would have fledged in June and the nest was empty of any residents.

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3341

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3308

I found this tiger owl a couple of hundred metres away perched about 3 metres off the ground.  It was quite alert considering its nocturnal nature and moved to three separate locations in grove over the half an hour that I watched the bird.

 

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3126

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3336

Owl in the woods - © Christopher Martin-3286


A Tiger Owl on the Prairies

 

Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2733

I drove to the High River area on the weekend to look for owls.  It was still dark when I found a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) perched to the side of a small pond east of Frank Lake.

Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2438

I set up on the side of the road and spent almost two hours watching him from across the water.  The morning slowly got brighter but with heavy gray clouds diffusing the sunlight, it stayed dark for most of the first hour.  The owl alternated between short naps and moments of intent staring at any stray sound or motion.  These last were both mostly imperceptible to me but kept my attention, and the long lens, focused on him.

Autumn Great Horned Owl flight - © Christopher Martin-2735

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Owl over water - © Christopher Martin-2738

Just before 9 am, he stretched wings vertically and launched into the air.  After a couple of quick strokes, he glided over the pond and landed in a bare limbed tree.

Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2809

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Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2751

The skeletal branches did not suit for long and he crossed to another tree edging the pond.  This tree was heavy with autumn tinged leaves and provided a third distinct setting for me to photograph this beautiful tiger owl in.

Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2969

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Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2859

After a few more minutes, he walked down the branch and settled closer to the trunk and more out of sight.  I packed up and while I was putting my tripod away, I watched him fly out and glide over the field behind the pond.

Autumn Tiger Owl - © Christopher Martin-2834


Great Horned Owl in the trees

Owl in the trees - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I found this Great Horned Owl near a nest that I watched earlier this year.  The adult pair successfully fledged two owlets by early June and haven’t seen any of the owls in the area over the past few visits.  On the weekend, I spied this beautiful bird deep in a stand of trees.  It seemed to be relaxing on this branch – probably just winding down from a busy night and early morning hunting before going for a sleep.  It was great to see one member of this family again.


A lone owl out for breakfast

Wings - 2014 © Christopher Martin

To start the long weekend, I went looking for the Great Gray Owl pair who have been very active over a field of tall, green grass for much of the summer.  I had a relatively short visit with one of the owls on this encounter.  The bird stayed across the field for most of the hour I watched him.  He did fly across, land nearby and stay for a few minutes at one point.  However I got there a little bit later than usual so the morning hunt was winding down.

Fence flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

There was one particularly good dive that I pulled a nice sequence from.  I love the wing positions in these shots and the intention in the focused stare.

Owl morning hunt - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Owl morning hunt - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Owl morning hunt - 3 - 2014 © Christopher Martin

It was good to see the owl again after being away for a couple of weeks.  When he headed back towards the forest edge and their nest, I headed back to my home too.

Flying away - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Attack!

Owl's Attack - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/16ooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 2500

I have been trying to capture this image for a long time.  With the familiarity I’ve been lucky to establish with the Great Gray Owl pair in West Bragg Creek this year, they will often hunt near to where I am set up.  On the weekend, one of the owls flew towards me and made a couple of dives from the post he landed on a few yards away.  The stars aligned on one of these attacks and I froze him just before he disappeared into the knee-high grass.


Flight

Flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

(Please click on the image if you would like to view a higher resolution version)

A pretty simple image from an early morning this weekend.   I watched the pair hunting over the field in West Bragg Creek for three hours and enjoyed many great opportunities.  This was one of my favourites on the day.


Great Gray Owl on a morning hunt

Owl and grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I was able to spend another morning with the Great Gray Owl in Bragg Creek that I have had the good fortune to watch several times (links: #1 and #2) this summer.  She was waiting patiently on a fence post when I spotted her.

Morning perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She almost seemed to wait while I quickly set up my long lens on its tripod before hunting in the deep grass.  Over the next half hour she made several dives and had no trouble catching unlucky field creatures (by my count she was batting .333 on the day).

Owl's attack - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Skimming over the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She would stay in the grass for up to a minute after each lunge so I had the opportunity to focus on the launches back into the air a couple of times.

Out of the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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Morning flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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An owl's take off - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Once the sunlight reached the field, the morning warmed up quickly and the owl’s pace slowed.  On one of the last dives before I left, the owl had been on the far side of the field and then glided across.  En route, it dropped down almost disappearing.  When it popped its head back up, there was a great moment where the yellow eyes peered out of carpet of green.

In the field - 2014 © Christopher Martin

By then the light was getting harsh and I was getting hungry.  When she flew out, I packed up and drove off.

Field flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Hunting for breakfast

 A morning flight - © Christopher Martin-8614

Canon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

I left the sun to climb over the horizon on its own this morning and slept in.  The days start early in the summer so when I left my house at 6am, we were well into daylight.  I drove into Bragg Creek looking for wildlife and almost immediately found an owl.  She was perched on a fence post and looked a little sleepy.

Sleep owl - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

I stayed back a good distance and watched her lazily swivel her head a few times but she largely just hunched up and gazed out over the field.  After 15 minutes or so she perked up a bit seeming to pick out something in the tall grass.  She launched (as seen in the first image) then dipped but did not dive into the grass.  Carrying on, she crossed the field and found a higher vantage point in a large evergreen tree in the field near the forest’s edge.

Evergreen perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

Some noises in the trees, unheard by me, drew her attention for the better part of a half an hour.  Her head turned away from me and the field, I waited for her to either head towards the trees or redirect her attention to hunting in the grass.  Lucky for me, she chose the latter and I was able to photograph a few nice flight shots when she flew from the first tree to another.

Green flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 1250

The second perch was a higher spot and she only stayed there for a couple of minutes before picking out a target.  When she flew, it was a masterful attack.  She glided down, hovered for a couple of beats above the area of her attention and  then dove headfirst into the green.

Dive attack - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 3200

After a few seconds, she climbed out of the grass with a field mouse clutched in her beak.  She stayed on the far side of the field and disappeared with her breakfast into the trees.

Breakfast of champions - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 2500


Owl Flight

Great Gray Owl on the hunt - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/3200 second at f/4 on ISO 1600

This owl caught sight of something from a branch above the grass and silently launched.  It glided past me and then dropped into the tall grass – flying away with a mouse in its beak shortly thereafter.


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