A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring. I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed. I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket. It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.
On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years. I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.
I went out on the prairie a couple of times on the weekend. I was looking for owls. On the “hope to see” list were Great Horned, Snowy and Short-eared. I went to the back roads around Frank Lake. I encountered a couple of Snowies but it was too dark to photograph them. I returned to both locations in better light a couple of times but unsurprisingly they had both moved on. Nice to know they were around though. Short-eared proved elusive and I did not see any ears, short or otherwise.
I did find a great old barn set off in a remote spot with a couple of grain silos on the first evening. That scene was great on its own but the Great Horned Owl I saw perched in a window. The window frame was weathered with peeling red paint so character was not in short supply. The owl was shy once I stopped my car and it hopped inside the barn to perch on a beam. I set up a ways back from a west-facing window at the other end of the barn in the hopes that the owl might fly through it as dusk approached and it went out to start hunting.
A chilly wait through the golden light had no results and when the owl did head out, it flew through the eastern window. While I waited, a long lens and high ISO allowed for a couple of nice shadow dominated images. I left the owl the first night with it perched on a fencepost near the barn. When I returned home and looked at the images, I was surprised to see a second owl buried in the shadows inside the barn. It had been invisible to my eyes but had just barely resolved on the highest ISO images.
I returned two days later before dawn and saw the pair of owls working out of the same eastern window. I set up on the same western window and could see them through main entrance as the sun rose. Their activity wound down as the day wrestled with the night and soon they were perched on the same beams as before.
This time, I took a wide path around the side of the barn and was able to photograph each owl on their respective beams through the eastern window (per the image at the top of this post and directly below).
I returned to my original spot and as I came around the barn saw that one of the owls had flown up to the top of a silo. It was perched there scanning the fields. I guess it wanted one last snack before its nap.
It stayed up there for ten minutes and then flew along the fence-line, dropped on a fence post for a minute and then glided over the patchwork of snow and grass to a mound of earth a few hundred meters away.
I waited a while longer to see if the owl would come back or its mate would head out. Neither happened and I packed up as the owl inside the barn dropped off to sleep.
I’ll head back to see about that window again in a couple of weeks. Maybe they’ll give me an opportunity then. It was great to see these beautiful birds either way. They have amazing faces and I really enjoyed studying them for a couple of hours.
It has been just about ten months since my last encounter with a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) in one special area I frequently visit in Bragg Creek. Last year, there was a two month stretch where I would regularly see one or more of four owls in the forest and fields there. The long absence could be for any number of reasons but most likely it was me not seeing them or them not wanting to be seen. I know from talking with people in Bragg Creek that owls remain year round but I think some rotate around different spots throughout the year and some migrate away for at least a few months.
Last night I went for a drive with my daughter to see what animals were out and about. When I first spied this owl it was perched on a sapling standing in the middle of one of the meadows. It was a couple of hundred metres away so we watched for a minute and then carried on. About a half an hour later we returned and found the owl in a tree along the fenceline. It was watching over the grassland and soon dove successfully on a field mouse. It carried that back to a fencepost, had its snack and then went for another one. Given the place it was, the way it hunted and its markings I think it was one of the four from last year. She looked hungry so I imagine there are owlets back at her nest. Over a fifteen minute period of watching her, three rodents fell victim to her aerial strikes.
It was special to be there with my daughter for this encounter. However she fell asleep as it was close to her bedtime so I will show her the pictures and we will have to return – maybe tonight. Last year I had almost daily encounters with the Great Grays in this area. I can only hope for a repeat this spring.
After watching a Barn owl hunt across the long grass marsh flats at Boundary Bay through dusk in mid-March, I was packing up when I saw a Snowy owl perched on a log. It was about 100 yards away but the white oval shape stood out distinctively against the blues and blacks of evening.
I worked my way along the levee towards the bird and it just stared at me as I stopped about 50 feet away. We stared at one another for a minute and then the owl whipped its head around and cocked it towards some sound or motion I was oblivious to. It didn’t attack and went back to looking around for a while. A few minutes later, it launched onto another large piece of driftwood which was closer to the ground.
From there, the snowy stalked along the wood and ended up jumping into the grass at one point. It stayed in the grass for a little bit but I didn’t see whether it was successful in catching something or not.
The bay was dark by this time and I left the owl as it flew to another perch nearby. I had a few great encounters in Boundary Bay – I’m already excited to go back soon.
Boundary Bay is lovely throughout the year. Early spring along the levee that runs parallel to the tidal flats, driftwood piles and grassy fields is not an exception. When we were there last weekend, the rain rolled in as we were watching Snowy owls scattered across the grassland which did contribute to a beautiful scene a couple of hours later. At the time, it set the owls in their poses as they hunkered down through the showers.
Jack and I waited for the weather to change so that the owls may take to the air. Dusk was quickly approaching and we had hopes that these raptors would start hunting. The rain increased and we walked back along the dyke towards the parking lot a couple of kilometers away. As the car came into view, the rain lessened and when I was at the trailhead, the sun had even hazarded a couple looks under the clouds. The evening light was beautiful though very soft as it was filtered by the clouds and water vapour in the sky. A rainbow over the water drew my attention out over the flats and that’s where I first saw a distant bird flying low over the marshes.
I followed it through the gloom and as it moved closer and into the sunlight, I was able to identify it as a Barn owl (Tyto alba). This was my first sight of one of these owls in the wild and I fell in love immediately.
They have a chaotic flight pattern where they swoop along and then dive with great conviction downwards at crazy angles when they find a target. It crisscrossed a large area for about half an hour and all I could have wished for was a bit more light.
Dusk was well entrenched by this time and I was pushing the camera’s ISO and autofocus hard. The owl was curious too and swooped by on two separate occasions. The whole time spent watching this bird was a great experience and I’m looking forward to my next encounter with one of these beautiful owls.
I could still make out the silhouette as it flew further away but my attention was pulled in a new direction by a Short-eared owl that circled by for a couple of minutes and then a Snowy which, freed from its perch by the calm weather, landed on a pile of waterlogged wood less than a stone’s throw away. I hope to share some of those photographs soon.
I hung out with a Snowy owl for quite a while the other afternoon. I settled in a little ways off from the telephone pole that was serving as the scouting perch with the hopes of a dive down into the snow for a field mouse caught unaware below.
That didn’t happen but I enjoyed watching this beautiful, heavily barred owl as it scanned its surroundings. I never think it’s a waste of time to spend time with wild creatures and get to learn a bit more about their ways.
I have been able to spend a couple of evenings with the two Snowy Owls since my first encounter with them near the Springbank Airport just before New Year’s. These are a few of the images that have stood out from the growing collection. I absolutely love watching these birds and with more time I’m learning some of their habits and behaviours.
The images below are from a drive I made east of Calgary on the weekend. I had good luck finding Snowies around Langdon and Gleichen last year and the success continued when I spotted this beautiful owl flying around one of the fields.
(Please click on each image for higher resolution versions)
My friend Jeff came back out to Bragg Creek to photograph with me again last weekend. We found a female Great Grey Owl hunting over one of the fields in West Bragg.
She was covering large areas of the field with each flight and it was fun trying to anticipate where her flight path would go as she crisscrossed the meadow.
The intensity of expression of these owls always holds my attention. That coupled with the power in their flight motion make them so interesting to watch. This encounter was no exception to that rule.
The talons are amazing too. I have heard of people being attacked by Great Grays when they strayed too close to a nest – I continue to believe that is something to be avoided.
I put together a portfolio of wildlife that I have photographed in Bragg Creek so far this spring and just published it to my Portfolios page.
(Click on the image to go to the slide show directly)
This was for a client’s review of local wildlife images for some prints they are interested in and I thought I would put it up on my website as well. Reviewing the images from the past couple of months has served as a reminder of what a great season it has been to date. There are a couple of weeks left in some areas around so I’m excited to see what else let’s me take its photograph.
This morning I was in West Bragg Creek before sunrise looking for wildlife. I photographed a few moose scattered across a couple of back roads in the early blue light and then the light came up very quickly. I drove a bit further and then went for a short hike along a deer trail. When I came back to the road, a Great Gray swooped nearby and landed on a fence post across the road. I spent the next half an hour walking with this owl as it glided to a couple of different perches as it scouted for breakfast. I had a couple of good opportunities to photograph the owl in flight and had a great time following this raptor. It ended when it drove off and a stump before banking into the forest and disappearing in the deep shadows.
These are a few that stood out from a beautiful morning on the edge of Kananaskis Country.
(Click images for link to higher resolution versions)
We had a monster snowstorm last night which made a slideshow out of the back roads and covered Bragg Creek in a fresh wrapping of winter by morning. I went out to West Bragg early and caught the mist as the day was warming up. I went to a frequent haunt for moose but crossed the meadow without finding any. Then I found a great gray owl and the next half hour was spent watching and waiting for it to take flight.
When it did launch it was fantastic. I love the power they drive off of their perch with. And then there are the wing beats… awesome.
I had hopes that when it did fly it would be a dive to hunt. Here the owl flew across the field closer to the forest. Not very much disappointment – it was great to watch and photograph.
Leaving the south edge of Calgary this morning, the snow was flying and there was fog growing denser as we went further east. My friend Jeff and I were driving on 22X heading towards the Siksika Nation to see if we could find any snowy owls along the range roads in the prairie outside of Calgary. We made a straight line to an abandoned barn on the edge of the Siksika land that a local there had told me was a favourite location for a snowy year after year. I’ve been there a couple of times this year but have yet to see the owl but it’s a great drive down toward the river. Tracing fresh tracks in the snow-covered gravel roads, we carved a wide rectangle around the outer edges of Namaka Lake searching. Along the way, the fog lifted, the sky brightened and the snow settled right down. Just over two hours in and we hadn’t seen any wildlife following the herd with the exception of a couple of magpies and one acrobatic raven.
And then, once pointed west and heading back towards Calgary, we spotted a snowy along the same back road where I photographed one a few weeks ago. It seems to be the same female but I’m not an owl expert so they may only be similar. Either way, it was fantastic to find this one. And she was a wonderful partner to make a few images with. She watched us for a few minutes and then flew off to another telephone pole. Dutifully, we followed, parked a little ways away and then stepped closer. She flew again after a few more minutes. We followed to a third pole and a fourth. The last leap into the air carried her across the field to a distant perch where she could continue her day without further interruption. Along the way, we both rattled off a bunch of images and had a lot of fun.
Just a great morning and I’m really happy Jeff was able to see and photograph a snowy owl in the wild.