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