Posts tagged “Bubo scandiacus

After dark in Boundary Bay

Evening Snowy Owl - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Looking over the fields - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

Stalking in Boundary Bay - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

In the marsh - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


An afternoon with a Snowy owl

Snowy owl in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With visions of the Boundary Bay owls still streaming past my mind’s eye, I went out for a drive on the Prairies this weekend.  I have been working on my Snowy owl imagery pretty steady this winter and have found a few images to be elusive to create.  For this trip east of Calgary, I was hoping to get some interactions showing a little personality as well as head on flight images.  It turned out to be a great afternoon for both.

Along the fenceline - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I went east on highway 22X and roamed a few of the range roads north of Carseland.  I found a hawk followed by an eagle in the first couple of miles.  I left the Bald eagle on its perch in a barren tree and zigzagged back towards the highway.

Eagle tree - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Well short of the main road, I found this Snowy owl perched on a fencepost a few hundred yards into the field.  I waited for 15 minutes and then the bird launched and flew in front of me along the fenceline and crossed the gravel.  I picked it up on a telephone pole nearby and that was its field base for the afternoon.

2013 © Christopher Martin

Over the next couple of hours, the owl dove off the beam several times and earned a few snacks along the grass and snow.  At launch and during its return flights to the perch, it gave me some wonderful opportunities as it would keep an eye on me now and then.

Leap - 2013 © Christopher Martin

During the long breaks between sorties, the owl sat largely motionless except for the full circles carved in the air by its head.  There were a few great moments with interesting yawns,

Snowy yawn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

ear scratching,

Taking a break - 2013 © Christopher Martin

and humorous facial expressions.

Squinting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

One of the tours detoured to a long abandoned windmill which made for a great scene.  The blue sky and white bird can make even a worn out relic look great!  Well, that particular structure has a lot of good character on its own but I think you know what I mean.

Gliding off of the windmill - 2013 © Christopher Martin

So we had a good rhythm for quite a while and when I finally packed up it was in the middle of a glide back to the same perch.  I would have loved to stay until the evening light but the hands were cold and the bird had been a very accommodating host so no reason to wear out the welcome.

Snowy flight and gaze - 2013 © Christopher Martin -

Peeking over wing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Sky dive - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Snowy owls on the Prairies

A beautiful day to fly - © Christopher Martin-9219

The past weekend involved a lot of Snowy owls so it was fantastic.  On Friday, I made a solo run east of Calgary and roamed the country roads between Langdon and Strathmore eager to find the white owls which enthrall me.  I found one perched on a fence post warming under bright sunshine along  and had several minutes to enjoy watching her before a tanker truck roared by and the sound spooked her off the roost.

Watching from the fence - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I say her because females Snowies often have dark banding  – often but not always as adolescents of both genders have heavy banding as well.  It used to be thought that males were usually white with little or no banding and the females were as described.  There are convincing arguments for and against however I found this link persuasive.  It has helped me to realize that I would need an expert’s opinion before I would state any Snowy owls gender in absolute terms.  So, please allow me the license to use he and she with these owls so that I can avoid referring to individuals as “it” which seems to drop them into object status rather than that of a living creature.

Snowy owl into the air - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The owl took flight across Highway 901 and flew out over the fields.  I watched it glide low and out of sight behind the rolling hills to the southwest.  I zigzagged along the roads in the same general direction and found her on a telephone pole scanning the landscape.  I pulled alongside slowly, set up my camera through the window and got comfortable.  Fast forward half an hour and she seemed to lock onto something out in the grasses.  When she did launch it was under a cloudy sky which makes for an interesting contrast of white on white (as in the image above).  I love watching the Snowy owls fly and then glide low.  She dove down in the middle of farmland and settled for several minutes on what seemed to be a successful kill.  She was a long ways out so I headed off along the crisscross of back roads.

Full spread - 2013 © Christopher Martin

About a quarter of an hour later I found another owl in a different field.  I pulled off, set up and waited to see if this owl would fly in my direction.  After five minutes it flew parallel to the road I was on and then swooped up to another telephone pole.  This owl was actively hunting and moved around a lot over the next hour.

Field rest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The highlight was when it perched on a fence post near the road where I was parked and we looked at each other for over a minute before it went over to a higher perch on another pole. The evening was coming in slowly and I left the owl once it had flown up to a very tall transmission line tower where it was glowing in the sun against a dark cloud background.

Touchdown - 2013 © Christopher Martin

As the light failed, I retraced my steps back towards the highway but had a visit with one last owl, this one a male (maybe).  The soft pastels to the east and the glow from the west on the white feathers were beautiful and I photographed him until the darkness overwhelmed my camera’s sensor.

Watching the night fall - 2013 © Christopher Martin

And then, on Sunday, my wife and I took the kids and one of their cousins to Drumheller to visit the Royal Terrell Dinosaur Museum.  This allowed us to search for owls on our drive there and we were not disappointed with the weather or with what we found along the way.  The blue sky was a change from Friday’s mixed weather and always provides a great background for white birds.

To the air - © Christopher Martin-9215

We saw several owls and all but one lingered on their perches for 5-15 minutes before alighting or us moving on.  This allowed the kids the opportunity to watch them and appreciate a magical part of nature.  They had a great time with my son surprising me the first time that we drove away from one bird, saying that we should stay and watch a little longer.  Normally, having grown up with his dad always stopping to photograph wildlife during walks, hikes, rides, drives, etc., he is often anxious to get going again – not this time.  I think the Snowy owls cast the same spell on the children that I have been under for almost two years now.

Stretching into the air - © Christopher Martin-9258


Snowy owl perched

Curious on a perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

A casual stare - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.

 


Flying with Snowy Owls

Banking - © Christopher Martin-0995-2

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.

Launch at dusk - © Christopher Martin-0826

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Evening flight - © Christopher Martin-0829

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.

Snowy Owl on the fields - © Christopher Martin-2

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Snowy Owl on the fields - © Christopher Martin-1307


Snowy Owls in Springbank? Yes!

Over the shoulder - © Christopher Martin-9689

(please click on any image to open a new page with a higher resolution version)

The days between Christmas and New Year’s have involved watching a pair of Snowy Owls in a new location.  Thanks to a sighting near Calaway Park shared by Andrew Hart with the Alberta Bird group, I drove along the back roads in the area looking for one of these majestic owls.  It was near sunset when I found the first one along Range Road 40 on a transmission tower.  The bird was a long way from the road and even with a 500mm telephoto lens plus a 1.4X extender (for a total of 700mm of reach) the two images below are cropped in significantly.  With failing light and a settled bird, I left this one and headed east towards the Springbank Airport.  Across the road from the airport, I saw the white oval of a second Snowy perched as seen above.  This owl was much closer which helped tremendously given how dark it had become.

Pre-flight - © Christopher Martin-9500-2

Despite the title and the pose, the owl did not fly after this shot.  It was readjusting its body by a quarter turn to the east and ended up staying in the position below until sometime after I left.

Attention - © Christopher Martin-9514

My wife and I went past the airport the next day and found one of the owls perched alongside Township Road 250.  The hunt seemed ready to commence but a raven flew by and spooked the owl into a short flight across the field (and beyond my lens’s range).  It was wonderful to see one of the owls glowing in the beautiful winter light.

Launch - © Christopher Martin-0175

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Flying away - © Christopher Martin-0178-2

I was unable to go that way today however my wife did and she watched both of the owls perching, hunting and jousting with a raven.  I’m hoping they settle into the area and spend their winter here.  Last spring my searches for Snowy Owls took me out to Langdon and on towards Brooks so it’s nice to save the couple of hours driving there and back for more time photographing these owls (as well as the coyotes, eagles and hawks which normally hunt in the Springbank Airport area).


Prairie Wildlife: Flight of a Snowy Owl

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.


Prairie Wildlife: Snowy Owls

After photographing sunrise on Namaka Lake in the Siksika Reserve east of Calgary, I toured the nearby back roads for wildlife.  I found a few mule deer standing in tall grass and a couple of charismatic old barns but my subject of desire was the snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus).  There is a healthy population of these owls between Calgary and Brooks.  Photographing these wonderful raptors has been on my list for a couple of winters now but yesterday was the first trip into the prairie east of Calgary dedicated to the purpose.  The first owl I found was a telephone pole hopper so we traveled together from pole to pole for half an hour before it flew up into a stand of trees (as above) and then on to the open fields.


I saw two more snowy owls while working my way back home on Highway 22X.  The first was flighty and I only photographed it flying away from me over the fields.

The last owl of the day I saw just before 11 am.  It stared me down from its perch on a fence post and then took off, flying low along the ditch before disappearing behind a small hill.  I will be back in the next couple of weeks and try to get one of these beautiful birds to fly towards me.


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