Great gray owls blend into the forest effortlessly so it is easy to lose track of them. When I have a chance to photograph one flying through the trees it is very special for me. I discovered this owl while hiking a trail on the edge of the Kananaskis Country park area west of Bragg Creek. It stayed on the perch for a half an hour keeping track of other creatures nearby and following unusual noises around. I can’t count on which way a bird will launch when it does decide to fly so I was happy when this one flew in my direction and flew to my right. It climbed to a higher perch on the opposite side of the trail which is where I left it to its business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
March 17, 2015 | Categories: Owls, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, birds in flight, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, dive, flying, hunting, Irricana, nature photography, owls, prairie, raptor, snowy owls, wildlife | 3 Comments
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.
February 27, 2015 | Categories: Alberta, Nature, Owls, Turtle, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, BIF, birds, blue sky, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flight, flying, nature, owls, raptors, Snowy owl, wildlife | 4 Comments
This Snowy owl had been chirping at some ravens nearby when it was perched on a telephone pole and they were flying above. Eventually one came too close which prompted the owl’s leap into the air. She looped around the pole once before settling on another one further from the mischief makers. While banking in the turn photographed above she cried out again. This time proved an excellent opportunity to photograph her “smile”.
February 25, 2015 | Categories: Owls, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: alberta, BIF, bird in flight, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flying, Irricana, nature photography, owl, smile, Snowy owl, wildlife photography | 6 Comments
On the weekend I followed reports of Snowy owls northeast of Calgary near Irricana. I left home early and arrived in the area just after sunrise. I was lucky enough to spy the first Snowie of the day perched on a fence post glowing in the soft light.
The pure white owls were until quite recently thought to always be males. That has been disproved leaving it hard to determine the gender from casual observation. I will allow for the old convention though and refer to this one as a he. The other four birds I photographed that morning were banded to varying degrees and I will refer to them as ladies in a future post. It took only a few minutes before he launched and scouted low over the field for breakfast. This was repeated a couple of times with each sortie ending with a return to the fence line.
On the last flight that I photographed of this owl, he flew away from the fence and landed in the middle of the field on a pipeline valve which allowed for an interesting backlit shot as he flared his wings to land.
February 24, 2015 | Categories: Birds, Nature, Owls, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: alberta, bird in flight, birds, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flying, owl, prairie, snow, Snowy owl, wildlife, winter | 2 Comments