Hanging out with an owl

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I have had a couple of visits with a Great Gray Owl on one of the backroads in West Bragg over the past week.  This particular section of the gravel road has only yielded one moose a couple of years ago.  Still, it is a beautiful area so I often head up there as far as the private gate that cuts off the road’s climb out of the forest to a hilltop meadow.  Last weekend I was turning my car around and having a look up at the wind-broken treetops more out of habit than expectation.  The owl was perched in shadow just inside the forest’s edge.

Gazing up and over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I hopped out and watched him for a minute before climbing up the hill across from the trees so that I could be at a similar height to the perch and hopefully catch some hunting action whenever the owl decided to dive down.

Note regarding the gender of this owl: I say him, because there was no urgency to this owl so I presume a nest full of owlets wasn’t waiting at home.  I could easily be wrong – I have not figured out how to determine whether a Great Gray Owl is male or female – yet.  So, I will stick with he for now as I much prefer that over “it”.  Either way, between concentrated stares into the tall grass below, feather grooming and very quick naps occupied his time.

Preening - 2013 © Christopher Martin-5533

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

From his perch, the owl was busy looking around in the direction of any sounds or movement on the ground.  I heard little and saw less – the same was definitely not true for my figurative companion.   After the better part of an hour, he gave a quick shake and then dove almost straight down.

Free diving - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500.

I captured a few nice frames of the dive (the image above and the one that opens this post) but he disappeared from my view into the tall grass.  A couple of hops brought the now familiar head into sight and I could see he missed his target.

On the down low - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

He launched back into the air and settled on the branch of a dead tree.  This time he was in the morning sun so he favoured me with a different setting to photograph him in.  Very photographer friendly was this fellow.

Settling onto a new perch - © Christopher Martin-5742

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I stayed on my hill for another half an hour and enjoyed watching the grooming, staring and napping habits.  I left him there and continued on the back roads.

In the forest - © Christopher Martin-5871

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

This weekend, I had the house to myself and ended up sleeping in late on the morning I had planned to head out for sunrise.  Still, I was back on the same country road around 8 am with faint hopes of a repeat visit.  Scanning the broken trees again, I found no wildlife of any kind and completed my turn around.  Then, I saw the owl sitting in a branch about 20′ off the ground on the side of the road opposite where I had been looking.

Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-3289

Canon 5DII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4 extender at 121mm: 1/800 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 640

Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8597

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 500

He gazed at me for a few seconds, I nodded and he continued the pattern of watching, grooming and napping that I had watched the week before.  He added a bit of variety with a yawn here…

A big yawn - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8661

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 2500

A wing stretch there…

Owl yoga - © Christopher Martin-8734

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2500

After a half an hour, the owl flew to another stump and then went higher up into the trees further up the road.  As he launched out of the tree and went past me, I had a nice opportunity for a couple of in flight shots.

 Launch - © Christopher Martin-8759

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Forest flight - © Christopher Martin-8762

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

He seemed to decide he had other places to be and flew deeper into the forest after just a couple of minutes perched in the canopy.

 Perched in the canopy - © Christopher Martin-8803

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

17 responses

  1. Lovely art. Nature photography has always been something I’ve wanted to try . . .

    July 16, 2013 at 1:06 am

  2. elmediat

    Superb series.

    July 11, 2013 at 1:10 pm

  3. Really enjoyed this post. This is a wonderful series.

    July 9, 2013 at 9:49 pm

  4. I’m looking at this post with my just-today-turned 11 year old, and she & I can only say, “Wow!” What a wonderful series of shots.

    July 9, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    • Happy birthday to your daughter Sid. Thanks for continuing to check in with my blog.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      July 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

  5. Absolutely wonderful photos of that magnificent owl. Obviously some great powers of concentration to wait that long for him to fly away and get the shot. I take one glance away in five minutes and its gone!

    July 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    • Hi Lyle,

      I know that frustration all too well. Sometimes sitting around pays off.

      Cheers,

      Chris

      July 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

  6. I envy your time with this owl. Some terrific pictures of him. Picture #8 shows how well he blends in if you are not actually looking for him.
    Picture #1 and the stretching ones makes me think that he was doing “owl yoga” for you. 😉

    July 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

    • It’s really fun to see how animals act when they are just hanging around oblivious to you being in their space. I find more and more that these little details keep me interested for longer and longer times as I wait for the big dive, leap, chase, etc.

      Thanks for commenting – here’s to owl yoga!

      July 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  7. Breathtaking photos, as always! So glad you had another opportunity to photograph an owl.

    July 9, 2013 at 11:01 am

    • Thanks Karen. It had been a while between owl encounters – this one seems to have let me in a bit.

      July 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  8. Oh how I envy you. Owls are one of my favorites and these are fantastic.

    July 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

    • Thank you Mara Lee. I hope some owls find their way to you soon.

      July 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm

  9. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    What amazing shots. Love them.

    July 9, 2013 at 7:33 am

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