A Snowy day on the Prairies
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls. The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list. This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies. I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend. A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.
After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie. She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me! I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field. She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable. After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open. The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way. Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep. I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.
I was wrong. I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake. About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road. These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground. Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long. She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew. Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.
I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road. She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.
The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo. There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole. Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there. When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view. I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.
After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again. I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise. Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.
Again, I was wrong. She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another. Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.
The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind. I think both the owl and I enjoyed that. I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.
The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie. A pretty fantastic experience for me.
Sharing this post is welcomed - but please do not use individual images without permission from Christopher Martin in advance.
This entry was posted on December 9, 2015 by Christopher Martin. It was filed under Alberta, Animals, Owls, Prairie, Wildlife and was tagged with alberta, animals, BIF, bird, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, Canadian Prairie, flying, High River, owl, Snowy owl, wildlife.
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Pingback: A Snowy day on the Prairies | julietta2016
I love these photos!
December 21, 2015 at 12:23 am
Owl rotates its neck by 180 degree, However, I think you rotates your camera more than that 🙂
Superb clicks……..All the best………….
December 17, 2015 at 2:47 am
Wonderful images. Beautiful birds. Thank you.
December 13, 2015 at 5:55 pm
i like your post, awesome captures, PERFECT!!!
December 11, 2015 at 7:16 pm
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Awesome captures! I’m jealous..LOL
December 10, 2015 at 11:34 am
I’ve left this post up all day and I just occasionally click over and look at the photos to make myself happy, haha! Is anything as simultaneously lovely and dopey as the snowy owl?
December 10, 2015 at 11:25 am
I’m glad both the pictures and the owls themselves bring a smile to your face. Thank you for visiting and for your comment. Have a great day!
December 10, 2015 at 2:42 pm
Lovely series of shots. I really do want to see a snowy owl this year. If the weather is harsh enough we might get a visit down to New Jersey as per last year.
December 10, 2015 at 6:56 am
Thank you David. I’m not wishing rough weather comes your way but I do hope you find one, two or more Snowies.
December 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm
Fantastic experience indeed and photos to match! What a thrill it must have been to watch it keep coming back.
December 10, 2015 at 4:44 am
Hi Lyle – it really was. They each have their own personality and comfort levels. As you know it is amazing when you get to spend a good amount of time with any creature on its own terms.
December 10, 2015 at 2:44 pm
I love these photos! Looking into her eyes is such a rare and meaningful experience. Thank you for the time and effort it took to photograph this beautiful, intelligent bird and post the excellent photos.
December 10, 2015 at 3:59 am
Thank you Karen. It was time easily spent on my side – I’m glad she felt comfortable enough to stay.
December 10, 2015 at 2:46 pm
Now those are some class shots.. Can you please share the details like lens,pixel, focus you used.. Thank you
December 10, 2015 at 3:50 am
Hello Keshab – thank you for your kind words. All images were taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 500mm f/4 lens. I used Aperture priority with expanded centre point selected for autofocus.
The settings for each image were:
1st photo: 1/1250 seconds at f/4 on ISO 1000
2nd: 1/1000 at f/4 on ISO 1000
3rd: 1/2000 at f/4 on ISO 1000
4th: 1/1250 at f/4 on ISO 1000
5th: 1/1250 at f/6.3 on ISO 1600 (with 1.4X lens extender)
6th: 1/1600 at f/6.3 on ISO 1600 (with 1.4X lens extender)
7th: 1/1250 at f/6.3 on ISO 1600 (with 1.4X lens extender)
8th: 1/1600 at f/4 on ISO 800
9th: 1/250 at f/16 on ISO 1600
10th: 1/5000 at f/4 on ISO 640
11th: 1/2000 at f/4 on ISO 640
12th: 1/2000 at f/4 on ISO 640
December 10, 2015 at 3:10 pm
Thank you so much for taking the time in briefing the details, it will definitely help me in some points.
December 10, 2015 at 7:16 pm
I am SO envious! What I would give to see, let alone photograph an snowy owl!!!! Thank you for sharing!
December 9, 2015 at 9:40 pm
Thank you LVT – I hope you get to see and photograph them soon!
December 10, 2015 at 3:12 pm
How absolutely wonderful, they are beautiful creatures. What an amazing experience for you.
December 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm
Hello Miriam – thank you for visiting. It truly was an amazing experience!
December 10, 2015 at 3:13 pm
Sure looks like it.
December 10, 2015 at 5:43 pm