Most weekends in the first couple of months of the year I spent driving the country roads east of Calgary in search of snowy owls. I had a number of great encounters this year amid some frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls. The last of these visits was in early March.
I found this owl perched on a fence post in the middle of a field on a beautiful sunny morning east of Delacour. I waited for quite a while before the owl chose to fly. When she did, she caught the wind and rose upwards quickly before she looked my way and banked above me. She crossed the field and dove into the snow by another fence line. She was too far to see clearly what she caught but she finished it quickly and then flew off out of sight.
Some people continued to find snowies into April but I have been drawn to the mountains and the waterways running out of them for the last few weeks so I will look forward to next winter when I hope to find these beautiful birds again. For now, I am enjoying the arrival of spring as I’m sure they are too as they return to their summer range north of the Arctic Circle.
It has been a few months, since the beginning of winter, since I last had a visit with a great gray owl. On Sunday night, a warm evening near Kananaskis, I found a pair! Here is one as the light was failing and shortly before I left them to their hunting. More to come soon.
It took a little longer to find time to complete my review of my wildlife images this year. Due largely to general busyness and some measure of procrastination. So I appreciated the irony that one of the areas I have put a lot of thought into, and work to improve, is patience. Looking back, this focus on waiting is helping me to get closer to the wildlife imagery that I want to be creating. Waiting for the animals, waiting on their schedule for something to happen, can be a challenge – sometimes, like in the cold, a significant one. I’m happy that I laid down on the snow, crouched in marshes, hiked into valleys and froze my fingers to find those opportunities and try to do something with them.
The 2017 gallery can be viewed at this link or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.
A comparison with my 2016 wildlife gallery suggests some subtle changes. I see exploration into some ideas, blurs for one, that is interesting. I’ve been trying to bring more imagination into my wildlife images. Lot’s more to work on there.
Comparing years past with the last one, I like the direction and that stirs up the motivation coals. The latter always being a good thing, I think.
The prairies around High River are dotted with small stands of trees. These islands on the grasslands are usually home for a good number of birds. Last weekend, I visited a long running favorite stand of mine where a pair of great horned owls have raised chicks for 30+ years I have been told.
The morning I arrived, the female was in the nest – presumably the eggs are incubating now. The male was perched nearby and over the course of an hour he made two sorties to other trees and grabbed one field mouse along the way.
Other than that little bit of action, there was a lot of dozing in the nest and a few very slow blinks by the male too. He kept his eyes on the magpies that came nearby now and then as well as anything else that flew or drove by. But it was generally a fairly quiet morning – I think they were both resting up before the chicks are born. When that happens the activity level necessarily picks up considerably.
A couple of weeks ago I took a break from the snowy owls on the prairie and visited some of my great gray owl haunts near my home. I had not seen a gray for several weeks so it was a fishing expedition at best with limited expectation. I was excited when I found this owl perched over the snow. It wasn’t too long before she dove into the snow and quickly swallowed some kind of mouse or vole. Her back was to me when she landed so I didn’t get a good look at her snack. She flew up into a bare tree and continued surveying the small meadow.
She decided pretty quickly that wasn’t the spot for her and she flew into the evergreens after only a couple of minutes.
She landed and then dozed for close to half an hour from a good spot in the trees overlooking another small patch of snow.
I put on my snow boots and took an indirect path to a little hill opposite her new perch. Her eyes watched me a little bit but the lids shut once I sat down on a log. I was happy to wait and see if she would continue hunting after her rest.
With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.
The snowy owls will soon start to head north so I’m trying to get out to photograph them as much as my time will allow before they go. I found this owl just after sunrise and when she looked backwards at me, her wide eyes caught the sunlight beautifully. I will miss these gorgeous birds when they return to their summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.
Snowy owls have been a focus of mine this winter. Last Saturday I was east of Calgary again – touring the back roads, looking for owls and, when they were found, working to not spook them. A few of my earlier visits to the prairies have been frigid experiences. That day was pleasantly different – the sun cut through the clouds early and they moved on altogether by mid-morning but did so without a heavy wind pushing them. The relatively mild and calm weather was welcome indeed.
The day was productive in every sense. I found two owls just after daybreak near Gleichen. I spotted the first one as she flew parallel to the road I was traveling down. The second was perched on this fence line but he took off as the first neared. The displacer landed and fussed with her feathers while scanning the ground. The sun lit her up a couple of times which was special. She eventually glided over the fields behind her and landed on a rise after catching an unlucky creature for breakfast. I drove below the rise and caught her yawning before she rested and dozed for a bit.
Note: this snowy is mottled with dark and light feathering and that used to be thought to be exclusively females and the almost pure white owls were males. Over the last few years, that has been disproven (some females are all white and some males are not). There is no visible way to confirm the sex that I am aware of so I still refer to a white one as “he” and the others as “she”. That is a bit of anthropomorphization but I really dislike calling animals “it”.
I had an encounter with a beautiful almost solid white snowy owl an hour later a little further north of this spot. I will share that story with him soon!