Owls

The last of this winter’s snowy owl encounters

 

 

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.


Spring flight – a great gray owl in the evening

I saw this owl perched in the middle of a field of bushes at first.  The sun was getting low so I felt lucky to have found her before it became too dark to photograph.

She flew low over the foliage and dropped into them for a moment – disappearing from view.  A blur of motion behind a line of still wintering trees caught my eye and I followed her as she landed on a branch halfway up the last of these trees.

A few minutes later, she flew across the field once again and disappeared into the forest.

All the while, her mate had been perched at the top of an evergreen in the middle of the bushes and I turned my attention to him for a little while.  The light failed quickly and I headed home leaving the lone owl at his viewing tower.


An evening with an old friend

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.


My favourite wildlife photographs from 2017

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.


Flashback Friday – owl to perch flight

A couple of years ago I watched this owl hunting in the snow west of Bragg Creek.  It was a relatively warm day for March and this great gray was active for a long while before launching off of a fence post and flying upwards to this skeletal tree.  I liked how the eyes are locked on the landing spot in this image.  The overcast sky and bare branches suited the gray feathers backlit against the clouds.


Flashback Friday – a summer owl

There are a lot of photographs from the summer and earlier which I have not found a way to share to date.  I’m going to try using the Flashback Friday theme to publish some of these.  I thought I’d start with a morning in July spent watching one of the great gray owls in Bragg Creek hunting in a field.

Just after 7 o’clock, I spied this owl on the forest edge, perched in a tree overlooking the field.  I set up my tripod and long lens in time to catch her fly low over the grass.

This owl is one of a pair that have raised chicks in the same place for several years.  The other parent was likely minding the chicks in the nest hidden back in the forest.  So, the owl was busy crisscrossing the field, hunting for breakfast.

The summer sun rises early so it was fairly high by this time.  The owl flew in and out of the sunlight and the shadows throughout the morning.  That afforded some good opportunities to photograph that contrast.

After a half an hour, the owl was fairly close to me and I was surprised when she flew in my direction and alighted on the fencepost right in front of me.  She stayed there for almost 15 minutes before resuming the hunt.  A very special moment where I felt some level of connection – maybe an acceptance of my presence – that still makes me smile.

 

Here she flew off, dove into the grass, came up empty and returned to the same perch.  A robin joined the line on this second sitting.  The birds paid little attention to one another and the owl soon flew away.


Watching owls fly in the Palouse

On the first day I was in the Palouse earlier this year, I found a great horned owl haunting an abandoned farmstead near Colfax.

My friends photographed the rolling hills and fields while I waited for the owl to fly.  Over the course of an hour or so her started up in a broken metal structure, flew over to a green field, returned to the farmhouse and alighted at the weather vane nearby.  At one point she met up with her mate in another field before leaving him when he stepped into the taller grass.  She hunted successfully twice but she was just out of sight both times.  I loved the even lighting from the overcast sky coupled with the varied scenes that she went through while I was there.


Great horned owls

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.


On the hunt with a great gray owl

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.

When she did start looking around again, she seemed keen to resume and I was in a great position for her next dive which happened right away.

With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.


A wide-eyed snowy owl

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 owl flights

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I started a morning last weekend watching a snowy owl.  When she had a long yawn, that seemed like a good sign to keep moving.  I left the napper and headed along a range road which ran due north.  After a few miles, this owl popped into view as it flew out from behind a small bush.

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Happily, it wasn’t too upset by the disturbance and landed about 100 metres to the east.  I took a few photos from the roof of my car and then pulled out my longest lens (500mm) and the monopod as it felt like I had time before he might start hunting again.

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That started a great 90 minute stretch where I was able to move into good positions (the owl, me and the sun in a line) a couple of times while he hunted across the field.  There was a lot of preening, listening and looking around (and the occasional glance my way) in between the three flights he made while I was there.

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He flew back to the road, and directly past me, on the first flight and landed where a slight rise afforded a view in both directions.  He stayed pretty alert and it did not take very long before a target was found.

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The owl flew a very short distance and then dropped on the far side of the road.  He grabbed a small mouse that was beneath the snow but not safe from this accomplished hunter.

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He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch.  The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.

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More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.

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A sunny snowy morning

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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!