Owls

Great grays in Grand Valley

This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane.  The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.  I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area.  I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.

This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road.  She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass.  She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.

The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area.  I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.


A close encounter of the owl kind

Almost two months ago, I came across a great gray owl that was surveying a bog from the top of a weathered fence post.  I watched him for a few minutes as he looked around.  Then the big, yellow eyes watched me for a few seconds before the wings stretched out and he flew up the hill towards me.  These owls move quickly when they choose to so I was reacting not thinking when he took to the air.  I was happy to have a few shots of that approach.

I thought he would fly by, but another post a couple of meters away from me was his destination.  He looked around for half a minute, then stared at me while launching into the air again.  This time he passed close by, crossed the path and then flew to a broken tree branch in the forest.

It was early evening and seemed to be supper time as he dove into the tall grass a couple of minutes later.  That yielded a vole or some kind of field mouse.  I couldn’t tell as he swallowed it while on the ground and mostly out of sight.

Reappearing after a short while, he ascended to another branch briefly and then flew deeper into the forest.


Flying toward the sun

Not quite Icarus, but after this owl had descended into the grass after a rodent of some type, she flew up and into a shaft of early sunlight that had pierced deep into the forest.


Into the forest with an owl

A great gray owl was hunting across a meadow near Kananaskis Country earlier in the week.  I watched her across the field for a while before she flew to the forest edge and landed in a tree branch a couple of meters off the ground.  Eventually she launched and dove after something in the tall grass.

That proved to be unsuccessful.  And the owl flew across the hillside into a stand of trees to the north.  I was able to watch her work between a couple of different perches until she found one in the sunlight.

The warmth in the sun may have been part of the reason she stayed there for a few minutes.

 

When she moved on, she flew low over the wet grass, then climbed into the trees and disappeared.


A good morning with a great gray owl

This great gray owl was hunting across a field when I was out photographing.  I set up my camera and watched her glide low over the grass scouting for movement.  She caught a mouse and ate it before crossing the field, landing on a fence post close by.

She worked along the fence line for a little bit before returning her attention to the seemingly more productive ground she had started the morning at.  I waited for a couple of minutes, watching while she made short flights and dives.

Inevitably she added to her breakfast count and then returned in my direction.  This time to a weathered wood fence which was directly in front of me.  She flew from fence, to the red pipe and to the fence again in quick succession.

That gave me the opportunity to photograph her in flight up close which was a wonderful gift from this beautiful owl.  Before long she launched once more, crossed the field into the sunshine and landed in a tree on the edge of the forest.


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.