Owls

Forest flights in a snowstorm

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4970

A snowstorm hit Bragg Creek last weekend quickly draping the area in white and pushing the temperature way down.  I caught sight of this owl along a familiar stretch of open forest divided by a gravel road.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4954

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4968

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4972

It was a steep challenge keeping sharp focus as she flew through the trees and with the heavy snowfall but I had a great hour or so watching her and trying to keep up.  I ended up with many in-focus tree, out-of-focus owl shots but when it worked out the other way around there were some interesting images.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4916

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-4914

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5159

When I did return to my car, it did take a few minutes for my fingers to thaw – that’s always painful but quickly forgotten.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5244
She was very successful during the time I watched her.  Three field mice were the first courses for breakfast from five silent descents into the tall grass.  When time allows, I will share a few of those action shots in another photo story here.


Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

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It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek.  I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area.  In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country.  This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images.  Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed.  A beautiful creature.

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An owl on the other side

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On the other side of the road, this Great gray owl continued hunting after it flew across.  She left the open forest for the denser evergreens on the southern approach which provided a completely different look from the images that I shared yesterday.

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She flew between a couple of posts before gliding between a couple of trees.  I was lucky to be in position for some great opportunities.

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The owl flew into the middle of this large tree, beside the trunk, and I thought she might choose to rest there for a while.  She did for a few minutes, but soon grew restless and began scanning the ground for activity.  She turned around, saw something and then shot out of the tree.  I lost sight of her almost right away but heard a lot of squawking and commotion before things went quiet again.  I assume the owl struck successfully but did not go into the woods to check – either way the cycle of hunter and hunted continued with one coming out successfully.

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In the presence of greatness

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A couple of weeks ago snow had fallen overnight and I went into Bragg Creek to see what I might be able to photograph in this prelude to winter.  I was thrilled when I spied this Great gray owl flying along an old fence line.  She looked amazing against the lightly blanketed grass and trees.  Her colouring made her appear as a piece of the forest in motion.

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This owl has a well-defined hunting ground that I’m familiar with.  That said, I hadn’t seen her in over a month until the week before this encounter.  That time it was dusk and my camera and I both had trouble focusing as she flew past.  She stared at me for several wing beats which looked fantastic.  However the images were soft and I came away disappointed for missing some great shots.  Persistence paid off, as it often does given enough of it, and she was even more engaging this time around.

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Keeping an eye on my whereabouts was a minor distraction to her hunting and she made three separate attacks over the half hour that I watched her.  One was successful and a fourth, when she disappeared into the deeper woods, seemed successful given what I could hear.

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She hunted on the north side of the gravel road for most of the time I was there.  This forest is open with relatively wide spacing between the mostly Aspen trees and tall grass filling in between.  On the south side, the forest is dominated by evergreens and is much denser.  I will share some more images of this owl from the other side tomorrow.

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A gallery of Great gray owls

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(Please click on either image to open the Great gray owl gallery)

It has been a while since I put together a gallery of animal images so I worked on one last night.  I chose Great gray owls as they are among my very favourite birds to watch and to photograph.  They have a balance of power and intelligence that always impresses me.  All of these images are from the Bragg Creek area, either in West Bragg or on the edge of Kananaskis that shares a border with it.  I have been photographing some of these owls for six years or more although most of the early images didn’t make this cut for various user operator (me!) issues.  For the 35 images that did, it was fun to look at the scenes I’ve been able to see them hunt, perch and fly in.

A Great gray owl in evening sunlight near Bragg Creek, Alberta

Looking back over these I feel very fortunate to be able to have spent so much time with these beautiful raptors.  At some times of the year, I see them rarely but I enjoy knowing that they are still there.  When are paths do cross, it never fails to be a continuation of my education about Great grays.  I still have a lot to learn… lucky me!


A Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3782-3

I’ve lived in Redwood Meadows for over 9 years and have never photographed a Great gray owl in the daylight here.  A little while ago, I was driving back from Bragg Creek and spotted this owl perched on a fence post.  I watched him in the sun for a little while before he flew.  Then he quickly moved from post to post for a couple of minutes, with short breaks between flights.

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3714

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3730

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3735

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3736

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3737-2

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3738

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3748

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3749

Eventually he flew to the top of a nearby tree for a better view.  That did not last long and he flew directly in front of me as he crossed the road (the first photo int his story) and flew into the heavier forest on the edge of the Tsuu T’ina Rodeo and Pow Wow grounds.

Great gray owl in Redwood Meadows - © Christopher Martin-3780

 


A forest hunter

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2969-4

On a warm summer evening, down a country road leading nowhere, I found a pair of Great gray owls.  One was hunting actively near where I set up while the other was perched deeper in the forest.

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2966

The shadows lengthened and I hoped for a special moment before the sun slipped below the ridge to the west.  She flew over me and I thought that would be the end of the encounter as she flew into the trees.  Instead, she alighted on this small branch and stared intently at a couple of spots in the grass.  Shortly after she dove headlong into one of those spots and disappeared.  

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2970

Several seconds ticked by and then she leaped into the air – with a field mouse secured in her beak.  It was my good fortune that she flew directly towards me as she gained altitude before banking to her left and heading further uphill towards her nest.  The first image and the ones directly below are the series as she flew through the trees towards me.
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2971
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2972
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2973
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2974
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2975

 These were a series of moments well beyond what I was even hoping for.


A brief visit with a Barred owl

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0959
A friend and I spied this owl while on a short drive to scout out locations for a photo shoot.  This is my tenth year living in the Bragg Creek area and this was the first Barred owl that I have seen here.  It was the first time I have seen one in the wild anywhere for that matter.  It is an understatement to say I was excited!  The dark eyes are so striking compared to my familiarity with the glowing yellow eyes of the Great gray, Great horned and Snowy owls which I photograph throughout the year.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0948

The owl was perched in plain sight – the fast approaching dusk had dimmed the daylight which suited this mostly nocturnal hunter.  That made a fast shutter speed a challenge but that was a very minor challenge.  She flew from the post to a branch a couple of metres above the long grass edging the road.  Her head swivelled and angled as she searched for dinner.  Within a couple of minutes, she locked in and made a dive headlong into the greenery.  One dive, one strike and one kill.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0970-2

From down in the grass she shifted the field mouse to her beak and then flew up and in front of us, heading into a stand of trees on a small ridge.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0987

I lost her in the forest and the gloom but look forward to a follow-up encounter whenever it suits her.

Bragg Creek Barred Owl - © Christopher Martin-0994


I love owls but…

Great gray owl's meadow flight - © Christopher Martin-7050
The Great gray owls are a favourite animal of mine.  No surprise there for anyone who visits my site.  This time of the year is great for photographing them near where I live so I often don’t travel too far afield – content to spend my time watching this beautiful birds.  This weekend, I’m breaking with habit and heading to Yellowstone National Park.  For all kinds of reasons I have not yet been there so I’m really excited.  The wildlife and the landscapes there have filled my dreams for years so I can’t wait to get going later this afternoon.  Wish me luck – I will share what I am fortunate enough to see when I return.

Great gray owl's meadow flight - © Christopher Martin-7049

And, they have Great grays down there so maybe I’ll get to see some of the Yellowstone family too!


Great gray owl on frost and in gold

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6695-2

Last week’s dropping mercury and precipitation allowed the fields around Bragg Creek to be encased in frost on the weekend.  I spent the morning watching birds of all sizes waking up – with most waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit.  This Great gray owl was more interested in breakfast and I watched him hunt for a couple of hours taking his catches back to the nest hidden somewhere in the forest nearby.  These images of the owl just lifting off the grass with a field mouse in its beak really captured the tone of the morning – frosted grass, shafts of golden light, a spectacular bird in flight.  It was another wonderful morning spent in awe of the natural world.

 

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6646

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6692

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6647


Hanging out, flying around

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3980

These two Great horned owls flew between various perches among the strip of trees I found them in east of High River.  I watched them for two hours as the morning’s overcast sky brightened.  They were unsettled by ravens a couple of times but mostly seemed to be resting while keeping eyes on the fields they looked over.   When they did fly it was worth the wait.

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3803

Great horned owls near High River - © Christopher Martin-3922

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3809-3

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3464

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3802-2

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3540

Great horned owl near High River - © Christopher Martin-3517


A phantom of the north’s flyby

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8200

I watched this Great gray owl criss-cross a field west of Bragg Creek a couple of weekends ago.  I spotted him perched near a small pond in front of the forest and photographed as he flew closer to where I was on the road.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8134

Between flights, he landed on a couple of fence posts, a branch and a driveway gate.  This last landing was about 20 metres (60′) away from where I stood.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8189

I have had owls fly close to me occasionally and it is always an intense moment.  This was no exception – it was great to feel his presence as it glided past within arm’s reach.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8197