(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.
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!
Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow. The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest. In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.
The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.
Within a couple of minutes, a strike came. The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish. The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.
Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.
The pair of Ospreys who summer on the Castle Junction bridge’s nest raised two chicks through adolescence this year. When I spent a day watching them in August that meant there were four of these raptors, now all very close to the same size, interacting with one another on and around the bridge area. Flying, fishing, chasing and fighting over fish dominated the moments of action amid a lot of time spent perching over the river up in the trees that line that stretch of the Bow River.
I spied this Osprey when it alighted on a weathered log with a freshly caught meal. By the time I walked a few hundred metres so that I was directly across the river from the bird, it was no longer alone. Ospreys have excellent vision, roughly twice the distance capabilities of humans, so it was no surprise that company arrived quickly. Another Osprey landed close by, shrilly announcing its arrival and crying out for a share of the sushi. The successful fisher had no interest in sharing and resisted all advances from the other to do so.
Over the next four hours, I watched this bird defend its prize from sneaky grabs for a scrap, frustrated attacks, a couple of near dive-bombs and outright theft! Throughout, the Osprey nibbled away on the fish – whether another bird was nearby or not. The other Osprey never ganged up on their family member but I’m pretty sure two of the three made individual advances.
With the repeated flybys the interloping Ospreys gave me some great opportunities for in flight shots that were interesting and new for my library. The low to ground shots in particular.
The birds were aware of my presence, I didn’t blend in with the rocks on the shoreline. I didn’t move around much and, with the river between us, I felt confident that I was not impacting their behaviour and so I enjoyed the opportunity to watch the family dynamics play out.
Several times the Osprey clutched the fish in one talon and looked to be getting ready to fly. That didn’t happen – the bird didn’t stray more than a couple of metres from the log and stayed on it for most of the time. That made me suspect this was an adolescent with little experience flying with fish but given the size, and the fact that it had caught the fish in the first place, I’m definitely not sure.
Steadily the Osprey worked away on dinner, despite the numerous distractions, and finally finished all but the smallest scraps. Shortly after finishing the Osprey flew off down the river. It flew across my sight line affording me a nice flight series – a fun little reward after four hours crouching among the rocks. I watched it all the way back to the nest where it few around a couple of times before I lost sight of it. I hiked back to the bridge and came back to the shoreline a short stone’s throw from the Ospreys new perch. Again, it took note of me and then continued looking down the river and up at the nest. Several minutes went by before the bird launched and flew up to the nest.
Last week I spent a day walking, sitting, waiting and watching along the Bow River in the Banff National Park. I was enthralled with the comings and goings of four Ospreys centred around their part of the river at the Castle Junction between Banff and Lake Louise.
My last visit with them was in April and there were only two of these sea hawks flying around. It was wonderful to see their two chicks now almost fully matured.
Four large raptors on one nest, even theirs which is massive, is pretty crowded accommodations.
The parents seemed very feisty with the young ones, cajoling them to get airborne with squawks and dive bombs.
Amid all of the excitement, the birds circled the nest, perched in the trees over the river and they flew nearby several times. I would imagine they will migrate south in less than a month so I will try to get back to spend time watching them before they go.
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.
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.
I was in Banff for an early morning sunrise shoot a couple of weeks ago. Following that, I spent the morning hiking and driving around looking for wildlife. The first animal I found was this Great blue heron fishing on the first Vermilion Lake.
Following this short story of the heron in Yellowstone National Park, I thought it would be good to post another with its Canadian cousin. I watched the heron work in the long grass on the lake edge for several minutes before it turned away from the sun and flew eastward and beyond my sight.
Great blue herons are a favourite bird of mine. I was very happy when I spotted this one fishing along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park when I was there a few weeks ago. I found a little shoulder off the road where I could park my car and I walked back to the small bridge I had just crossed.
The heron was stalking through the grass in the water, noted my presence with a slight turn of its head, and then continued. A few minutes, three strikes and two fish later, it had moved closer and was now directly across the water from me.
Whether it was momentarily full, spooked by a particular vehicle crossing the bridge or just tired of me watching, it jumped into the air after ducking under the logs in front of it in the picture above.
I was in a great position to watch the strong wingbeats lift the heron. I was already feeling lucky for first finding it along this beautiful river bend and then getting to photograph it fishing. When it took flight and then banked overhead, I was able to get several nice flight shots and I felt my luck had doubled down on its own accord – and won!
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.
And, they have Great grays down there so maybe I’ll get to see some of the Yellowstone family too!