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!
(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.