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Posts tagged “Bubo scandiacus

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!

 

 

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A long, cold (and worthwhile) wait

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The photograph above of the snowy owl in flight was taken late in the morning on February 11th.  This flight followed a long wait after some good early action.  The wait started with a feather cleaning session on an entrance gate which was interrupted by the approach of this truck which prompted the bird to fly to a more isolated spot.

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When the vehicle drew too close for the owl’s liking, she launched and flew along the fence line towards the sun.

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She didn’t go too far – landing on a post roughly 100 metres away.

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We were separated from the owl by a fence line of our own which ran parallel to hers and they were about 80 metres apart.  That distance was just fine for me and with a 500mm lens made the subject a reasonable size in the frame.  From where I was, the sun angle and the background were both far from ideal.  I walked along the fence line and found a new location which allowed for improvements in both areas.  I kept moving around now and then to change the scene.  The owl did not – she settled in and did not leave the post for a long time.  There was no way to know at that point, but it would be 2 hours and 38 minutes before the snowy would return to the air.

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The potential for a special moment – maybe a dive close to our line or a flight with the sunlight catching her eyes – kept eyes glued on her and fingers resting on the shutter buttons.  At a few different points, a drift of snow buntings buzzed past the owl as they flew to different spots around the field to forage.  For her part, the owl watched these comings and goings with minimal interest.  For me, these sorties were welcome bits of action.

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Along the way there was more preening, dozing and the occasional stretch.  The one below seemed like a yoga position and was one that she held for several seconds.  Maybe this was all a part of her morning meditation?

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Just before noon, the wings opened and she pulled her body down into a crouch.  She paused for a second and then pushed off into the air.

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The snowy flew along her fence line which allowed for a few nice photographs before she passed us, crossed the road and landed in the snow near the top of a small rise that was a couple of hundred metres away.  My fingers were aching from the cold so this was one of the rare times where I was no longer interested in continuing to shoot.  I was happy to get in the truck and get the heat going.

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Flying low on the prairies

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I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend.  I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find.  We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations.  It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image.  To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter.  A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls.  The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.

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The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post.  She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond.  That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station.  We photographed her for another three hours afterwards.  I’ll cover that in my next post.

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A beautiful afternoon with a Snowy

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After a blustery start to the day on December 27th, by 2pm the wind had settled down and the sun then came out making for a much more comfortable time while I watched this Snowy owl.  She seemed to enjoy the change in the weather too as she was very active.  Her hunting ability is exceptional and she caught a mouse on almost every glide low over the snow.

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The two series, above and below, were both successful hunting runs where she caught a field mouse or something similar.

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I have become a regular observer of this bird in particular as she has a large farm field staked as her territory and I’ve been lucky to find her there consistently.   In previous years, I have occasionally been able to repeat time with the same owl but this regularity is really special to me.

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Earlier she flew to a few different parts of the field before settling on the area where she flew over in the photographs above.

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A Snowy in another snowstorm

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A couple of weeks ago I went out on the prairie looking for Snowy owls.  North of Langdon, I found this owl in a familiar locale.  It was a cold, blustery wind that accompanied the sunrise.  The snow blew into the air throughout the morning and made it feel like we were much closer to the Arctic Circle.  It was pretty dark with a bluish cast in the morning which only added to the wintry feel. At one point, the owl flew directly overhead and then around me which was a highlight for sure.

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The rest of the morning was spent watching the owl sitting with making the odd hop/flight around the field.  Another good morning with this Snowy owl.

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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic.  This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December.  When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!

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The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting.  She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself.  So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours.  It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that.  I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait.  I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited.  The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!

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When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field.  She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise.  I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again.  She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen.  She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above!  After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.

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I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast.  The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate.  She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.

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Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator.  Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


Snowies east of Langdon

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0324

I drove east of Langdon in the evening a couple of days ago looking for owls.  At this time of the year the odds are decent to see Snowy owls perched on a silo or a fence line so I was looking for them as well as Short-eared owls that have been reported in that area recently.   It was about an hour before sundown when I found a Snowy owl perched a couple of hundred metres away along a fence line.

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This beautiful fellow flew between a few posts and was not interested in having me around so I headed west as the sun fell behind a tall bank of clouds standing over the Rocky Mountains.  I found the second, and final, Snowy of the afternoon on a small oil and gas installation built on a rise that was a bit of a hike from the road.

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She was perched on a storage tank and took only passing interest in me during my 15 minute walk towards her.  As I drew closer I took a few photographs and as color came into the sky with sunset, I took a bunch more :)!

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She kept tabs on me but had her focus on the surrounding fields.  I didn’t see anything of note but it was a different story for the owl.

 

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When she did launch she glided over to another small hill then dived into the field where it seemed she caught something.  It was too far for me to make out and when she flew again after a couple of minutes she went further away and I had no interest in chasing her any further.

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A Snowy owl against the evening sky

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0591

Canon 5DIII camera + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 seconds at f/4 on ISO 3200

I spotted this Snowy owl perched on this oil and gas installation east of Langdon.  She was about a kilometre off the road so I parked, grabbed my gear and headed over.  She was scanning to the east while I approached from the west side.  As I walked she kept an eye on my, swivelling her neck to watch me infrequently.  From a hundred metres away, with colour brushing into the sky as the sun set, I stopped to compose this photograph.  I love these birds and I love sunsets – these seemed to be interesting juxtapositions to the storage tank she was perched on.

 

 


Blue sky, white owl

White owl, blue sky - © Christopher Martin-9212-2

The cold morning cleared out a few early clouds and the afternoon east of High River was bright under a deep blue sky.  I found a couple of Snowy owls across the day with this one’s flight after launching from a telephone pole standing out due to the sunlight catching the yellow eyes brilliantly.  A great day on the prairies with these beautiful animals.


A Snowy day on the Prairies

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5860
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls.  The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list.  This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies.  I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend.  A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.

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After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie.  She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me!  I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field.  She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable.  After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open.  The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way.  Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep.  I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.

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I was wrong.  I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake.  About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road.  These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground.  Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long.  She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew.  Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.

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I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road.  She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.

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The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo.  There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole.  Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there.  When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view.  I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.

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After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again.  I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise.  Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.

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Again, I was wrong.  She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another.  Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.

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The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind.  I think both the owl and I enjoyed that.  I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.

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The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie.  A pretty fantastic experience for me.

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Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


Reconnecting with the Snowy owls

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5476

I drove to High River yesterday and spent the morning touring the gravel roads looking for wildlife on the prairies.  My hope was to find a Snowy owl as they have begun returning there.  An hour after sunrise, east of Frank Lake, I spied a beautiful owl perched on a fence line and I spent the next four hours watching it sit, fly, hunt and then sit.  A lot of watching while she dozed or scanned the surroundings but it was time I enjoyed completely.  I wanted to share this photograph of the bird from the early afternoon when she landed in a field and was surrounded by sticks left behind after the last harvest.  I am excited to share more from the day and will soon.


A hot Snowy owl on the prairie

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1721

The early spring this year may see the Snowy owls leave their wintering grounds around Southern Alberta soon.  When I was in Irricana photographing this owl, it was 16°C and she was panting to stay cool.  I’m not concerned about their health in this heat as their nesting sites in the north get into, and above, these temperatures in the summer.  However, I don’t know when it, or something else, will prompt them to leave as they always do.

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1697

 

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1702