Posts tagged “Great Gray Owl

On the hunt with a great gray owl

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.

When she did start looking around again, she seemed keen to resume and I was in a great position for her next dive which happened right away.

With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.


A phantom hunting in the snow

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5076

The snowstorm and the cold accompanying it were considerable the morning I watched this Great gray owl hunting west of Bragg Creek.  Neither one impeded her focus or her ability to hunt.  She caught three mice as they scurried beneath the snow.  The sharp eyes guiding her to great effect.  The descent above started with her perched in a branch.  Her head cocked at subtly different angles to range in before she flew.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5066

This strike proved unsuccessful as it appeared she came close but came away with nothing.  She looked at me for a second and then lifted off to alight on a post holding up the fence I was leaning against.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5092

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5093

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5103

A short regroup was over after a few minutes when she dove with her back to me, grabbed and returned with a mouse.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5125

That was swallowed quickly and she then retreated to another branch on the tree line behind the fence.  She flew along the forest’s edge between a couple of spots.  Which gave me a few good opportunities to shoot her in flight.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5215

She snagged another unfortunate creature as we approached noon and I left soon after that.

Great gray owl hunting in a snowstorm - © Christopher Martin-5156


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.


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 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

 


A hunting owl

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7379

I have photographed this Great gray owl in the same area for the past five years.  When I found her hunting for field mice just off the gravel road, I set up and watched her make two successful dives from branches that hung only a couple of metres above the tall grass.   I haven’t seen her or her mate over the winter so it was great to reconnect and watch the action.  I particularly enjoyed watching how she flew through the open forest.

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7383

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7381

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7387


Great gray owl winter flights

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6515

I love watching Great gray owls fly – particularly when they launch.  The snowstorm that hit Bragg Creek on Thursday night created a wintry scene that was still hiding spring on Saturday when I went out.  It made for an interesting backdrop to this owl as it took flight.

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6516

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6517


Great gray ascension

Great gray owl's ascension - © Christopher Martin-6677-2
This Great gray owl was hunting for field mice in West Bragg yesterday.  It dove a few times, easily punching through the thin covering of snow left by Friday’s snowstorm.  I watched it fly between fence posts before it flew up to this branch.  It turned out to be a good vantage point as it caught a mouse on its next dive.

I do want to also wish everyone a Happy Easter!  I hope everyone enjoys time with family and friends over the weekend.  We started the morning with a fun hunt with yarn that led the kids to their respective jackpots.  While we were outside, I looked for our resident rabbit but he was nowhere to be found – so no Easter Bunny photographs this year!