Posts tagged “owl

Flashback Friday – owl to perch flight

A couple of years ago I watched this owl hunting in the snow west of Bragg Creek.  It was a relatively warm day for March and this great gray was active for a long while before launching off of a fence post and flying upwards to this skeletal tree.  I liked how the eyes are locked on the landing spot in this image.  The overcast sky and bare branches suited the gray feathers backlit against the clouds.


Flashback Friday – a summer owl

There are a lot of photographs from the summer and earlier which I have not found a way to share to date.  I’m going to try using the Flashback Friday theme to publish some of these.  I thought I’d start with a morning in July spent watching one of the great gray owls in Bragg Creek hunting in a field.

Just after 7 o’clock, I spied this owl on the forest edge, perched in a tree overlooking the field.  I set up my tripod and long lens in time to catch her fly low over the grass.

This owl is one of a pair that have raised chicks in the same place for several years.  The other parent was likely minding the chicks in the nest hidden back in the forest.  So, the owl was busy crisscrossing the field, hunting for breakfast.

The summer sun rises early so it was fairly high by this time.  The owl flew in and out of the sunlight and the shadows throughout the morning.  That afforded some good opportunities to photograph that contrast.

After a half an hour, the owl was fairly close to me and I was surprised when she flew in my direction and alighted on the fencepost right in front of me.  She stayed there for almost 15 minutes before resuming the hunt.  A very special moment where I felt some level of connection – maybe an acceptance of my presence – that still makes me smile.

 

Here she flew off, dove into the grass, came up empty and returned to the same perch.  A robin joined the line on this second sitting.  The birds paid little attention to one another and the owl soon flew away.


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.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5832

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.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5876

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”.

snowy-owl-in-the-sunshine-christopher-martin-5971

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!

 

 


Flying low on the prairies

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-99

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.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-78

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.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-85-3

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

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-98

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-100

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-3307

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-3308

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.

snowy-owl-north-of-langdon-christopher-martin-105


Three Snowy owls on the 30th

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-8802

Just before New Year’s Eve, I headed east and ended up spending all of the daylight hours on the prairies.  During the day I came across three Snowy owls in separate locations.  The first was perched on a telephone pole keeping an eye on the coming dawn and the snow below.  She flew in front of me when a loud truck passed by which afforded me a great angle to photograph her.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-8803

She glided to a fence post in the middle of a nearby field. On her way she crossed the eastern sky which framed her wonderfully.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-8815-2

With a great start now in hand, I carried on and ended up returning to the field where I have been fortunate to photograph one Snowy a few times (one, two, three and four) already this winter.  I found that owl about an hour after sunrise.  She was comfortably resting on another telephone pole.  I say comfortably because she stayed in the same spot for the next 85 minutes.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-8928

Happily for me, it was not the deep freeze we have had regularly so far this winter so I was relatively comfortable while I waited.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9145

A couple more hours went by after that, punctuated by three flights between high points around the field.  That’s a lot of waiting for a little action but I don’t mind.  I certainly have a lot of time to let my mind wander and to think about things at length – a luxury these days.  And, when the launch occurs, I love watching Snowy owls in flight.  Especially when they are framed against a clear blue sky.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9379

I hope for a look from the owl during these flights – eye contact makes for more compelling images but often that doesn’t happen as they fly in the wrong direction or have their eyes focused on something else.   Look or no look, I enjoy watching and click when I see an interesting wing angle, body position or something else that seems interesting to me.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9529

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9530

The days are short at this time of the year so it felt like late afternoon came quickly.  Along with it came some wonderful light and I found the third owl perched on a fence post a mile or so from the other Snowy.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9709

I do not think I have seen this one before and she stared intently at me for a minute like I was a stranger.  Then she went back to scanning the field behind her in the image above.  Soon after she flew, glided across the field, caught something in the snow and flew up to tree to dine.  That all happened far away from me so I carried on to try to take advantage of the warm sunlight.  I didn’t find anything else before the sun went down but enjoyed watching the color rise up into the sky.

prairie sunset -christopher-martin-9834

Eventually I returned past the last owl’s field and now she was perched in a tree closer to the road.  I got out hoping to photograph her silhouette against the sunset.  Her profile in the tree was not great from my position so I waited to see if something would fall into place.  After a little bit she leaned forward and then dropped off her perch to fly over the field.  That was my last photograph of the owls and tied off a pretty good day on the prairies.

snowy-owl-in-flight-christopher-martin-9912

 


A Snowy owl hunting on a rise

a-snowy-owl-christopher-martin-6318

The Snowy owl that I had photographed the previous week, I found again last Sunday.  This time she was on a snow-covered rise ~50 metres from the fence line.  It was much warmer than the week before and the sun was out so it was quite a pleasant visit.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6232

The owl perched taking in a complete view of her surroundings – me included.  The wind was gusting ahead of a chinook that was arching across the prairies so she crouched low whenever it picked up.

a-snowy-owl-christopher-martin-6253

In between one of the wind blasts, she caught sight or sound of something to her left and glided towards a broken post.  She hovered for a moment and then dropped to the ground.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6315

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6320

She grabbed something and quickly swallowed it.  She landed a little further behind the rise and in line with the post so I missed a clear line on the hunt’s conclusion.

a-snowy-owl-christopher-martin-6323

She soon returned to scanning the field.

a-snowy-owl-christopher-martin-6326

And I found another sight line.

a-snowy-owl-christopher-martin-6355


A Great horned owl’s flyby

High River Great Horned Owl's flyby - © Christopher Martin-3721

I found this Great horned owl and her mate flying around a long line of trees on the edge of a farm field east of High River.   On this flight she flew at eye level, very close to where I had my camera and lens setup on a tripod.  Too close to fit the whole bird in the frame but I was happy to get a sharp image.


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


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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-4705

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5836

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5865

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5919

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6013

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6025

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6048

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6079

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6161

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.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6292

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


A Great gray owl on the edge of the Kananaskis forest

Great gray owl flying in the forest - © Christopher Martin-8140

Great gray owls blend into the forest effortlessly so it is easy to lose track of them.  When I have a chance to photograph one flying through the trees it is very special for me.  I discovered this owl while hiking a trail on the edge of the Kananaskis Country park area west of Bragg Creek.  It stayed on the perch for a half an hour keeping track of other creatures nearby and following unusual noises around.  I can’t count on which way a bird will launch when it does decide to fly so I was happy when this one flew in my direction and flew to my right.  It climbed to a higher perch on the opposite side of the trail which is where I left it to its business.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-8055

 

Great gray owl gliding - © Christopher Martin-8144


Evening on the hunt

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4561

After hunting in the forest for a while, the owl flew to the edge of the tree line and operated from the fenceposts there.  He snagged two field mice within a couple of minutes, consuming one in the grass and one on a post.  He then flew deep into the woods.  Possibly to share with its mate or to continue hunting in another area.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4603

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4618

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4619

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4667