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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
She soon returned to scanning the field.
And I found another sight line.
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.
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.
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.
January 3, 2016 | Categories: Owls, Prairie, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: alberta, animal, bird, bird in flight, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flying, High River, owl, photography, Snowy owl, wildlife | 18 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
December 9, 2015 | Categories: Alberta, Animals, Owls, Prairie, Wildlife | Tags: alberta, animals, BIF, bird, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, Canadian Prairie, flying, High River, owl, Snowy owl, wildlife | 24 Comments
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.
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.
One of the Snowy owls that I photographed recently made a dive while I was watching. She came up without a mouse but had a clutch of grass instead. I’m sure it wasn’t her preference but it was a bit unusual to see one of these raptors flying around with a talon full of grass. She gave a couple of good looks around as she looked for another target during the same sortie but had no luck on this flight.
This Snowy owl had been chirping at some ravens nearby when it was perched on a telephone pole and they were flying above. Eventually one came too close which prompted the owl’s leap into the air. She looped around the pole once before settling on another one further from the mischief makers. While banking in the turn photographed above she cried out again. This time proved an excellent opportunity to photograph her “smile”.
February 25, 2015 | Categories: Owls, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: alberta, BIF, bird in flight, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flying, Irricana, nature photography, owl, smile, Snowy owl, wildlife photography | 6 Comments
On the weekend I followed reports of Snowy owls northeast of Calgary near Irricana. I left home early and arrived in the area just after sunrise. I was lucky enough to spy the first Snowie of the day perched on a fence post glowing in the soft light.
The pure white owls were until quite recently thought to always be males. That has been disproved leaving it hard to determine the gender from casual observation. I will allow for the old convention though and refer to this one as a he. The other four birds I photographed that morning were banded to varying degrees and I will refer to them as ladies in a future post. It took only a few minutes before he launched and scouted low over the field for breakfast. This was repeated a couple of times with each sortie ending with a return to the fence line.
On the last flight that I photographed of this owl, he flew away from the fence and landed in the middle of the field on a pipeline valve which allowed for an interesting backlit shot as he flared his wings to land.
February 24, 2015 | Categories: Birds, Nature, Owls, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: alberta, bird in flight, birds, Bubo scandiacus, Canada, flying, owl, prairie, snow, Snowy owl, wildlife, winter | 2 Comments
From my family to yours, we hope the new year sees you realize what you want, need and wish for. May you enjoy the journey throughout the year and beyond. Thank you for visiting my website and I hope you have enjoyed the photographs over the past year. I am looking forward to sharing more in 2015.