I spent a bit of time with a great gray owl last week. It was later in the evening and it seemed to be looking for a last snack before dark.
I watched it crisscross a meadow of tall grass and make several dives out of sight. It came up without a catch on those.
Apparently, it felt like a change of location was required. Crossing the road she landed on a couple of old fenceposts and stared hard into the adjacent little fields but didn’t find a target worth chasing.
Success came when she flew out of a tall tree she had spent a few minutes surveying from. When she launched, it was a drop to just above the grass and then a sudden drop.
She swallowed while low in the grass and then rose out and flew towards me before alighting on a post right beside me. A couple of minutes later she went across another field and out of sight.
This great gray owl dove at something in the hillside grasses behind this sign. I wasn’t in a good position for that attack but I was when it returned to the sign post it was hunting from.
I went out onto the Foothills last weekend to catch the sunrise. It was beautiful but this great gray owl stole the honors for the morning to me. I loved having her backlit by the warm sunshine while she flew to hunt in the field.
Amid a number of current challenges, I enjoyed getting out for time to photograph and put energy into this passion of mine.
On a solo outing to some remote roads, I found a gorgeous great gray owl perched on a telephone pole in warm afternoon sunshine.
A short wait ended with the bird gliding into the forest. It found a perch there and moved to two other ones before flying to a knot of trees close by.
She scanned the sky occasionally, watched the ground steadily but did not find a target on or under the snow. One launch had the owl drop onto a pile of deadfall. I caught a nice launch off of a tree trunk and followed the bird up to her next perch.
Soon she flew across the nearby meadow and landed in a lone evergreen. She flew along a frozen creek to a slender tee – a winter’s skeleton – that bowed under her weight.
And then she flew west, further afield, and well beyond my shooting range with the gear I have.
It was a great spring to spend lot of time with these majestic owls. For many years there have been several pairs of great gray owls that I’ve been able to photograph hunting and resting on perches in and around forests near my home. I’ve never taken it for granted. Happily the great spring has continued into summer. Here are a few of my favorites from July so far.
‘This great gray owl was sheltering in the branch of a leafy tree when I first found him east of Kananaskis. The rain was pouring and he was smart to avoid the brunt of it. I was less so and got soaked. Eventually the sun came out and the forest brightened. The owl began hunting and grabbed two field mice over a half an hour. In this image he had alighted from a fencepost and was heading back into the forest.
Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away. It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays). There was enough light for one more encounter.
The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow. Then heard or saw something and shot upwards. He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.
With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.
Flying to a new perch after several minutes. From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.
The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.
Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next. Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.
A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field. That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.
Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl. This one gliding between branches. These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.
The sun fell quickly. The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge. The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away. His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.
There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field. That was too far away to photograph. And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me. That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.
By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls. This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night. The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt. Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields. This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.
A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond. Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.
I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field. She, however, did not miss. He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow. She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances. And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.
From there the owl flew over the field again. This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery. From sign to beam was only six minutes. Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.
A day with an owl encounter is wonderful. In late February some friends and I had a four owl day. Short-eared and snowy owls on the prairie in the morning. Long-eared, short-eared and great gray owls in the foothills later that afternoon. The short-eared were the first owls found. After daybreak this owl flew along a weathered fence line hunting.
In the afternoon, a long-eared owl hunting was preceded by a short-eared flying overhead and hunting in an adjacent field. All of these were at an extended range and in sharp light. Both leaving room for improvements in the end result but it was great to observe these beautiful birds in different landscapes and learn a bit more about them.