Posts tagged “owls

Great gray owl in the late winter forest

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.

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Great gray owl – winter edition

 

Driving home through Millarville last weekend, I hoped to see a great gray owl along the edge of the forest that skirts the road toward Bragg Creek.  I had my camera beside me and my girlfriend and I kept eyes peeled for them on fenceposts or perched in the trees.

We found one amid a snow storm.  It was not in a stop friendly location so I took a couple of quick shots and continued along.

Happily, another one was waiting a few miles further along.  This one was watching over a field and was kind enough to have chosen a tree that was across from a small pullout.  We had time to point out the owl to the kids and for me to put a long lens on it.  After a few minutes, it launched out over the field and I had some good flight opportunities.

It had been a few months since I had seen a great gray owl so I was thrilled to get to see two that evening.  I’ll have to make sure I retrace my steps there again soon.


Summer with the great grays

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.

 

 

 


Great gray owl flying into the forest

‘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.

 


The final hunt after an evening with a great gray

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.


Continuing on with an evening owl

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.


Winter dusk with a great gray owl

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.


Short-eared owls: morning and midday

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.

 


A long-eared owl hunting

The long-eared owl has proven to be an elusive target for me photographically for many years.  I’ve heard them call, or seen them in dim light but not been fortunate enough to get time with them in decent light.  That happens in wildlife photography but hope springs eternal!  Last week I was looking for great gray owls west of Calgary with two visiting photographers and luck broke our way.

Driving along a quiet back road we found this beautiful bird perched on a fence line in mid-afternoon sunshine.  It was cold but the owl seemed comfortable and even a little dozy.  The eyes closed a few times broken up by broad sweeps of the fields in front and the bushes behind.  We moved off the road and walked a little closer before setting up the long lenses on the various supports.  A little while passed and then the long-eared started to twist her head  while her eyes fixated at a point in the snow a few meters away from the fence.

This carried on for a few minutes and was accompanied by more sweeps.  I was not sure we would see a dive into the snow or if the owl would lose track of the rodent under the snow. It didn’t and we did.  In a very quick change from being stationary, she swept into the air and then plunged towards the ground and into the snow.

Most of her body disappeared as the snow was knee-deep.  That did not have any impact on her accuracy.  She pulled the rodent out of the snow and swallowed it in one gulp.

She repaired to the post, made another flight – this time over the brambles behind – then returned to the fence.  We headed off, leaving her to her field, and continued scouting for great grays. We found a couple in beautiful light – I will share those photographs soon.


How lucky I am! Another snowy owl flying on the prairie.

In one of the canals east of Dalemead I found this snowy owl.  It was on the right of way road above the watercourse beside the long grass.  I walked down the road a little closer and settled into the snow at an angle I could photograph the bird with the sun lighting her front.  I had hopes of the owl flying in my general direction when she chose to continue hunting.

A bit of time passed with her sweeping the landscape and reacting whenever a new sound was heard or bit of motion was seen.  The temperature was much warmer than the rest of February had been so it was a rather pleasant wait. Eventually she started to get more active, preening and shaking out her feathers.  When she jumped off of the snow, she stayed low for a few wingbeats.

Then she banked and passed in front of me.  That was wonderful and on the outer edge of what I was hoping for.



 


A snowy glance

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There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment.  Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies.  Here is the little story behind this image.

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I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road.  The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away.  Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for.  I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl.  I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird.  After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.

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The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day.  It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly.  None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.

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Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens.  As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely.  That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.

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She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.

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After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more.  Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye?  Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.

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Snowy owl

I spent a few hours photographing this beautiful bird east of Calgary near Delacour.  The temperature, and the wind chill, conspired to make it a bit uncomfortable for me.  Not so for the owl, he appeared to take the cold with little interruption to normal operations.  He perched atop telephone poles and fence posts for long periods broken up by several flights low over the fields.  Three of those were successful hunts.  This image was from one of the scouting flights as he climbed towards a high perch.  I liked the interesting shape of his profile and the soft details in the background of this image.


Great grays in Grand Valley

This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane.  The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.  I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area.  I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.

This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road.  She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass.  She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.

The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area.  I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.


Into the forest with an owl

A great gray owl was hunting across a meadow near Kananaskis Country earlier in the week.  I watched her across the field for a while before she flew to the forest edge and landed in a tree branch a couple of meters off the ground.  Eventually she launched and dove after something in the tall grass.

That proved to be unsuccessful.  And the owl flew across the hillside into a stand of trees to the north.  I was able to watch her work between a couple of different perches until she found one in the sunlight.

The warmth in the sun may have been part of the reason she stayed there for a few minutes.

 

When she moved on, she flew low over the wet grass, then climbed into the trees and disappeared.


A good morning with a great gray owl

This great gray owl was hunting across a field when I was out photographing.  I set up my camera and watched her glide low over the grass scouting for movement.  She caught a mouse and ate it before crossing the field, landing on a fence post close by.

She worked along the fence line for a little bit before returning her attention to the seemingly more productive ground she had started the morning at.  I waited for a couple of minutes, watching while she made short flights and dives.

Inevitably she added to her breakfast count and then returned in my direction.  This time to a weathered wood fence which was directly in front of me.  She flew from fence, to the red pipe and to the fence again in quick succession.

That gave me the opportunity to photograph her in flight up close which was a wonderful gift from this beautiful owl.  Before long she launched once more, crossed the field into the sunshine and landed in a tree on the edge of the forest.


The last of this winter’s snowy owl encounters

 

 

Most weekends in the first couple of months of the year I spent driving the country roads east of Calgary in search of snowy owls.  I had a number of great encounters this year amid some frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls.  The last of these visits was in early March.

I found this owl perched on a fence post in the middle of a field on a beautiful sunny morning east of Delacour.  I waited for quite a while before the owl chose to fly.  When she did, she caught the wind and rose upwards quickly before she looked my way and banked above me.  She crossed the field and dove into the snow by another fence line.  She was too far to see clearly what she caught but she finished it quickly and then flew off out of sight.

Some people continued to find snowies into April but I have been drawn to the mountains and the waterways running out of them for the last few weeks so I will look forward to next winter when I hope to find these beautiful birds again.  For now, I am enjoying the arrival of spring as I’m sure they are too as they return to their summer range north of the Arctic Circle.


Spring flight – a great gray owl in the evening

I saw this owl perched in the middle of a field of bushes at first.  The sun was getting low so I felt lucky to have found her before it became too dark to photograph.

She flew low over the foliage and dropped into them for a moment – disappearing from view.  A blur of motion behind a line of still wintering trees caught my eye and I followed her as she landed on a branch halfway up the last of these trees.

A few minutes later, she flew across the field once again and disappeared into the forest.

All the while, her mate had been perched at the top of an evergreen in the middle of the bushes and I turned my attention to him for a little while.  The light failed quickly and I headed home leaving the lone owl at his viewing tower.


Great horned owls

The prairies around High River are dotted with small stands of trees.  These islands on the grasslands are usually home for a good number of birds.  Last weekend, I visited a long running favorite stand of mine where a pair of great horned owls have raised chicks for 30+ years I have been told.

The morning I arrived, the female was in the nest – presumably the eggs are incubating now.  The male was perched nearby and over the course of an hour he made two sorties to other trees and grabbed one field mouse along the way.

Other than that little bit of action, there was a lot of dozing in the nest and a few very slow blinks by the male too.  He kept his eyes on the magpies that came nearby now and then as well as anything else that flew or drove by.  But it was generally a fairly quiet morning – I think they were both resting up before the chicks are born.  When that happens the activity level necessarily picks up considerably.


A wide-eyed snowy owl

The snowy owls will soon start to head north so I’m trying to get out to photograph them as much as my time will allow before they go.  I found this owl just after sunrise and when she looked backwards at me, her wide eyes caught the sunlight beautifully.  I will miss these gorgeous birds when they return to their summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.


Snowy owl flights

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I started a morning last weekend watching a snowy owl.  When she had a long yawn, that seemed like a good sign to keep moving.  I left the napper and headed along a range road which ran due north.  After a few miles, this owl popped into view as it flew out from behind a small bush.

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Happily, it wasn’t too upset by the disturbance and landed about 100 metres to the east.  I took a few photos from the roof of my car and then pulled out my longest lens (500mm) and the monopod as it felt like I had time before he might start hunting again.

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That started a great 90 minute stretch where I was able to move into good positions (the owl, me and the sun in a line) a couple of times while he hunted across the field.  There was a lot of preening, listening and looking around (and the occasional glance my way) in between the three flights he made while I was there.

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He flew back to the road, and directly past me, on the first flight and landed where a slight rise afforded a view in both directions.  He stayed pretty alert and it did not take very long before a target was found.

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The owl flew a very short distance and then dropped on the far side of the road.  He grabbed a small mouse that was beneath the snow but not safe from this accomplished hunter.

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He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch.  The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.

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More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.

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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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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!