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.
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.
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.
(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.
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!
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.
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.
A friend and I spied this owl while on a short drive to scout out locations for a photo shoot. This is my tenth year living in the Bragg Creek area and this was the first Barred owl that I have seen here. It was the first time I have seen one in the wild anywhere for that matter. It is an understatement to say I was excited! The dark eyes are so striking compared to my familiarity with the glowing yellow eyes of the Great gray, Great horned and Snowy owls which I photograph throughout the year.
The owl was perched in plain sight – the fast approaching dusk had dimmed the daylight which suited this mostly nocturnal hunter. That made a fast shutter speed a challenge but that was a very minor challenge. She flew from the post to a branch a couple of metres above the long grass edging the road. Her head swivelled and angled as she searched for dinner. Within a couple of minutes, she locked in and made a dive headlong into the greenery. One dive, one strike and one kill.
From down in the grass she shifted the field mouse to her beak and then flew up and in front of us, heading into a stand of trees on a small ridge.
I lost her in the forest and the gloom but look forward to a follow-up encounter whenever it suits her.