Posts tagged “raptor

Barred owl: a little curious, a lot shy

barred-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-0908

It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek.  I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area.  In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country.  This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images.  Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed.  A beautiful creature.

barred-owl-in-bragg-creek-christopher-martin-0919


Snowy owl on the hunt in Irricana

 

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1653-2

This Snowy owl’s dive into the grass directly below was a great moment to watch.  The bird’s intense focus when it started tracking the prey from the perch on the fence through to the awesome descent to attack were welcome rewards given the time invested.  I found this Snowy on this fence post a little after 9 am and quickly set up my camera and lens across the field from her.  For the next 2 1/2 hours, she shuffled, scratched, preened, and dozed.  She seemed to have little interest in me, the field mice or in flying for most of that time.  She kept watch of everything going on around her but her talons may have been nailed to the wood!  I was hadn’t expected to wait that long but with her relaxed manner, I hoped when she did fly it would be in the direction she faced when I first stopped.  That direction was facing towards me and in the end she did do that.  I thought if she flew that way, I would have a few in flight opportunities but this dive was short in both time and distance.  I was happy to have captured a couple of frames before she disappeared into the grass.

Spring Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1654-2

I waited for about 10 minutes for her to climb out of the tall grass and when she did it was heading away from me.  Given the time on the ground, I would wager that she did catch the prey and spent the time out of sight enjoying the meal.


A lone owl out for breakfast

Wings - 2014 © Christopher Martin

To start the long weekend, I went looking for the Great Gray Owl pair who have been very active over a field of tall, green grass for much of the summer.  I had a relatively short visit with one of the owls on this encounter.  The bird stayed across the field for most of the hour I watched him.  He did fly across, land nearby and stay for a few minutes at one point.  However I got there a little bit later than usual so the morning hunt was winding down.

Fence flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

There was one particularly good dive that I pulled a nice sequence from.  I love the wing positions in these shots and the intention in the focused stare.

Owl morning hunt - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Owl morning hunt - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Owl morning hunt - 3 - 2014 © Christopher Martin

It was good to see the owl again after being away for a couple of weeks.  When he headed back towards the forest edge and their nest, I headed back to my home too.

Flying away - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Turner Valley Hawk

Red-tailed in Turner Valley

A Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) launches over the fields near the town of Turner Valley in Alberta, Canada.


Swainson’s Hawk in Springbank

Swainson's launch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Driving with the kids along Lower Springbank Road, I was hoping there would be some hawks hunting along the freshly tilled fields out that way.  On the second or third field my son spied a light morph Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) standing on a fence post.

Field hunting - 2014 © Christopher Martin

We watched it make a few short flights over the soil before heading continuing on.  Spring is a great time for driving, and photographing, on the prairies.

Swainson's Hawk extended - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Full extension

A Red-tailed Hawk launches off a post on the prairie west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

When this Red-tailed hawk launched off the post I had been watching him on for a few minutes, I was really impressed by the power and balance displayed.   He flew closer and then went to the ground after circling back towards the fenceline.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t an attacking dive only an uninspired landing in the tall grass.

ed-tailed flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

 

 


Flying with Snowy Owls

Banking - © Christopher Martin-0995-2

I have been able to spend a couple of evenings with the two Snowy Owls since my first encounter with them near the Springbank Airport just before New Year’s.  These are a few of the images that have stood out from the growing collection.  I absolutely love watching these birds and with more time I’m learning some of their habits and behaviours.

Launch at dusk - © Christopher Martin-0826

Evening flight - © Christopher Martin-0829

The images below are from a drive I made east of Calgary on the weekend.  I had good luck finding Snowies around Langdon and Gleichen last year and the success continued when I spotted this beautiful owl flying around one of the fields.

Snowy Owl on the fields - © Christopher Martin-2

Snowy Owl on the fields - © Christopher Martin-1307


Snowy Owls in Springbank? Yes!

Over the shoulder - © Christopher Martin-9689

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The days between Christmas and New Year’s have involved watching a pair of Snowy Owls in a new location.  Thanks to a sighting near Calaway Park shared by Andrew Hart with the Alberta Bird group, I drove along the back roads in the area looking for one of these majestic owls.  It was near sunset when I found the first one along Range Road 40 on a transmission tower.  The bird was a long way from the road and even with a 500mm telephoto lens plus a 1.4X extender (for a total of 700mm of reach) the two images below are cropped in significantly.  With failing light and a settled bird, I left this one and headed east towards the Springbank Airport.  Across the road from the airport, I saw the white oval of a second Snowy perched as seen above.  This owl was much closer which helped tremendously given how dark it had become.

Pre-flight - © Christopher Martin-9500-2

Despite the title and the pose, the owl did not fly after this shot.  It was readjusting its body by a quarter turn to the east and ended up staying in the position below until sometime after I left.

Attention - © Christopher Martin-9514

My wife and I went past the airport the next day and found one of the owls perched alongside Township Road 250.  The hunt seemed ready to commence but a raven flew by and spooked the owl into a short flight across the field (and beyond my lens’s range).  It was wonderful to see one of the owls glowing in the beautiful winter light.

Launch - © Christopher Martin-0175

Flying away - © Christopher Martin-0178-2

I was unable to go that way today however my wife did and she watched both of the owls perching, hunting and jousting with a raven.  I’m hoping they settle into the area and spend their winter here.  Last spring my searches for Snowy Owls took me out to Langdon and on towards Brooks so it’s nice to save the couple of hours driving there and back for more time photographing these owls (as well as the coyotes, eagles and hawks which normally hunt in the Springbank Airport area).


Autumn with a hawk in Springbank

The crops around the Springbank airport have all now been harvested.  This leaves the fields shorn bare except for the uncollected bales of hay.  The attraction drawing hawks is the exposed ground which presently offers little protection for field mice and the like.   I have spent a fair bit of time walking and driving along the range roads to photograph some of the activity while it lasts.  This Red-tailed hawk, one of the light morphs, was absolutely beautiful.  It flew between a couple of posts before launching out across the meadows.

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Bow Valley Ospreys

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This adolescent osprey’s nest is along the Bow Valley on top of the Castle Junction bridge.  Its sibling had not yet fledged and the two of them spent the whole two hours I watched them screaming at one another.  Screaming may be too strong, but if they were just calling back and forth, it seemed to have considerable emotion behind it.

Maybe the one who was flying was urging the other one to try, maybe the nest-bound bird was telling the flier to go away.  With other nests I know of emptying as their summer residents head south, I wonder how much longer the one will wait for the other.

Watching this bird circle around was incredible, it always is.  After this flight it landed on a bushy tree nearby and at one point it stared down at me reminding me of an inquisitor.

My favourite one from this vantage point was when the raptor cocked its head in the direction of a sound and I caught this look.


Great Grey Owl – flights along a forest meadow

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My friend Jeff came back out to Bragg Creek to photograph with me again last weekend.  We found a female Great Grey Owl hunting over one of the fields in West Bragg.

She was covering large areas of the field with each flight and it was fun trying to anticipate where her flight path would go as she crisscrossed the meadow. 

The intensity of expression of these owls always holds my attention.  That coupled with the power in their flight motion make them so interesting to watch.  This encounter was no exception to that rule.

The talons are amazing too.  I have heard of people being attacked by Great Grays when they strayed too close to a nest – I continue to believe that is something to be avoided.


Great Gray Owl – Flight through the open woods

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The last week has held a series of great encounters (and here) with one of my favourite animals, the Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa).  Through the course of these moments, I have been able to make some in flight images that I’m really happy with.  I have photographed this same owl for the past four years.  I have photographed it in all seasons but sometimes several months have gone between sightings.  So far, this May has exceeded even my most out of reach expectations.

I had a gentleman express some concern via Twitter regarding me spending that much time following the owl.  I strive to not impact all of the animals that I photograph and I feel I am successful at this.  Particular to this owl, I know where its nest is but I have never ventured close to that stand of trees because that represents risks that I do not have the knowledge and experience to be sure I will avoid (like driving the mother away from the nest, stressing the owlets, etc.).  I do not use blinds or hide from these owls – I make sure they see me and know where I am at all times.  I have spent a lot of time learning what owls like to perch on and where they like to scout from.

I try to use this knowledge to anticipate a spot where an owl may choose to fly to and launch an attack from.   In the open meadow and mixed forest settings I usually find owls in, they have many options and I select one that I think they may choose. It’s a bit like laying down a bet, if they fly my way, I’m in luck.  If they choose one of the myriad other options, I may be too far away or just not in a good location for photography.  I do not follow right behind the owl – it makes for many shots of them flying away which aren’t what I am looking for.  I stand a few yards away from a perch I think they may like and wait.  When they fly away, I may stay there and see if the owl comes back or I may move to another location to see if they go there.  Either way, I don’t chase the owl and to me, that helps to allow the owl to continue its activities (hunting, watching, preening, eating, etc.) uninterrupted.

With this owl, several times of late I have set up my tripod in a location more than a hundred yards away from the bird and, after some time – up to an hour later, the raptor has flown in my direction and landed within ten feet of me.  That is an incredible experience and I strongly believe it is due to the comfort level the owl has with my presence.  During the encounter when these images were all taken, the owl stayed beside me as it scanned the meadow for about 15 minutes.  When it left, it dove on the far side of the gravel road and came away with a field rodent of some type.

When it was close, I used the long telephoto lens I had attached to take a couple of portrait shots.  Rarely have I had a better model.  Two days later, on the holiday Monday, I spent some more time with this owl on an open meadow about a mile south of this location in West Bragg Creek.