I found this snowy owl perched along a forgotten fence line north of Lyalta (which is east of Calgary). After a trek across the field to get to about 60 meters away, I leaned against a post and waited. I set my exposure so that I would have a slower shutter speed at the start. I wanted to show some motion in the wings and estimated that 1/200th of a second would allow for that. Fifteen minutes later something drew his attention and he launched perpendicular to me and the fence.
I had two nice images of him flying towards the sun before he was past me. The first had a soft blur in the wings as they were near level. The other caught the wings at their full extension upwards. Both images kept the head sharp so luck played to my hand when I was panning with the bird. The shutter speed worked out well. I continue to try slower speeds but have yet to nail one of those with a sharp face. I will share those when I do.
The deep freeze across southern Alberta has curtailed some of our outside activities over the holidays – but I’ve still managed to head out photographing a few times. I have been longing to see snowy owls again so on the 28th, I drove to the prairies east of Calgary in pursuit of these beautiful birds. I left the house at 6am and it was -29°C. That kind of chill saw me bundled up in heavy winter gear from top to bottom. I drove the back roads between Delacour and Lyalta scanning telephone poles, fence posts and any other high points for the owls. The heavy snowfall that has accompanied the cold made for a true winter wonderland so I enjoyed the drive immensely. A short time later, I found a snowy perched on a telephone pole.
I parked and stepped out with my camera and then waited. After 40 minutes the owl found something that was worth checking out and he flew across a field landing on a fence post a couple hundred meters away.
I trudged that way and waited to see what happened. Five minutes later he flew back to the line of telephone poles. I had a great view from the launch and until he flew past me.
With a great flight under the belt, and some very cold extremities, I returned to my car. I watched the owl from its new perch on another pole while I warmed up. The owl was alert, looking around steadily, but did not fly and I left a short while later.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He finished second breakfast and flew back close to the roadside perch. The light was amazing and lit up the golden eyes.
More than an hour later he flew across the field away from me and I headed home.
I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend. I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find. We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations. It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image. To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter. A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls. The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.
The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post. She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond. That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.
Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.
That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station. We photographed her for another three hours afterwards. I’ll cover that in my next post.
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.
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.
The two series, above and below, were both successful hunting runs where she caught a field mouse or something similar.
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.
Earlier she flew to a few different parts of the field before settling on the area where she flew over in the photographs above.
A couple of weeks ago I went out on the prairie looking for Snowy owls. North of Langdon, I found this owl in a familiar locale. It was a cold, blustery wind that accompanied the sunrise. The snow blew into the air throughout the morning and made it feel like we were much closer to the Arctic Circle. It was pretty dark with a bluish cast in the morning which only added to the wintry feel. At one point, the owl flew directly overhead and then around me which was a highlight for sure.
The rest of the morning was spent watching the owl sitting with making the odd hop/flight around the field. Another good morning with this Snowy owl.
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.
For the past couple of years, every November I start getting excited to see Snowy owls. That is the time that they start to return to southern Alberta after their summer nesting season in the Arctic. This year, Great gray owls and mountain landscapes kept me away from the Prairies until December. When I head out to the open fields east of Calgary, I crossed paths with three separate Snowies and a Red fox – truly a windfall of good fortune!
The first Snowy owl was perched on a telephone pole overlooking a farm field where the fox was hunting. She was content to swivel her head around to keep eyes on everything around but not very excited by me, the traffic passing by, the farm dog that barked now and again at the fox nor the fox herself. So relaxed, that she stayed put for almost two hours. It was -22°C and the wind made it feel cooler than that. I couldn’t blame her for not moving around too much but it was quite a while to wait. I maneuvered my car to the far side of the road so that I could keep a lens on her from my seat and waited. The light flattened out and the clouds formed a white sheet behind her but I didn’t mind too much – I was happy to spend time with my first Snowy this winter!
When she did launch off the pole, it was to glide down to the field. She skimmed low over the snow and grass before disappearing behind a small rise. I hopped out and walked along the fence to a vantage point where I could see the owl again. She looked like she was preening after eating a mouse but I didn’t see the attack if it did happen. She sat and watched some more, staring at me lazily a couple of times – and once with the focused laser beams as seen above! After a few minutes, she stood up and quickly took flight again.
I love watching owls take off – they have strong wingbeats that have a clipped range of motion which seems effective to get them into the air fast. The Snowy owls, along with the Great horned owls, are enormous as far as North American owls go so it is impressive how much power they generate. She flapped hard and then levelled off about 2-3 metres off the ground as she retraced her flight plan back towards the road.
Near the fence line she climbed up to perch on a new telephone pole’s insulator. Once settled, she puffed up her feathers – the one acknowledgement to the cold I saw from her this time out.
Canon 5DIII camera + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 seconds at f/4 on ISO 3200
I spotted this Snowy owl perched on this oil and gas installation east of Langdon. She was about a kilometre off the road so I parked, grabbed my gear and headed over. She was scanning to the east while I approached from the west side. As I walked she kept an eye on my, swivelling her neck to watch me infrequently. From a hundred metres away, with colour brushing into the sky as the sun set, I stopped to compose this photograph. I love these birds and I love sunsets – these seemed to be interesting juxtapositions to the storage tank she was perched on.
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