Posts tagged “Snowy owl

Flying low on the prairies

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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.

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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.

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Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.

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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.

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Three Snowy owls on the 30th

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A Snowy in another snowstorm

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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.

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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.

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A Snowy owl hunting on a rise

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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.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6232

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.

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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.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6315

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6320

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.

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She soon returned to scanning the field.

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And I found another sight line.

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First Snowy owl of the season!

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5839

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-5856

 

 

 


A Snowy owl against the evening sky

Langdon Snowies - © Christopher Martin-0591

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.

 

 


Blue sky, white owl

White owl, blue sky - © Christopher Martin-9212-2

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.


A Snowy day on the Prairies

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5860
I have a deep admiration for Snowy owls.  The range they cover, their adaptability, their calm repose they show when resting and their beauty while in flight are just the tip of a long list.  This time of the year is exciting for me as it marks the return of these owls to the prairies.  I was aware of recent sightings near Frank Lake and decided to head down there on the weekend.  A beautiful sunrise greeted me shortly after I arrived and then I set about touring the backroads in search of these wonderful birds.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-4705

After an hour I found this owl perched on the fence dividing up the prairie.  She watched me stop and get out of my car with some interest and then spent much of the next four hours ignoring me!  I packed on as much glass as I had (a 500mm with a 1.4x extender) and crossed onto the field.  She was a couple of hundred meters from the road so I took an indirect line to get closer and tried to make sure I didn’t make her anxious or uncomfortable.  After 15 minutes I was about 30 metres away and she head her eyes closed more than open.  The photograph above was one of the moments when she looked my way.  Over the next hour and a half, the wind blew, she made two separate short flights low over the fields returning to a nearby fence post, I got chilled and she seemed to catch up on a fair bit of sleep.  I loved sharing time there and when she finally flew off across the road and out of sight, I thought that was the end.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5836

I was wrong.  I returned to my car, packed things up again, and drove west back towards Frank Lake.  About two kilometres down the road, there she was standing in a field of sticks close to the road.  These dried out stalks made an interesting environment to photograph the owl in and I set up in the ditch so I was low to the ground.  Looking at the time stamp on the image files, we stayed there for more than two hours, however it did not seem anywhere near that long.  She started to become a bit restless for a few minutes before she flew.  Preening feathers and looking around in all directions until she finally leaped back into the air.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5865

I followed her to her intended destination which was a pair of grain silos just across the road.  She alighted next to the open cover of one of the silos and I had a perfect spot to watch her leaning against my car.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5919

The picture above was not the owl landing on the silo.  There must have been mice in the silo because during the 20 minutes she perched on that lip she spent a fair bit of time looking down into hole.  Staring intently mostly but a couple of times she spread her wings out and I thought she might dive in there.  When she flew off, she followed the roofline down and disappeared from my view.  I think she was chasing a mouse but I’m not sure if she caught it or not.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6013

After a few seconds, the owl flew back into sight when it banked around the silos and crossed the road again.  I followed her once again until she disappeared over the low rise.  Again, I thought that was the end of this extended visit.

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Again, I was wrong.  She landed a little further down the road, I followed and we spent another hour watching one another.  Well, me watching her and her paying much more attention to everything else.

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The weather was changing fast with the wind carrying the clouds further east and leaving blue sky and sunshine behind.  I think both the owl and I enjoyed that.  I had bundled up so the chill was gone – the Snowy had no such challenges.

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Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6161

The encounter did truly end when she either grew tired of my company or was ready for a meal off of the prairie.  A pretty fantastic experience for me.

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6292

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-6293


Reconnecting with the Snowy owls

Snowy owl in the field - © Christopher Martin-5476

I drove to High River yesterday and spent the morning touring the gravel roads looking for wildlife on the prairies.  My hope was to find a Snowy owl as they have begun returning there.  An hour after sunrise, east of Frank Lake, I spied a beautiful owl perched on a fence line and I spent the next four hours watching it sit, fly, hunt and then sit.  A lot of watching while she dozed or scanned the surroundings but it was time I enjoyed completely.  I wanted to share this photograph of the bird from the early afternoon when she landed in a field and was surrounded by sticks left behind after the last harvest.  I am excited to share more from the day and will soon.


A hot Snowy owl on the prairie

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1721

The early spring this year may see the Snowy owls leave their wintering grounds around Southern Alberta soon.  When I was in Irricana photographing this owl, it was 16°C and she was panting to stay cool.  I’m not concerned about their health in this heat as their nesting sites in the north get into, and above, these temperatures in the summer.  However, I don’t know when it, or something else, will prompt them to leave as they always do.

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1697

 

Hot snowy owl - © Christopher Martin-1702


Clutching at grass

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1864

One of the Snowy owls that I photographed recently made a dive while I was watching.  She came up without a mouse but had a clutch of grass instead.  I’m sure it wasn’t her preference but it was a bit unusual to see one of these raptors flying around with a talon full of grass.  She gave a couple of good looks around as she looked for another target during the same sortie but had no luck on this flight.

Snowy's stare - © Christopher Martin-1863

Prairie flight - © Christopher Martin-1859