Posts tagged “strix nebulosa

On the hunt with a great gray owl

A couple of weeks ago I took a break from the snowy owls on the prairie and visited some of my great gray owl haunts near my home.  I had not seen a gray for several weeks so it was a fishing expedition at best with limited expectation.  I was excited when I found this owl perched over the snow.  It wasn’t too long before she dove into the snow and quickly swallowed some kind of mouse or vole. Her back was to me when she landed so I didn’t get a good look at her snack.  She flew up into a bare tree and continued surveying the small meadow.

She decided pretty quickly that wasn’t the spot for her and she flew into the evergreens after only a couple of minutes.

She landed and then dozed for close to half an hour from a good spot in the trees overlooking another small patch of snow.

I put on my snow boots and took an indirect path to a little hill opposite her new perch.  Her eyes watched me a little bit but the lids shut once I sat down on a log.  I was happy to wait and see if she would continue hunting after her rest.

When she did start looking around again, she seemed keen to resume and I was in a great position for her next dive which happened right away.

With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.


A forest hunter

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2969-4

On a warm summer evening, down a country road leading nowhere, I found a pair of Great gray owls.  One was hunting actively near where I set up while the other was perched deeper in the forest.

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2966

The shadows lengthened and I hoped for a special moment before the sun slipped below the ridge to the west.  She flew over me and I thought that would be the end of the encounter as she flew into the trees.  Instead, she alighted on this small branch and stared intently at a couple of spots in the grass.  Shortly after she dove headlong into one of those spots and disappeared.  

Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2970

Several seconds ticked by and then she leaped into the air – with a field mouse secured in her beak.  It was my good fortune that she flew directly towards me as she gained altitude before banking to her left and heading further uphill towards her nest.  The first image and the ones directly below are the series as she flew through the trees towards me.
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2971
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2972
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2973
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2974
Great gray owl's forest hunt - © Christopher Martin-2975

 These were a series of moments well beyond what I was even hoping for.


Great gray owl on frost and in gold

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6695-2

Last week’s dropping mercury and precipitation allowed the fields around Bragg Creek to be encased in frost on the weekend.  I spent the morning watching birds of all sizes waking up – with most waiting for the sun to warm things up a bit.  This Great gray owl was more interested in breakfast and I watched him hunt for a couple of hours taking his catches back to the nest hidden somewhere in the forest nearby.  These images of the owl just lifting off the grass with a field mouse in its beak really captured the tone of the morning – frosted grass, shafts of golden light, a spectacular bird in flight.  It was another wonderful morning spent in awe of the natural world.

 

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6646

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6692

Great Gray Owl in the frosty meadow - © Christopher Martin-6647


A phantom of the north’s flyby

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8200

I watched this Great gray owl criss-cross a field west of Bragg Creek a couple of weekends ago.  I spotted him perched near a small pond in front of the forest and photographed as he flew closer to where I was on the road.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8134

Between flights, he landed on a couple of fence posts, a branch and a driveway gate.  This last landing was about 20 metres (60′) away from where I stood.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8189

I have had owls fly close to me occasionally and it is always an intense moment.  This was no exception – it was great to feel his presence as it glided past within arm’s reach.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-8197

 


A hunting owl

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7379

I have photographed this Great gray owl in the same area for the past five years.  When I found her hunting for field mice just off the gravel road, I set up and watched her make two successful dives from branches that hung only a couple of metres above the tall grass.   I haven’t seen her or her mate over the winter so it was great to reconnect and watch the action.  I particularly enjoyed watching how she flew through the open forest.

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7383

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7381

Easter Great Gray Owls - © Christopher Martin-7387


Great gray owl winter flights

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6515

I love watching Great gray owls fly – particularly when they launch.  The snowstorm that hit Bragg Creek on Thursday night created a wintry scene that was still hiding spring on Saturday when I went out.  It made for an interesting backdrop to this owl as it took flight.

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6516

Great gray owl's winter flight - © Christopher Martin-6517


Great gray ascension

Great gray owl's ascension - © Christopher Martin-6677-2
This Great gray owl was hunting for field mice in West Bragg yesterday.  It dove a few times, easily punching through the thin covering of snow left by Friday’s snowstorm.  I watched it fly between fence posts before it flew up to this branch.  It turned out to be a good vantage point as it caught a mouse on its next dive.

I do want to also wish everyone a Happy Easter!  I hope everyone enjoys time with family and friends over the weekend.  We started the morning with a fun hunt with yarn that led the kids to their respective jackpots.  While we were outside, I looked for our resident rabbit but he was nowhere to be found – so no Easter Bunny photographs this year!


A Great gray owl morning in Bragg Creek

 

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3652

The fields and forests west of Bragg Creek have been owl havens for me in the spring and summer for several years.  The autumn and winter encounters have been much less numerous but I added one more on the weekend.  A couple of warm days had melted most of the snow in this meadow but on the morning I was out it was cold.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3647

I had spotted this Great gray owl perched on a weathered fence post as I drove along the road.  I pulled over, hopped out and crossed the fence to get the rising sun behind me and onto his front.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3789

The day warmed up several degrees in the sunlight while I hung out with this beautiful raptor.  I stayed there for a little over an hour and he made a couple of flights to alternate posts along the fence line.  His focus on hunting seemed to take second place to warming up in the sunshine.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3952

When I left he was staring intently at a spot in the long grass – I waited for another 20 minutes hoping an attack dive would come.  His patience beat mine and I left with a few good flight photos, a smile and a thank you to this beautiful owl.

A Bragg Creek Owl - © Christopher Martin-3957

 


An owl’s launch

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1931

Last Friday I spent an hour watching a Great gray owl as it hunted in a bramble field west of Bragg Creek.  This series is from a great launch where it stared right at me while leaping into the air before banking off to its left.

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1930

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1932

An owl's evening hunt - © Christopher Martin-1936

 


Owlets starting and staring…

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9592-2

On a walk a couple of weeks ago I came across a Great gray owl nest in Bragg Creek.  I had noticed an owl perched high up in a tree and while watching it, I heard its very soft hooting, about 10 seconds apart – almost like a slow, steady beat which was not a vocalization I was familiar with.  A bit of motion higher up in another tree about 50′ away drew my attention and I could see two owlets in a large nest.  The activity was the larger one spreading, and flapping, its wings.  The vocalization seemed like a steady reassurance to the owlets that mom was close by.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9061

I’m always a bit anxious when I find a nest as I don’t want to stress the chicks or, in a very much worst case scenario, cause the parents to abandon them.  This nest was very high up and the mature owl did not appear to be agitated so I took a few photographs and then carried on my way.  The sight lines to the nest were not great but I planned to come back in a couple of weeks to see how the little ones were doing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9438
Earlier this week, I returned to the path and walked back towards the nest.  Rounding a corner, another flutter of activity caught my eye.  This time, it was not at the nest as I had been expecting but about 30′ off of the ground in a tree neighbouring the nest’s holder.  It took me a second before I realized it was one of the chicks perched on a branch flapping its wings for balance.  I looked around and soon spied one of the parents perched in an aspen watching intently.  It seemed the owlet had left the nest at some very recent point, and was making its way to the forest floor.  That’s being a bit kind – as I watched for the next couple of minutes it somersaulted, tumbled, grabbed and slid its way down the branches in a series of 3 to 6′ drops until it half flew, half crashed to the ground.  I had my longest lens on a tripod and was set up to watch this even from my spot about 150′ away.  The birds hadn’t noticed me as all of their attention was presumably consumed by this flight of the still mostly flightless owlet.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9446

The little owl righted itself and peered around to get its bearings.  I moved up the path a little ways which gave me a good line to the bird and we stared at one another for a few seconds.  Mother dropped down to a fallen tree and the little one jump/flew over to it.  The two of them moved off to the side towards a bit of an opening in the trees.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9483

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9641

I lost sight of them and was picking up my tripod to see if a spot a little further up the trail might afford a better view when I looked up and saw the second owlet (the first picture in this story and the one below).  About 20′ away, perched about 12′ off the ground and staring at me.  I retreated to the edge of the trail, set up again and was able to photograph this beautiful creature.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9655

All the while I could hear the other owlet flitting about and crashing around in the underbrush.  I circled away from the smaller owl in front of me and found a great spot a good distance from that owl with a nice view of the first one I had seen fall out of the tree.  It had now managed to fly up to a bent branch about 8′ off the ground.  Its mom was perched 5′ directly above that on another aspen.  I closed to about 80′ away and watched them for several minutes.  The highlight was when the father swooped in and fed the owlet a mouse.  The actually handoff (beak off?) happened just out of sight from my position so I didn’t photograph it but it was so cool to see.  The father flew off back towards the nearby fields and the mother found a new perch a little higher up.  I left the chick in its spot watching me languidly as it digested supper.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9757

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9742

I checked on the second owl, which was noticeably smaller than the other, and it was still in the same spot.  The sun had dropped and was tracing an outline of the bird’s profile which I found to be appealing.

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9875

One of the parents had flown to a perch nearby and was watching this owlet.  My ears picked up the soft, steady hooting once more and I thought that was the right time to leave the family to themselves.  I had no interest in delaying this one’s supper as I expected the next mouse caught would be hers (or his).

Great gray owlet - © Christopher Martin-9856


First owl flights in May

Great gray in May - © Christopher Martin-7873

Owls don’t care about what day it is, but, on some level I guess I do.  I went out this morning when the sun was shining and the day was quickly warming up.  I was happy that the first day of May picked up where April left off as I was able to continue spending time with owls.  This owl was hunting around a farm field and a horse meadow in Bragg Creek.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7874

This Great gray owl was landing on some strategically placed posts in the middle of the field and successfully grabbed a couple of mice over a short span.  I haven’t watched owls hunt on this field before but I will be back as it appears to be a very productive spot for this owl.

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7881

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7917

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7939

Great grays in May - © Christopher Martin-7951


An owl and a weathered tractor

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7538

I have loved photographing one old, weathered tractor for years.  It sits in a field that is home to horses now and I think it has been enjoying its retirement there for many years before I ever found it.

For the first time, I met the gentleman who owns this tractor, the horses and the land this past weekend.  We had a pleasant conversation while we enjoyed watching this Great gray owl hunting along his fence line.  Peter was very familiar with this owl and it was great to learn some new things about it.

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7434

Shortly after he left, the owl flew off the fence line and into a stand of trees near the tractor.  I set up for a dive I hoped would come but was very happy when the next flight was not into the grass but over to the steering wheel on this much admired, at least to me, tractor.

Great gray owl on a tractor - © Christopher Martin-7448

From this perch, the owl’s glowing eyes scanned the surrounding grass.

Scouting from the steering wheel - © Christopher Martin-7534

After a few minutes it hunched down, signalling that it may fly.  It paused for a couple of seconds and then launched.

Great gray owl in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7539

This bird is an excellent hunter so it was no surprise that the strike was successful.  As they like to do, after the pounce the owl looked around to check his surroundings as they are vulnerable when down on the ground.  It stared at me to check that I hadn’t made any moves or movements that signalled a change in my intent.

Great gray owl on the field - © Christopher Martin-7550

It swallowed the mouse on the ground and then flew back to the same perch on the tractor.

What's up? - © Christopher Martin-7630

It idled on the wheel for a couple of minutes, preoccupied for a moment with something it noticed in the sky above, before heading into the trees.  These were the trees where I had gone into when I was photographing him on the tractor so I had a front row seat to the forest hunt and three different perches before he flew uphill and out of sight.

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7712

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7769

Great gray in the trees - © Christopher Martin-7800