Posts tagged “strix nebulosa

Great gray owl in the late winter forest

On a solo outing to some remote roads, I found a gorgeous great gray owl perched on a telephone pole in warm afternoon sunshine.

A short wait ended with the bird gliding into the forest.  It found a perch there and moved to two other ones before flying to a knot of trees close by.

She scanned the sky occasionally, watched the ground steadily but did not find a target on or under the snow.  One launch had the owl drop onto a pile of deadfall.  I caught a nice launch off of a tree trunk and followed the bird up to her next perch.

Soon she flew across the nearby meadow and landed in a lone evergreen.  She flew along a frozen creek to a slender tee – a winter’s skeleton – that bowed under her weight.

 

And then she flew west, further afield, and well beyond my shooting range with the gear I have.

ng range.


Great gray owl – winter edition

 

Driving home through Millarville last weekend, I hoped to see a great gray owl along the edge of the forest that skirts the road toward Bragg Creek.  I had my camera beside me and my girlfriend and I kept eyes peeled for them on fenceposts or perched in the trees.

We found one amid a snow storm.  It was not in a stop friendly location so I took a couple of quick shots and continued along.

Happily, another one was waiting a few miles further along.  This one was watching over a field and was kind enough to have chosen a tree that was across from a small pullout.  We had time to point out the owl to the kids and for me to put a long lens on it.  After a few minutes, it launched out over the field and I had some good flight opportunities.

It had been a few months since I had seen a great gray owl so I was thrilled to get to see two that evening.  I’ll have to make sure I retrace my steps there again soon.


The final hunt after an evening with a great gray

Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away.  It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays).  There was enough light for one more encounter.

 

The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow.  Then heard or saw something and shot upwards.   He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.

With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.

Flying to a new perch after several minutes.  From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.

The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.


Continuing on with an evening owl

Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next.  Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.

A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field.  That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.

Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl.  This one gliding between branches.  These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.

The sun fell quickly.  The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge.  The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away.  His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.

 

There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field.  That was too far away to photograph.  And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me.  That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.


Winter dusk with a great gray owl

By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls.  This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night.  The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt.  Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields.  This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.

A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond.  Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.

I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field.  She, however, did not miss.  He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow.  She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances.  And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.

From there the owl flew over the field again.  This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery.  From sign to beam was only six minutes.  Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.


Great grays in Grand Valley

This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane.  The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.  I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area.  I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.

This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road.  She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass.  She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.

The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area.  I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.


A close encounter of the owl kind

Almost two months ago, I came across a great gray owl that was surveying a bog from the top of a weathered fence post.  I watched him for a few minutes as he looked around.  Then the big, yellow eyes watched me for a few seconds before the wings stretched out and he flew up the hill towards me.  These owls move quickly when they choose to so I was reacting not thinking when he took to the air.  I was happy to have a few shots of that approach.

I thought he would fly by, but another post a couple of meters away from me was his destination.  He looked around for half a minute, then stared at me while launching into the air again.  This time he passed close by, crossed the path and then flew to a broken tree branch in the forest.

It was early evening and seemed to be supper time as he dove into the tall grass a couple of minutes later.  That yielded a vole or some kind of field mouse.  I couldn’t tell as he swallowed it while on the ground and mostly out of sight.

Reappearing after a short while, he ascended to another branch briefly and then flew deeper into the forest.


Flashback Friday – owl to perch flight

A couple of years ago I watched this owl hunting in the snow west of Bragg Creek.  It was a relatively warm day for March and this great gray was active for a long while before launching off of a fence post and flying upwards to this skeletal tree.  I liked how the eyes are locked on the landing spot in this image.  The overcast sky and bare branches suited the gray feathers backlit against the clouds.


Flashback Friday – a summer owl

There are a lot of photographs from the summer and earlier which I have not found a way to share to date.  I’m going to try using the Flashback Friday theme to publish some of these.  I thought I’d start with a morning in July spent watching one of the great gray owls in Bragg Creek hunting in a field.

Just after 7 o’clock, I spied this owl on the forest edge, perched in a tree overlooking the field.  I set up my tripod and long lens in time to catch her fly low over the grass.

This owl is one of a pair that have raised chicks in the same place for several years.  The other parent was likely minding the chicks in the nest hidden back in the forest.  So, the owl was busy crisscrossing the field, hunting for breakfast.

The summer sun rises early so it was fairly high by this time.  The owl flew in and out of the sunlight and the shadows throughout the morning.  That afforded some good opportunities to photograph that contrast.

After a half an hour, the owl was fairly close to me and I was surprised when she flew in my direction and alighted on the fencepost right in front of me.  She stayed there for almost 15 minutes before resuming the hunt.  A very special moment where I felt some level of connection – maybe an acceptance of my presence – that still makes me smile.

 

Here she flew off, dove into the grass, came up empty and returned to the same perch.  A robin joined the line on this second sitting.  The birds paid little attention to one another and the owl soon flew away.


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


An owl in the muskeg

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6926-2

Muskeg is not a landscape that I think of owls hunting in but that is probably due to me not spending much time in them.  The word is Algonquin for grassy bog and in the Bragg Creek area there are only I couple places that I visit which would qualify.  On the weekend I was in one of these spots as they are a spring and summer haunt for moose.  I was surprised to find a Great gray owl perched on one of the stubby trees.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6877

I was using a long lens and was able to follow it as it flew around the bog landing in several spots.  The last perch it settled on a weathered fence post.  Despite being worn down and long out of any real service, it served as a good scouting tower for the owl.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6892-2

Within a few minutes, she cocked her head a couple of times, raised her wings and then dove into the grass.  On the ground, she hopped around a little bit and when she flew up to the post again had a mouse in her beak.

 

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6894

 

The owl fussed with the little creature for a few seconds to get the right grip.  With the meal secure, she flew away from the muskeg and up into the open forest nearby.

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6911

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6917

Muskeg Great gray owl - © Christopher Martin-6918

 

 

 


An evening in the forest

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5762

The owls have been spoiling me over the past couple of weeks so please forgive yet another Great gray post with images from these most wonderful birds!

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-5794

I found this owl hunting deeper in the forest and then worked the fence line on either side of the gravel road I was on in West Bragg.  After a mouse there, it moved out of the shadows and into the late day sunlight filtering through the forest.  These photographs cover that time where he flew between trees and dove into a couple of grassy spots.  All the effort yielded two more field mice and some great opportunities for me.  After another hour passed, he flew towards a field as the sun dipped behind the hills across the valley and I headed home.

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6120

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6125

Bragg Creek spring owl - © Christopher Martin-6145
Great gray owl in spring flight - © Christopher Martin-6243

 


Dawn hunter

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6402

I was out early on two consecutive mornings to greet the Great gray owls as they continued their hunting.  After dawn breaks, and before the sun gets too high, they often catch a couple more field mice and then retire to their nests for the day.  This owl was working the same area at the same time both days.  There was no trouble catching the rodents so it seemed like great hunting grounds which may explain the repeat efforts.  The second day the owl flew into shafts of sunlight which added to the quality of the images.

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6445

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6449

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6458

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6493

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-6411

Morning owl in Bragg Creek - © Christopher Martin-5365