Posts tagged “strix nebulosa

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


Forest Flight

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4314

I had an incredible weekend all centred around wildlife in Bragg Creek.  There was a heron, some geese, a couple of beavers, a coyote, a moose and even a crane that I had the opportunity to watch for varying amounts of time.  But the owl encounters were what made the mornings and evenings so special for me.  It started a couple of days earlier with my first Great gray owl time this spring where I photographed one hunting at night.  Then I was able to find two other adults hunting, each in a separate location.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4354

Of the three owl pairs that I have photographed for the past six years, all are represented in their respective regular haunts.  There was a male Great gray owl killed in an apparent collision with a vehicle in that area a couple of weeks ago so I suspect that one of these couples is without its mate.  That loss had brought great sadness so it was uplifting to see the others hunting and doing what they all should be doing.  I suspect the lone female will not raise chicks this year but it could have been an owl passing through the area that was struck so maybe all three pairs will have broods.  I have never scouted out any of the nests as I need to learn much more before I feel comfortable getting close and knowing I will not adversely impact the chicks.  So, I may never be able to confirm which, if any, of these pairs lost their partner.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4319

… back to the uplifting part – I’m really excited about the photographs from the weekend as the owls were unperturbed by my presence and stayed visible for long periods of time while successfully hunting in the forest and the fields.  It was a lot of unbroken time where I was able to be a part of their environment.  So lucky for me!  I will post a few entries of the individual encounters and start today with the Friday evening where one of the owls was hunting in a small opening in the forest.  I watched as he flew between fence posts and perches on stubby trees.  His attacks into the tall grass were hidden from my view but I had great chances to capture his flight.

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4361

Bragg Creek Great Gray Owl - © Christopher Martin-4320

 


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