Posts tagged “strix nebulosa

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


Attack!

Owl's Attack - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/16ooth of a second on f/4 and ISO 2500

I have been trying to capture this image for a long time.  With the familiarity I’ve been lucky to establish with the Great Gray Owl pair in West Bragg Creek this year, they will often hunt near to where I am set up.  On the weekend, one of the owls flew towards me and made a couple of dives from the post he landed on a few yards away.  The stars aligned on one of these attacks and I froze him just before he disappeared into the knee-high grass.


Flight

Flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

(Please click on the image if you would like to view a higher resolution version)

A pretty simple image from an early morning this weekend.   I watched the pair hunting over the field in West Bragg Creek for three hours and enjoyed many great opportunities.  This was one of my favourites on the day.


Great Gray Owl on a morning hunt

Owl and grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I was able to spend another morning with the Great Gray Owl in Bragg Creek that I have had the good fortune to watch several times (links: #1 and #2) this summer.  She was waiting patiently on a fence post when I spotted her.

Morning perch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She almost seemed to wait while I quickly set up my long lens on its tripod before hunting in the deep grass.  Over the next half hour she made several dives and had no trouble catching unlucky field creatures (by my count she was batting .333 on the day).

Owl's attack - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 –

Skimming over the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

She would stay in the grass for up to a minute after each lunge so I had the opportunity to focus on the launches back into the air a couple of times.

Out of the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Morning flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

An owl's take off - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Once the sunlight reached the field, the morning warmed up quickly and the owl’s pace slowed.  On one of the last dives before I left, the owl had been on the far side of the field and then glided across.  En route, it dropped down almost disappearing.  When it popped its head back up, there was a great moment where the yellow eyes peered out of carpet of green.

In the field - 2014 © Christopher Martin

By then the light was getting harsh and I was getting hungry.  When she flew out, I packed up and drove off.

Field flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Spring with a Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl Launch - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I had not seen a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) since last fall and I was deeply missing them.  Usually by the end of April, there are two owls in West Bragg Creek that I start seeing regularly.  They are always there, just not for me with any consistency until spring.  So, it was with great happiness that one was waiting for me on the weekend when I was out early in the morning.

Owl portrait - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/1600 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

This owl hunted along the forest edge, gliding past me several times, for over an hour.  I had great opportunities to photograph her in flight and while perched.  These owls mesmerize me and I feel enormous gratitude that she chose to not fly away to one of the other productive hunting fields nearby.

 

Post launch - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 2000

At one point she flew deeper into the woods where I think her nest is.  I headed off but came back a half an hour later and she was out on the field.  She flew directly towards me and perched in a tree not far away before hunting along the grass a couple more times.  Then she flew silently back into the forest.   I will head back soon and am excited to spend some more time with this owl.

 


An owl in the trees

Flying in the trees - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 6400

Earlier, before I waited with the Great Blue Heron for a decent part of the morning, a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) hunted along one of my favourite Bragg Creek backroads.  I had parked my car, slung my tripod over the shoulder and headed down the road trying to listen for sights and sounds in the trees bordering the gravel.  The owl swooped in front of me, flying near eye level a few metres away.

Note: please click on any image if you would like to see a larger version

A phantom in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/640th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

I hadn’t noticed it before the flyby but my attention was held for the next twenty minutes before it dissolved into the forest gain.  During that time, the bird alternately perched, then flew, then perched again.

Hanging out in the sticks - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens (at 105mm): 1/200th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

It kept eyes on the ground from the boughs and fence posts.  When it flew it was on a line to something scurrying in the grass that was invisible to me.  Twice the owl hovered over a spot briefly which was really interesting to watch.

Morning hunt - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000

The owl’s wing motion to stay in relatively the same spot was new to me which was great.

Hovering in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250th of a second at f/4 on ISO 5000


Hanging out with an owl

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I have had a couple of visits with a Great Gray Owl on one of the backroads in West Bragg over the past week.  This particular section of the gravel road has only yielded one moose a couple of years ago.  Still, it is a beautiful area so I often head up there as far as the private gate that cuts off the road’s climb out of the forest to a hilltop meadow.  Last weekend I was turning my car around and having a look up at the wind-broken treetops more out of habit than expectation.  The owl was perched in shadow just inside the forest’s edge.

Gazing up and over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

I hopped out and watched him for a minute before climbing up the hill across from the trees so that I could be at a similar height to the perch and hopefully catch some hunting action whenever the owl decided to dive down.

Note regarding the gender of this owl: I say him, because there was no urgency to this owl so I presume a nest full of owlets wasn’t waiting at home.  I could easily be wrong – I have not figured out how to determine whether a Great Gray Owl is male or female – yet.  So, I will stick with he for now as I much prefer that over “it”.  Either way, between concentrated stares into the tall grass below, feather grooming and very quick naps occupied his time.

Preening - 2013 © Christopher Martin-5533

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

From his perch, the owl was busy looking around in the direction of any sounds or movement on the ground.  I heard little and saw less – the same was definitely not true for my figurative companion.   After the better part of an hour, he gave a quick shake and then dove almost straight down.

Free diving - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500.

I captured a few nice frames of the dive (the image above and the one that opens this post) but he disappeared from my view into the tall grass.  A couple of hops brought the now familiar head into sight and I could see he missed his target.

On the down low - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

He launched back into the air and settled on the branch of a dead tree.  This time he was in the morning sun so he favoured me with a different setting to photograph him in.  Very photographer friendly was this fellow.

Settling onto a new perch - © Christopher Martin-5742

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I stayed on my hill for another half an hour and enjoyed watching the grooming, staring and napping habits.  I left him there and continued on the back roads.

In the forest - © Christopher Martin-5871

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

This weekend, I had the house to myself and ended up sleeping in late on the morning I had planned to head out for sunrise.  Still, I was back on the same country road around 8 am with faint hopes of a repeat visit.  Scanning the broken trees again, I found no wildlife of any kind and completed my turn around.  Then, I saw the owl sitting in a branch about 20′ off the ground on the side of the road opposite where I had been looking.

Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-3289

Canon 5DII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4 extender at 121mm: 1/800 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 640

Morning in the forest - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8597

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/3200 of a second at f/4 on ISO 500

He gazed at me for a few seconds, I nodded and he continued the pattern of watching, grooming and napping that I had watched the week before.  He added a bit of variety with a yawn here…

A big yawn - 2013 © Christopher Martin-8661

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 2500

A wing stretch there…

Owl yoga - © Christopher Martin-8734

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/2000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2500

After a half an hour, the owl flew to another stump and then went higher up into the trees further up the road.  As he launched out of the tree and went past me, I had a nice opportunity for a couple of in flight shots.

 Launch - © Christopher Martin-8759

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Forest flight - © Christopher Martin-8762

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 70-200mm lens + 1.4X extender at 280mm: 1/1600 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

He seemed to decide he had other places to be and flew deeper into the forest after just a couple of minutes perched in the canopy.

 Perched in the canopy - © Christopher Martin-8803

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500


Owl flights in Bragg Creek

Evening launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

Kezia and I drove out to see the owl the other night.  This visit was a real treat.  The Great Gray Owl was very relaxed and flew towards us in two short glides separated with twenty minutes of perching on a fencepost.

A golden flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/1250 second at f/4 on ISO 2500

Fence launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/640 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

Kezia was delighted watching the owl’s swooping flight and she whispered to the owl urging her to keep flying.  As it got darker the owl got more active so Kezia got to watch it flying every couple of minutes.  It moved into the forest, came back and then crossed the road, perched nearby and then we left for home.

Forest flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/640 second at f/4 on ISO 4000

It was a great evening to be out, especially with Kezia and I having so much fun.

Night watchmen - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm F/4 IS lens: 1/320 second at f/4 on ISO 5000


Great Gray Owl in Water Valley

Owl scout - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Water Valley is a lushly forested area broken up with farm fields, hills and streams.  Any one of these can attract owls so it is little surprise that many are seen in the locales between Cremona and Cochrane.  I drove along Horse Creek Road and the Grand Valley Road a few days ago to enjoy the countryside as well as see what wildlife I might find.  Near Cremona I found a Gray watching the grass in the front yard of a ranch from one of the fence posts.

On maze of old fencing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

By that time it was early evening so I set up my gear on the shoulder of the road and waited to see if the owl might start hunting.  It looked at me languidly a few times and I thought that might be the all there was to this sighting when it flew into the trees.  I was wrong.  It stayed in the woods for a few minutes and then came back to the fence again.

Onto the fields - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A minute later, it flew to a new post about 30′ from where I was sitting.

Flying postal - 2013 © Christopher Martin

From that point the owl started hunting and remained less than 100′ away for the next hour.  It proved to be adept at attacks into the long grass and grabbed five mice over that period.  The strikes onto the field creatures were impossible to photograph as the talons and head of the owl would disappear completely into a screen of pale yellow.

Attack! - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On prey - 2013 © Christopher Martin

That was only a very minor disappointment, being able to watch this master hunter at work was very enjoyable.

Great Gray Owl flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Flying along the fence line - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I had great opportunities to photograph the owl flying before night took hold.  In the image below it was quite dark so I needed a longer exposure to gather enough light.

Dusk flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Just as I decided to pack up and head home, a car came down the road and I snapped this last image with the help of the headlights.

Good night dear owl - 2013 © Christopher Martin


On the edge of Kananaskis with an owl

Forest flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

(click on any image to open a window to a higher resolution version)

I persuaded my children to join me for a drive through Bragg Creek into Kananaskis last night to look for the Great Gray Owls that have returned to some of their summer haunts.  We traveled several of the backroads with not much wildlife found but the sun was out and we enjoyed chatting away.  I had turned back towards home when Kian spotted a beautiful Great Gray up in an aspen tree.

Curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Its plumage matched the bark quite well and I had completely missed it.  Luckily my son’s sharp eyes did not.

Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Having accomplished the find, Kian then returned to his story while Kezia and I got out and watched the owl swoop across the open forest between trees for almost an hour.  There was great light and the owl was hunting and resting normally so we enjoyed the encounter and I was rewarded with some great opportunities to photograph the bird.

Wings up - 2013 © Christopher Martin

By 8 pm, it was time for bed – for the kids not the owl – so we left her perched on a branch near the road and went home.

Up in a perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin


The return of owls (and wisdom)

Danger launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It has been just about ten months since my last encounter with a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) in one special area I frequently visit in Bragg Creek.  Last year, there was a two month stretch where I would regularly see one or more of four owls in the forest and fields there.  The long absence could be for any number of reasons but most likely it was me not seeing them or them not wanting to be seen.  I know from talking with people in Bragg Creek that owls remain year round but I think some rotate around different spots throughout the year and some migrate away for at least a few months.

On a field mouse - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Last night I went for a drive with my daughter to see what animals were out and about.  When I first spied this owl it was perched on a sapling standing in the middle of one of the meadows.  It was a couple of hundred metres away so we watched for a minute and then carried on.  About a half an hour later we returned and found the owl in a tree along the fenceline.  It was watching over the grassland and soon dove successfully on a field mouse.  It carried that back to a fencepost, had its snack and then went for another one.  Given the place it was, the way it hunted and its markings I think it was one of the four from last year.  She looked hungry so I imagine there are owlets back at her nest.  Over a fifteen minute period of watching her, three rodents fell victim to her aerial strikes.

Big owl, little tree - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was special to be there with my daughter for this encounter.  However she fell asleep as it was close to her bedtime so I will show her the pictures and we will have to return – maybe tonight.  Last year I had almost daily encounters with the Great Grays in this area.  I can only hope for a repeat this spring.


Great Grey Owl – flights along a forest meadow

(Please click on each image for higher resolution versions)

My friend Jeff came back out to Bragg Creek to photograph with me again last weekend.  We found a female Great Grey Owl hunting over one of the fields in West Bragg.

She was covering large areas of the field with each flight and it was fun trying to anticipate where her flight path would go as she crisscrossed the meadow. 

The intensity of expression of these owls always holds my attention.  That coupled with the power in their flight motion make them so interesting to watch.  This encounter was no exception to that rule.

The talons are amazing too.  I have heard of people being attacked by Great Grays when they strayed too close to a nest – I continue to believe that is something to be avoided.


Great Gray Owl flights and perches in Bragg Creek

I had a great morning earlier this week watching this female Great Gray Owl.  She flew to several perches as she moved from the forest into the open meadows nearby.

She was watching for quite a while at each stop.   She seemed pretty relaxed, without any great urgency to hunt.

Down the field, the sun was reaching into the trees.  The light that got through was really beautiful.

I’m hoping to hang out again over the weekend.  We’ll see if she is thinking the same thing.


On the hunt with a Great Gray Owl

My good friend, the owl, took me for a bit of a run last Monday.  I found it perched on a stake in the middle of a large field in West Bragg Creek and after a few minutes I had walked to within 100 yards.  I stopped at another stake that I thought would provide a better vantage point than the current perch, set up my tripod and waited.  The Great Gray glided to a small evergreen first,  then to a fencepost and eventually to the stake about 10 yards from me.

It stayed there for a couple of minutes before gliding past me and flying low over the grass.  For the next 10 minutes, it lunged a couple of times into the tall grass.  These dives proved unsuccessful and I was surprised when it spent a minute or two standing on the ground before pushing up into the air again.

It covered a lot of ground and I just stayed on a straight line moving northward.  Our paths came close once but I did not get any memorable photographs during this stretch.  I was really enjoying the opportunity to watch how it scouted and attacked.

The field work came to an end when the owl flew into a line of trees and settled on a stray fence post.  I moved up on to the road for a better angle and then the owl moved to a post connected a long line of other posts by barbed wire.  It flew from the first post to the next in line so I moved a few down to set up in case the pattern continued.  It did fly over two more posts but then it got really still on one of the perches and stared intently into a tangle of branches about 15 yards on the other side of the fence.  I didn’t have a great line on the branches but I didn’t want to move and make any noise.  When the owl launched, it was clear that it had a target lined up.  The silence of owls in flight is incredible and I was enthralled watching this attack.  This time, the talons caught a field mouse and the owl paused while it moved the kill to its mouth.

When the bird flew up again I had a great line and was able to take some nice images.  It crossed back over the field and settled on the far side to dine which signaled the end of this encounter.


A morning with a Great Gray Owl

I was out early in Bragg Creek again yesterday on the hunt for wildlife to photograph.  The morning sky was steel-gray at dawn which was not terribly exciting but there were only a few scattered deer in the fields so I went for a hike along the edge of Kananaskis Country for a little while.  Around 7 the clouds were doing the scattering and the sunlight took full advantage.  Back in the car, I drove towards a spot I’ve seen moose at frequently to see if I could photograph them in this warm light.  I went past an immense thicket and that ended my drive as there were two young moose grazing on the new buds and leaves growing on the reddish branches.  I will get to them in another post but for now I will say it was a fantastic moment and the cow was a very friendly moose.  I walked with the female for quite a while and when I left her I had a bit of a ways back to my car.  When I got back, there was a Great Gray Owl staring at me from a post on the edge of the thicket.  The sun had come out and the owl looked spectacular.

The owl flew between three posts as it scanned the ground looking for a meal.  It made one dive but the creature must have zigged while the talons zagged.  I missed that dive but I was happy with the images I had as the owl flew along the edge of the brambles.

The tensing of the owl’s body just before jumping into the air is an interesting look at this instant before flight.

The owl flew across the road and went up to a treetop, presumably for a higher point of view.  The sunlight lit up its wings and I had to recover the highlights in the image below as the change in light was more than I noticed in the moment.  From here, the owl flew into the forest, where I was able to follow the silhouette of the wings for a couple of minutes.

After this encounter, I drove to some fields where I saw both moose and another owl earlier in the week.  I found the owl waiting for me on a post at the edge of the forest.  We walked (well, she flew) together for over an hour.  That too will be the subject of another post soon to come.


Great Gray Morning Hunt

This morning I was in West Bragg Creek before sunrise looking for wildlife.  I photographed a few moose scattered across a couple of back roads in the early blue light and then the light came up very quickly.  I drove a bit further and then went for a short hike along a deer trail.  When I came back to the road, a Great Gray swooped nearby and landed on a fence post across the road.  I spent the next half an hour walking with this owl as it glided to a couple of different perches as it scouted for breakfast.  I had a couple of good opportunities to photograph the owl in flight and had a great time following this raptor.  It ended when it drove off and a stump before banking into the forest and disappearing in the deep shadows.

These are a few that stood out from a beautiful morning on the edge of Kananaskis Country.


Evening Owl: A Great Grey in Bragg Creek

Just before the long weekend, I had an evening free to tour the back roads around Bragg Creek.  As the shadows grew longer and the heat of the day softened a little, I hoped to see some wildlife come out of the trees.  A few miles off the main road, I saw a Great Grey Owl perched on a fence post right on the forest’s edge.  It was pretty calm and just stared at me when I stopped my car and walked back towards it.

It flew a couple posts ahead of me and I expected it to not let me get too close.  Then it flew just in front of me, crossing the road, and landing on a post on the other side of the road right in front of me.  I was using a long lens which meant I couldn’t fit the bird in the frame as it landed in front of me.  It is always fantastic to be that close to Great Greys.  I took a couple of steps backward and enjoyed watching as the owl scouted for the field mice and rodents touring through the long grass along the fenceline.

I thought the owl might dive into the grass as it stared down periodically for several minutes.  In the end, it chose to fly off for a higher branch.

Too close to get a clean shot but I like the intention in the owl’s movement and its eyes.

A last stare (disapproving? menacing?) before heading further down the road.


Great Grey Owl in Flight

I spied this owl perched out in the full sun at the edge of a stand of trees ringing a lake in Priddis, about 30 miles west of Calgary.  I set up a couple dozen yards on a hill so that I was at the same height as its perch.

The bird was in no rush and waited for about 20 more minutes before launching out of the tree.  The vole or some similar creature must have dipped out of reach as the owl touched down but flew up again into this bare tree.

I left it staring intently across the field, I’m sure it didn’t miss the next one.


Strix Nebulosa – an evening encounter with a Great Grey Owl

On my drive home last night I spotted a large, oblong shape perched on a tree branch just off a gravel road on the forest’s edge near Bragg Creek.  Going at highway speed and being a couple hundred meters away from the object, I wasn’t sure what it was but I quickly turned around hoping that it was an owl of some type.  When I pulled up the gravel road, I was very happy to see it had not yet flown away.  I grabbed my camera, a telephoto lens and a flash and walked slowly towards the bird.  Even in the failing light, it was easy to identify my new friend as a great grey owl.  I kept the flash off as I approached giving the owl time to get used to my presence and decide if it wanted to model for me.  Great greys are mercurial, one encounter they will fly away as soon as they see you, another time they will stay but keep their eyes away from you.  This was one of the great encounters where it allowed me to come close and was not agitated.  At one point it flew away but then circled around me and came to land on a fence post about ten meters from me.  I photographed this beautiful creature for about fifteen minutes and then left it to continue its wait for the ground creatures to start their nightly forays into the open.

Perched on the top of a tiny branch this is where I first found the owl.  Given the size of these birds (wingspans average 1.4 meters), I’m always surprised when I see a visible demonstration of how light they are (average of 1.2 kilograms).

I thought the owl was leaving here but then it banked to the right and landed on the fence post across the gravel from me.

At this point, it was quite dark and the colors in the scene were restricted to blue hues and gray tones.  I turned the flash on to capture the brown color in the feathers and the yellow in the eyes.  The image I wanted to finish with was of the owl flying where you could see the motion and power in its flight before finishing the shoot.  I used a slightly longer exposure to get movement in the wings and panned with the owl as it launched and flew past me.

It doesn’t always turn out but when I can create the image I’ve imagined in my head it is a good day.  This is pretty close to what I was trying to capture in the photograph.  Thank you to Bobbi for managing the three-ring circus at home for an extra while longer last night to let me play with an owl for a little bit.


Great Gray Owl in Winter

The morning brought steady snow and diffused  sunlight.  I toured some of the West Bragg Creek roads to see if the moose were foraging in some of their regular haunts.  I saw a few deer but none of their much larger cousins.  I did get to see two great gray owls (strix nebulosa) in two different locations.

Click for larger versions of each image.

These photos are all of the second bird that I watched for about 30 minutes as it hunted from a couple of different perches.

It was a great morning.  I hadn’t seen one of the phantoms of the north for a couple of months and was beginning to understand why phantom and ghost are names often applied to these beautiful raptors.

As a post script, I was outside tonight putting lights up and heard a couple owls hooting back and forth for about an hour near my backyard.  I’ll be trying to find them over the next couple of days.