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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.