I love these birds! They are so incredibly beautiful and I really get excited every time I find one. I’ve been lucky enough to find two this year, and also lucky enough that they both allowed me to make a few portraits!
Snowy Owl’s are considered to be very common on the Prairies east of Calgary, and there are reports of them almost daily during the winter months. But that certainly doesn’t mean that they are easy to find. I’ve actually seen very few in the wild yet I look for them every time I’m out and about on the country roads.
I stopped to make a few images of a really great sunset tonight, with a couple of grain bins in a massive Prairie field. It was very beautiful and I managed to catch the indigo sky rising up out of the horizon while the pink glow remained above it. It was one of those magical skies that you really have to visit the Prairies to see.
While I walked back to my truck when I realized that I had parked underneath a beautiful Snowy Owl perching on a power pole. I’ve spent many hours searching for these elusive birds over the last couple of winters and have only rarely seen them. This one wasn’t very happy to have me there, but it must not have minded too much or it would have flown away when I first arrived. I can’t believe I didn’t see it when I first pulled up, and it’s even more amazing that it just stayed there and ignored me. I got to watch it and make images for several minutes before it got too dark. I’m still excited about it several hours later!
I was very excited to find a family of Great Horned Owls in Fish Creek Provincial Park, including two juveniles. The owlets were flapping their wings and hopping around from branch to branch. It appears that they can’t quite fly yet, but they’re definitely stretching their wings and getting ready to try!
Fish Creek Provincial Park is massive and there are birds and animals all over the park. From squirrels to coyotes, to White-tailed deer. Great Horned Owls are just one of the many very common birds in the park. There really are lots of them, and I hear reports about them all the time. Having said that, I’m always amazed when I do actually find one, and I have been extremely unsuccessful in the past. In fact I made over 9 trips to Shannon Terrace and Bebo Grove last spring searching for Northern Pygmy Owls, and I never saw even one. It became a running joke with my wife because every time she joined me one one of those trips it snowed. The visibility was usually so poor that we could have walked by a whole flock of owls and we wouldn’t have seen them.
But my luck is much better at the East end of the park near Sikome Lake and Hull’s Wood. I’ve seen owls in that area several times and so I’m not really surprised anymore when I do. Always excited, but not surprised!!
Here are a few more images of the young owlets perching and stretching their wings.
Every once in awhile the local birding community goes crazy about a special visitor to the area. Recently reports have been coming in daily about a trio of Northern Hawk Owls living north of Cochrane. I was was lucky enough to see two of the three birds today.
Although not endangered, these birds are considered to be rare in the Calgary area. For there to be three of them located in such close proximity is very exciting. Reports of these birds have been popping up on Alberta Bird since before Christmas and I was eager to see if I could find them. Fortunately these particular owls have been staying in the same spot for a long time, and they don’t seem to care that they are being watched by a lot of people. One of them actually flew onto a tree only a few feet away from me several times.
Northern Hawk Owl perching in a tree
This particular bird has a regular behavioral pattern in which it perches in a high tree (or power pole) while preening; every so often it will fly down to a lower tree overlooking the adjacent farm field, and then patiently search the field for a meal. When it finds something it swoops down low over the grass and strikes from behind. Sometimes it eats the meal right there on the ground, while other times it flies off with it to enjoy it from a higher vantage point.
Northern Hawk Owl in Flight
The nearby fields appear to be abundantly stocked with prey and these birds make many such trips throughout the day. I stayed to watch one of the birds for quite a long time and it was very exciting to be able to observe it so closely. I managed to make a few good sequences of images of it hunting, and I’ve put together a slideshow of one of these sequences…
When this sort of excitement crops up there is always the inevitable talk about the ethics of human interaction with wildlife. In this particular instance there have been huge numbers of people traveling down the same road eager to see and photograph such beautiful birds. Some people would say that this is very stressful to the bird and that it can really disrupt their lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned that these birds don’t seem to care very much about the people that are visiting them, and my personal belief is that birds and animals are generally very good at letting humans know when they are being bothered. In fact they usually do so very quickly…
As an aside, I have to say I don’t support feeding wild birds or animals just to get a better picture. There have been some reports that people have been baiting these birds (with pet store mice for example) to do just that. I certainly didn’t see it happening while I was watching the owls, and I would even go so far as to say that it would be completely unnecessary in this case. The adjacent field appears to be teeming with mice and these birds have been on a very steady diet of fresh food. Having said that, it happens all the time, and not just by photographers. But that’s a topic for another post…