Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hows about some owls?

Now that it's warm outside again, I thought I'd do a post about the owls I've visited this past winter.

Brian and I took a trip to lovely Minnesota at the coldest time of the year this winter and endured -30 degree temperatures and -70 degree winds and snow up to our chest to find owls and boreal birds that we would never get to see in good-old relatively warm Pennsylvania.

We stayed in a cabin a stone throw away from Sax-Zim bog, which is a place known for its' abundance (2-4) of Great Gray Owls and Northern Hawk Owls. It also has several feeder stations set up and kept by private individuals which are great places to see other boreal birds including:

Boreal chickadee

Pine grosbeak

Gray Jay

Northern Shrike

And of course, the ubiquitous chickadees (black capped or carolina who knows)

But, back to the owls.
There were a couple Northern hawk owls hanging out in the area

I was lucky enough to get this guy hovering. Usually they would sit up on the tippy top of the highest tree in the area and just sit there. Not much help for taking pictures.

 And then there's an exception to every rule..... this one decided to perch on the most flimsy thing around. How is this owl standing on this tiny stick??

During the trip, I took a class with a professional photographer on owls. The best things I learned were to mind your background and setting, as well as 'pump the shutter' which is really helpful for keeping focus on moving targets. We worked with some willing models and some unwilling, and I came away better skilled at bird in flight (BIF) techniques and some awesome pictures.

We watched this snowy owl hunt its' favorite field and got a lot of cool shots as she flew by us and around the farm.

Her favorite perch was this old fence post, which was a really nice way to know where to set up, and also offered a great setting for photos.

There were some grasses coming out of the snow as well

All the snow around made for a great boreal setting

Here she is coming back to her fence post

After she was done posing for us, we went to check out a local red-phase screech owl but he wasn't as compliant and all we came away with was a picture of his hideout

No owls here :(

 The next day we went out we tried for Great Grays. Armed with my new BIF knowledge it made getting these elusive birds much easier (so only very hard instead of extremely hard) to get. But, luckly we had enough sightings of owls to come away with some great shots eventually!

One of the secrets to getting these owls is they prefer cloudy mornings with no wind. The first 3 days we were up at the bog we didn't see a single Great Gray. Then we saw one which was immediately scared off by someone speeding by in their car. The next day we went looking it was sunny but calm, so we saw 3 (two sightings probably the same owl) in a total of 8 hours. It was a bad day for Grays but I did come away with a couple.

The next day was the last day of our trip and we were SUPER LUCKY!!! It was overcast, snowing, and no wind at all! Perfect weather for the owls! We saw 5 sightings of Grays, probably only 2-3 individual owls, but that offered a lot of chances to photograph them. And they didn't care a single bit that we were there. One even perched on a tree for 10-20 minutes!

These guys, although very large (24-33 inches with 53.9–60.2 in wingspan), can hide so well. Look how well these guys are camouflaged

And of course, this was my favorite image of the trip.. really really lucky to get this one!!

(Disclosure: I missed almost half his right wing when I took this picture. I had to use the previous picture's wing to put into this one.. the previous picture was unfocused so I couldn't use it.)

All in all (or should I say "owl in owl") my hubby and I had an excellent time in the arctic tundra of Minnesota. It was beautiful there, as it always is, even in the winter.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A very owly winter

As my friends and family know, I've been a very busy photographer since November and the owls have come out. I've spent nearly every weekend away from home looking for owls to photograph! This is the first year I've been able to find so many, since my birding friends have kept me up-to-date on recent sightings and local hangouts for owls.

This guy here, a Barred Owl, only lives about 15 minutes away from me! Here he is peeking out of a hole he likes to hide in.

Here he is again in the snow, looking sleepy.

There's two trees he hangs out at during the months of November to March along the Beach Road in Crooked Creek State Park.. This one with the hole he's been at more recently, but there's another one I've seen him in earlier in the year. Here are some of the first pictures I've taken of him in the other tree..

Not as photogenic of a perch I must say. Many branches in the way that you kinda have to find the spot where they're out of focus enough so you can get a good view of him.

Anyway, he's one of two barred owls in the park, I heard them making monkey sounds at each other one night. Here's a video of the sound they make (Not my video!)

I also heard them calling individually and I'm surprised as to how distinguishable they are! The one has a shorter, matter-of-fact call. "Who cooks for you. Who cooks for you all." The other has a longer and more syllable-stressed call, more of a "Who COOKS for YOU who COOKS for you alllllllllllll.."

Here's a recording of the second one that I took..

It's so cool to have an owl living so close to my house! One that I never knew about for all the years I've lived here!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Never eat anything bigger than your head

We bought a shiny new kayak a few weeks ago, and we finally got to take it out for its maiden voyage. We went up to Moraine State Park (a favorite of mine) and went looking for our buddy, the Great Egret. We found him at his usual spot, across the lake from the waterfowl observatory, but we couldn't get very close due to the abundance of lily pads and weeds. We did, however, find an osprey farther in the lake, and I got a shot of  him taking off, and then I noticed the nice fish he had! If I had noticed sooner, I would've asked him to share, since it was lunchtime and my stomach was already growling.

We fished for a bit, and I noticed a kingfisher looking pretty sitting silhouetted against the sky..

We head out towards the other end of the lake then, fishing along the way and watching for any birds. We see some Great Blue Herons out in the distance, as well as some Mallards.
Then I see our friend flying and land on the other side of the lake from us. We head on over, and see he's hunting. He's so involved in hunting, he doesn't even give us a thought.

In fact, we had paddled a bit ahead of him, and he got within 8 feet of our boat! I thought he was going to walk right over us! Then he took off and landed about twelve feet behind us and continued his hunt.
Merely an appetizer!

Ooooh I see dinner!
 We followed, since he wasn't concerned with us, and we were in for a treat! Look at the size of that one!

Mom always said never eat anything bigger than your head...

My hubby and I were betting back and forth "He's not going to get that down!" I bet he would.  I heard of one in Florida eating a crocodile once.

...I'll prove her wrong! Just watch!

Sure enough, after much effort on his part, the fish was in the gullet!

Now just the tail..

Now for dessert!
 And I thought that osprey was hungry..

Before we left to get some dinner too, we did see a few unexpected folks,

Yellow rumped warbler, and a Black-throated green warbler! Didn't expect to see them from our kayak. They seem to be the most abundant of the warblers these last few weeks. A nice ending to a nice day of birding!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Short birding trip after work

We went birding on Friday the 13th, after work, Steve, Brian and I. I got a few lifers, a Black and White warbler, a Bay Breasted warbler, and this Magnolia warbler. She was the only one I got a decent shot of, however. So I thought I'd share it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Just a quick update, folks! Cornell Lab of Ornithology has chosen another one of my pictures (second one to date!) to post on their homepage Click here to see it Sept 12-19th 2013 Make sure to scroll all the way to the bottom!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

To be a waterfowl, observe!

Went out to Moraine State Park today, and I got to try out my dad's fishing kayak. We spotted a great egret from the waterfowl observation deck, so I wanted to go in for a closer look.

Taken by my dad

The lake by the deck was almost completely grown in by lily pads and other water plants, but I managed to slowly maneuver close to where the egret was. As I snuck up on the egret, I noticed some people at the observation deck, observing me! Now I know what it's like to be a waterfowl...kinda sorta?

A red-tailed hawk flies overhead

Osprey fishing technique (I should try it out someday)

So after an hour of creeping up on him and getting side tracked taking pictures of other birds, I finally get up pretty close to the egret and get some pictures in..

I think he noticed me....

"What's that?? It doesn't look like a waterfowl! I'd better fly away!"

He didn't stick around very long, (I guess I didn't fool him with my waterfowl act) but I got these other pictures of a dragonfly, a great blue heron in a tree...

I'm not a bird, but here I am posing please take my picture!

"What do you mean, great blue heron?? There's no herons here! Only us tree limbs! Nope, no great blue herons."

All in all, it was a good day. Birding total of the day was: 3 great blue herons, one osprey, one red tailed hawk, one great egret, 4 turkey vultures, 2 belted kingfishers, a bunch of canada geese, and a bunch of mallard ducks.