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.

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