Snowy Owl Hat Trick!

In the movie “Dances With Wolves”, Kevin Costner spends his time with a wolf. For me yesterday it was all about Snowy Owls. This winter season has been incredible in terms of the number of Snowy Owls which have migrated down from the Arctic. Since late October, I have personally hand captured / saved two owls which were in distress.

These events as well as my outdoorsy reputation have led to me being included in an article by Minnesota Public Radio, been featured as the Star Tribune’s first outdoors people profile, and other media items via news networks as far away as Europe.

Yesterday I decided my recent fascination with Great Gray Owls needed a break. Thus, instead of birding the wilderness north of town, I concentrated on industrial haunts in search of Snowy Owls. I was not disappointed. Here are some images of three owls I found, returning shortly before dusk when the male Snowy Owl would be active, and not sleeping.

Snowy Owl Sunset

Snowy Ears … Rather than Rabbit Ears (cut the cord!)

Sleepy Snowy Eating Snow

Railroad Tracks Snowy Owl

Didn’t this bird’s Mom teach it not to play on railroad tracks?!

Dinner with Two of America’s Top Naturalists! (and a Boreal Owl)

Over the past two days I have been privileged to bird with Paul Bannick, who amongst other items is a senior staff member for Conservation Northwest. Knowing that he and Sparky Stensaas were good friends, after yesterday’s birding excursion Molly and I hosted everyone for dinner. (Sparky is the executive director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog)

While we were having a glass of wine, Sparky was glancing at Paul’s new book, A Year in the Lives of North American Owls. Wow!  and I repeat Wow! Sparky immediately recognized the location of a particular photograph based upon some willows in the background of an image. This started an interesting test which truly amazed me. Paul would open the book to a given page, and then test Sparky’s knowledge. Could the location of the photograph be determined based upon the various plant life in the photograph, or the minor plumage variations of a given owl. I was dumbfounded how easily these two individuals could recognize the location of a given bird based upon plant life, etc.

Obviously the past two days were a treat for me. While I provided some local habitat knowledge, Paul was extremely generous is helping further my education about birds, and often specifically owls. Here are some of images I took over the past two days.

Day 1 was ugly, and not a good day for owling. The wind was screaming out of the Northwest in excess of 20 mph, and the snow came down almost non-stop. Somehow we found four owls. At one point we even stood in the middle of a pasture braving the -30F chill factors to photograph a Northern Hawk Owl.

Boreal Owl in the Duluth area

Northern Hawk Owl at -30F Windchill (Oh man it was cold while photographing this bird. Paul got a minor case of frostbite)

Great Gray Hiding from the Wind & Snow (We went back four hours later; the owl had not moved one inch. This spot captured what little solar warmth was available, and was out of the wind. The final image was taken during the second visit … sleepy owl)

Day 2 was fantastic … calm winds and +4F temperatures

Pileated Woodpecker … expressing its opinion about all these owl photographs

Northern Hawk Owl on the Hunt

Great Gray Owl on the Hunt

 And a Talon Shot

Snowy Owl in a Snow Storm!

A winter storm hit the Duluth area this morning. Wind driven snow is being blown out of the Northwest at 29 mph. Now most people might think these are lousy conditions for birding, but for me it just increases the challenge. Since in Duluth photographing a polar bear in a blizzard is impossible, I looked for the next best thing … a Snowy Owl. I will admit a bit of luck was involved in capturing this image. The wind and snow abated a touch for a few minutes, and during this respite the owl I was watching telegraphed to me it was about to take off. The strong wind meant of was able to take quite a few photographs as the bird had to flap its wings quite a few times to get moving forward.

Before the storm hit last night I went up the shore a bit and found this Great Gray Owl hunting at sunset. Although the light conditions were very dark due to the heavy clouds and light freezing rain, I was still able to get some neat images. Don’t be afraid to run the ISO up on your camera. These owl photographs were taken with an ISO of 3,200. In both the flight shot for each owls, the wings are a bit blurry. This adds to the impression of motion, but it is important to still have image focused correctly … in this case the eyes.