Hawk Owl Love!

Somehow it would be difficult to imagine the two Northern Hawk Owls having a song written about their love in a manner similar to the Captain and Tennille’s hit, Muskrat Love! However, make no mistake about it; these two birds which I found in The Big Bog are an item. The female had a rather nice day. She just perched in the tops of various trees, enjoying the unseasonably warm February sun while the male hunted and caught voles which were then presented to her as evidence of his affection! While I was never able to record one of these exchanges on camera as it would occur 1/4 mile plus away from my location, it was fun to watch. I do have one image of the two owls sharing a tree at the end of this post. Given all the hunting the male was doing, both for himself and his lady friend, I was able to capture a few flight shots.

Flight Shots!

The Hunter!

Singing Out! (i.e. The male is singing / hooting to his love in this image. The owl does not open its mouth, but you can see the ruffling neck feathers)

Do not block my favorite hunting perch! (i.e. this is what you see just before a hawk owl zooms by your head at a distance of less than two feet! It landed on a snag eight yards behind me.)

Northern Hawk Owl Love … the female is on the upper left.

Blue and Gold Bog Birds! (plus a Hawk Owl)

Rumors of a Northern Hawk Owl pulled me away from the Lake Superior owling grounds and up to Sax-Zim Bog. The morning was foggy and damp due to all the recent snow melt, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. I first drove to where the Northern Hawk Owl had been seen two days prior and had immediate success. However, given the owl was rather deep into the forest in combination with the dark conditions, I decided to make my first visit to Mary Lou’s feeders and check out the new photographer’s blind.

Wow, and I repeat wow! The blind is fantastic and by arriving by 8:30 am the birds were still actively feeding. I saw huge numbers of:

  • Black Capped Chickadees
  • Blue Jays
  • Common Redpolls
  • Evening Grosbeaks
  • Pine Grosbeaks
  • Pine Siskins
  • Red Nuthatches
  • White Nuthatcches

In addition, two trumpeters swans flew over … a rare event for mid February, and both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers were present. After my trip to Mary Lou’s, I made two more stops to see the Hawk Owl. While I never had good light, it was fun to watch this rare bird hunt.

Evening Grosbeak

Blue Jay

Northern Hawk Owl

Spending the Weekend at Frostbite Falls!

Molly and I were off the grid this past weekend, up at Frostbite Falls next to Minnesota’s northern border with Canada. While we did not find Bullwinkle J. Moose, the area itself did not disappoint. We stayed at Naniboujou Lodge. Our stay was a gift from our middle son and his wife in thanks for our support of their recent union, both financial and otherwise. ┬áThis Lodge is near the Canadian border and has a gorgeous spot on Lake Superior. The area is so remote that there is no cell coverage, and Naniboujou prides itself on NOT providing wifi access for their guests. The goals is to unhook, unwind, and relax!

I believe the goal was accomplished. Here are a few photographs I took over the weekend. From a photography vantage point please note how the horizon is not at the center of each photo. With photography, the lines of the photograph which draw the viewer into the image should make themselves evident, but not necessarily the middle. This is often a common mistake of beginning photographers … splitting the picture in half between sky and ground.

Good Morning Minnesota, Good Morning Michigan! I captured the moment of sunrise over the Susie Islands (Minnesota) and Isle Royale (Michigan) on Saturday morning. The Suzie Islands are the eastern most point in Minnesota. The overlook on Mount Josephine allows one to also see Isle Royale National Park in the distance.

Frostbite Falls, Minnesota! Actually, you are looking at the frozen high falls on the Pigeon River. This river is the international border between the USA and Canada.

Sunrise Splash on Unknown Beach, Lake Superior! I just liked this beach and the frozen point in the distance. The time is shortly after sunrise.

Sunrise over Horseshoe Bay! (near Hovland on Lake Superior)

Cree Indian Lodge Ceiling at Naniboujou Lodge

Great Gray Owl on the Hunt!

Yesterday evening I finally captured a good photograph of a Great Gray Owl hunting. Over the past two weeks, I have hiked many miles of trails, driven many back roads and watched an incredible number of owls in my quest to get some good images of the “gray ghost of the forest” while it was hunting. Here is the result of the quest!

Lift Off! Vole in Sights!

From this point on I want to take a different tack with this post. Why has it been so difficult for me, a decent wildlife photographer, to obtain a hunting photo? Perhaps because I refuse to bait owls with pet shop mice?

Have you ever seen a dramatic photograph of an owl reaching with its talons to grab a mouse or a vole? While the image may not involve baiting, please consider that Great Gray Owls hunt by hearing their prey beneath the snow. Mice and voles normally do not run on top of the snow. With their phenomenal hearing, these owls triangulate their prey, strike and punch through the snow. In addition, while watching owls hunt I can personally attest that the habitat in which you find Great Grays normally has “meadow like” sections, but there are always trees, snags, brush and other stuff which often prevents a straight line of sight to where the owl ultimately strikes the snow in search of its prey. After all, an owl sitting on top of a tree while hunting may fly in any direction. If you doubt that fact, find yourself an owl, and watch how it turns its head almost 180 degrees from the way it is facing. Are you are able to predict in which direction will be its next flight?

My friend, Michael Furtman, who is a great outdoor photographer and author has been writing a series of Facebook posts on the issue of owl baiting. For those of you not familiar with the issue, photographers w/o any conservation morals purchase pet shop mice and set up each photograph. In short, they sacrifice a life for every photograph in their quest for the perfect raptor hunting image. In addition the owl gets accustomed to humans which is dangerous. These are wild creatures which need to survive in the wild. Associating humans with food is dangerous for them. If you want to do some follow-up research on the subject of owl baiting, browse to these sources.

Now back to yesterday afternoon and my quest to capture a good Great Gray Owl hunting image. Notice how my photo given above was not taken on a bright sunny day. Owls hate bright light (sunny days) and high winds. These birds are nocturnal and hunt by hearing their prey (windy conditions make it hard to hear mice or voles). Thus, yesterday afternoon was perfect for owling … light snow, darker skies and calm winds. From a photography vantage point the conditions were horrible. A baiter would want to find an owl on a bright sunny day, and lure it out of its deep cover with pet shop mice because of the perfect photographic conditions.

In total I spent almost 2 and 1/2 hours with this particular owl yesterday, both in the early morning and late afternoon. This owl was not a “roadside owl” which folks are able to photograph from their cars. Instead I had hiked deep into the forest to good habitat, and found a cooperative owl. Not once did this owl flush due to my presence. I kept my distance and let the bird hunt.

Here are some of my “failure photos” and two images which show the habitat in which the owl was hunting. These pictures are as important as my success image for demonstrating why I often find the perfect owl pictures suspect.

Yesterday’s Owl Habitat on the Ground. My owl captured a vole with this strike, but it was impossible for me to get a clean photograph. I was slogging through knee deep snow, and obviously had no idea where voles were running underneath the snow.

Owl Hunting Photos: Failure #1 – Hmm … the owl did not fly directly at me! Light snow!

Owl Hunting Photos: Failure #2 – Eh gads… the owl flew away from me again. Not fair!

Great Gray Owl Thinking … I’m performing. Why can’t you get one of those perfect hunting images. What kind of photographer are you?!