Saturday, November 7, 2009

Owl Watch

The female stares down at me.
I headed outside late this afternoon just as the sun was coloring the western sky over the foothills. I looked for the owls in the cottonwoods near the guest cabin. That spot, over-looking the pond, has been a favorite daytime roost for them at this time of year, but I've not seen them there often this fall.
I crossed the irrigation ditch, which is now dry, and walked slowly through the upper end of the small pasture. Raising my eyes to a large tree standing along the farther ditch, I spotted the familiar dumpy oval of a perching owl. I approached the tree, hoping for a vantage point to photograph the owl without too many branches in the way. As I stood under the tree, fiddling with the camera's zoom, a second owl, the female, whooshed from a higher branch and flew to another tree in back of the old barn. I have to see the owl pair together to discern the male from the female. These are great-horned owls and the female is the larger of the two.

Crossing another loop of the ditch and scrunching through dry leaves, I came to the backside of the tree where I had noticed the first owl. He had moved around and was now facing me as I approached. There began a process of trying to get a clear shot, while he cranked his head about in that familiar owlish way. Stooping under the tree to try for a better angle I found that the owl was now peeking at me from between the limbs.

The female silhouetted against the darkening sky.

By now, grandson D. had joined me and we stood on the edge of the ditch bank gazing up at the female owl. At one point she made a sound: "Acckkk!" and snapped her beak rather menacingly. I wondered if she was hacking up a "pellet" but didn't see anything fall. She may have been expressing distaste at being followed.
By now the flash was activating on the camera and there was "red eye" which didn't edit out as well as I would like. The fading western light was behind the owl and it was much darker where I stood under her tree. If you enlarge this, the pattern of her feathers is fascinating.

Fiery clouds linger as the sun disappears.

As I walked back along the hedgerow between the two owl perches, darkness moved in. The owls were keeping up a muted conversation of "whoo-whoo." Seconds after I snapped this, the female soared from her branch, flew low across the pasture and landed in the cottonwood near the cabin.

The female, viewed from across the pasture as the sky turned to an inky violet.
Her mate, meanwhile, had begun to shuffle his feet and shrug his wings. In a moment he too launched into heavy silent flight, coming to rest on top of the power pole just above the pond.

Looking across the pond as night moves in, bringing an instant chill to the air. The owls have soared off silently, beginning their nocturnal hunting.

My hands were thoroughly chilled from handling the camera. I made a mug of tea to warm my insides and for the comfort of clasping the hot china.


  1. Lovely post, you are lucky to get such good sightings of owls. We have Tawny owls in our area, I hear them all the time right outside but only rarely do I actually see them. At present as I walk in the woods I'm looking for signs of trees where the owls roost but so far I haven't found any telltale white splodges or scatter of pellets.

  2. What beautiful creatures the 'peek a boo' shot.
    I also delight in clicking on your landscape shots as, when they fill the screen, it is as though I am looking through a window at them. The firey sky is breathtaking and looks as though a wood beneath, is actually on fire. The night time shot looks nothing until it is enlarged and then all the magic of the chilly evening outside can be experienced. Thanks for sharing xx

  3. I LOVE these Owl Pictures!! I never see one around here although I do sometimes hear one across the pond hooting at night! :)

  4. Like Rowan, we have lots of Tawny owls but hear them rather than see them. Jolly unsporting I call it! I love your sunset.