Archive for Bubo virginianus

Death Stalks on Silent Wings

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2015 by chamimage

Owl Silhouette

I was staying in Klamath Falls, photographing owls and bald eagles, at the Klamath Wildlife Refuges when I read in the newspaper that we had an owl problem back home in Salem, Oregon.

Around mid-January a jogger (local surgeon) running at 5:15 am in a city park was hit in the back of his head with what he assumed was a two by four. Looking around he saw nothing. Later, it was determined that he was attacked by a barred owl (Strix varia). Three other joggers have had the honor of repeating his experience since then. All have been running before dawn or after sunset, basically pretty dark out there. One jogger lost his favorite Nike cap and never got it back.

It was assumed the owl is nesting nearby and is protecting its territory, but no nest has ever been found to my knowledge.

I went to the park when I got back to find the owl in question and was not successful. Nobody has seen it in the day time so maybe it is roosting or nesting away from the park and only hunting squirrels there in the dark. I did notice a paucity of squirrels. Maybe he tired of having to chase joggers off and gave up and moved out.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I don’t have any images of a barred owl. They are relatively new to Oregon, being a bird of eastern forests. Their presence here in Oregon has been problematic in other ways. Remember in the 1990’s when the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered and old growth forest logging was essentially shut down to protect the spotted owls? Those same spotted owls are now being decimated and will likely go extinct due to the invasion of barred owls into their territory. They are similar owls in many respects. Both feature black eyes. The barred owls are more aggressive and are out-competing and driving out the spotted owls. The Forest Service now has a trial program of killing barred owls in northern California to see if it has any effect on the spotted owls and is feasible. 3,600 barred owls will be shot. The biologist involved described this as a classic Sophie’s Choice, deciding who will live and who will die when there is no clear fairness in the result.

The image directly above is of an owl I found early in the day when the sun was behind him. I came back in the evening when I knew he would be front-lit. I got near to his position, but there was a car behind me so I stopped at a porta pottie so as not to leads other to him and burden his life with too many people knowing of his location. To my dismay, when I came out of the latrine the driver behind me had not only seen the owl and stopped (I suspect he already knew he was there as well) but his stopping had created an owl jam with three other cars stopped. At that point I gave up on the stealth approach and drove up and got my images. Instead of a quick shot out the window of my car turned into stopping and putting the camera on the tripod. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. By that time there were six cars stopped.

The title of this post refers to the silent flight of owls, which is unique. It hardly seems fair that they hunt at night and are completely silent in flight. They pay for the silent flight with feathers that are not able to repel water. Apparently you can be water-resistant or silent, but not both. Another fact I learned from Nature last week is that an owl’s feathers weigh more than its skeleton. Hollow bones.

At the Klamath wildlife refuge a biologist said that one morning when they came to work they found the head of a barn owl on the sidewalk. At first they thought they were victim to a boyhood prank, but later decided that it was a gift from a resident great horned owl. Owls like to behead their prey before eating them (perhaps they can’t digest the relatively dense skull?) and in the case of great horned owls they tend to spread body parts about their territory, probably for the same reason gangsters put horse heads in people’s beds.

Sunset

Sunset

The owl silhouette at the top was taken in one of these trees a few minutes later.

A good reference book on owls I “Owls of the United States and Canada” written by my friend Wayne Lynch.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Saw-whet Owl

Owl Chick

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2009 by chamimage
Great Horned Owl Chick

Great Horned Owl Chick

     This little Great Horned owl chick probably thought I couldn’t see him. I might not have, either, were it not for his big old mom planted right out in the open right next to him. It was god-awful hot and poor mom had to be facing the intense sun to be with her baby. She was panting heavily with her mouth open. Where was dad? I found him back on a nice shady branch right over some cool running water. He was cool as a cucumber.

     I used a Nikon D300 with a 600 mm VR lens and a 1.7x teleconverter. According to my EXIF file that equates to a 1500 mm lens in 35 mm speak. I like to give them a little breathing room, especially when they are already stressed by the heat. I also cut my time with them real short. I met a black and white fine art photographer while I was at Malheur. He said his longest lens is a 300 mm because he likes to form a close connection with his subject. That is close enough in most animals to create major stress, as well as unnatural behavior. My biggest compliment comes when critters ignore me and go on with whatever they are doing, which is what this chick and his mom mostly did. That makes for more natural natural history photographs as well. Otherwise they all just have deer-in-the-headlights expressions. 

     The above photograph is an example of how knowing a little bit about the natural history of your animal subject can make you a more productive photographer. I was driving by the place this was taken a few years back and I noticed that these trees were the only large trees for miles around, and they were surrounded by rodent-infested farm fields. I hypothesized that there had to be an owl in those trees. I was right and I have gone back for portraits of each generation since then.

     The bottom photograph was taken at Malheur NWR, also. It was taken so long ago that it was on film, which for me means before 2005. I scanned the slide back then and the quality was just not good. But I think about this photograph every time I pass this spot ever since then so I went back to the slide and scanned it again and voila! Either I didn’t get the scanner focused the first time, or the scanner software upgrades have helped, or I’m just a better Photoshop artist (likely all three), but now this photograph rocks my boat. It was taken in the fall when the big mule deer bucks, who know the meaning of the word refuge, all migrate into Malheur. They are a bit cocky and sometimes like to stand or walk in the road and hold up traffic just to remind you its their refuge (during deer hunting season no less).

Mule Deer Bucks

Mule Deer Bucks