Archive for Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl Fledgling

Posted in Natural History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2015 by chamimage
A fledgeling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

A fledgling great horned owl on a cottonwood tree limb in spring.

I checked in on these Great Horned owl fledglings last week at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. I do every year.

In fact, it occurred to me that I might have photographed at least one of the parents when they were babies, too, though it looks like their typical lifespan is thirteen years so maybe not. I’ve been coming back to this nest site for about five or six years.

Some years they are still in the nest at this time of year. This year they are all over the place and flying up into trees. This one was hyperactive, its sibling was sedate. I think the sibling may have been sick. It kept its left eye closed much of the time and rarely moved around. It did grab this one’s tail in his beak and give it a yank so wasn’t too sick for pranks.

This year the beavers built a dam and the place was flooded, limiting the sight lines for photograph. And most of the trees were girdled and some were down. Park staff said they were going to relocate the beavers and it appears they have already done so. This is an old homestead with one old building still standing and they wanted to preserve it.

This year too many people knew about this site. It has always been my little secret, but somebody must have found it and posted it on some birder’s site. I didn’t see it mentioned on the grease board for sightings at headquarters. When there were other cars here I just kept on going, not wanting to add to the stress to the birds. I did notice that they always started in this tree in the morning and by evening were either across the water or deeper into the woods, as if they were escaping the onslaught of birders. If park staff notice the activity here it will probably be off limits next year until the chicks are fully fledged.

I use my 600 mm lens with a 1.7x teleconverter (1000 mm) when I photograph them to be able to keep my distance and they seem happy to go about their normal activity while I am there, with only the occasional withering gaze inherent to GH owls. I even saw one of the parents come in with a mouse. Of course this one immediately flew over for it and the sibling didn’t budge.

I saw a short-eared owl and a long-eared owl this year. I got only a badly focused photograph of the short-ear and blew it on the long-ear…twice.

The great horned nest at Page Springs campground was empty, which was a blessing because that blasted owl has kept me awake with her hooting more nights than I care to remember and it was blissfully quiet this year.


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.



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

Malheur Spring Trip

Posted in Photo Stories, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by chamimage

Forster's Tern

Everybody thinks they, personally, have the worst vacation weather karma. I say it doesn’t really count as bad until it’s “you have to be evacuated” bad. I was woken by the ranger standing outside of my tent at 5 am yesterday and told to get the hell out while I still could. I was camped at Page Springs at the base of  Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon and the only road leading in to the camp was washing out from the torrential rains we had been having. I made it out (amazing how fast a guy can take down a tent when he is motivated). The dirt road was going to be toast soon, with that fast moving water running over it. I had just seen a larger road that had already washed out the day before so I was familiar with Nature’s work.

It is already a high water year in the Steens drainage from the snow melt. The city of Burns has been in danger of flooding for the past couple of weeks from the Silvies River. I had the unsettling experience of driving the central patrol road in Malheur Wildlife Refuge ( and looking over to notice that the Blitzen River about twenty feet away was actually higher than the road I was driving on. Nothing but a vulnerable looking dirt berm between me and the river and it had about a foot left before being topped. I’d seen enough breaches in that berm in the past couple of days to worry.

I kept on driving on home after breaking camp because the refuge roads were getting muddy and soft and my suspicion is that they washed out after the overnight rains. Malheur Lake is getting water from the Blitzen River AND the Silvies River this year. Since it is a shallow lake, the expected rise of 4.5 feet will expand its perimeter by quite a ways. The middle of the lake might actually get to nine feet deep this year. You would have to walk a couple of miles to get to the middle, but your knees would be dry most of the way. Party Trivia – Malheur Lake is the exception to the rule that none of the rivers or lakes in the Great Basin empty into, well, pretty much anything except thin air. In a high water year like this Malheur Lake empties into the Malheur River and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

I just read this morning that Malheur NWF is the largest fresh water marsh in the U.S. The extra marshiness this year has spread the birds out and limited the activity of the deer and other mammals, so it was not as good for me, photographically, as previous years. The owls and neotropical migrants were unaffected.

I never did get to go look for wild horses. Friday was too bright and hot and after that the roads turned to mud and the wild horse road is a Bad road with a capital B in dry weather. The weather was predicted to be cloudy with a chance of rain and I thought cloudy sounded better for wild horse photographs and put it off. Even while it was thunder and lightning and hail the radio was still cheerily predicting a few clouds and chance of rain.

Then it poured. And poured. My tent stayed passably dry’ish, but I had to wear earplugs to sleep due to the roar of the wind through the cottonwoods and the large rain drops hitting the tent.

The only other time I’ve had to be evacuated wasn’t technically due to weather, it was a forest fire on Strawberry Mountain near John Day, Oregon. I was hiking and the wisp of smoke ahead turned to a plume and then a solid wall before the Forest Service plane started buzzing me, a not too subtle message to get the hell out of there. Amazing how fast you can hike off of a mountain when motivated.

Great Horned Owl