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I spent a morning with a couple of puffed up Great Horned Owlets, in north Iowa, stretching their legs and wings and probably getting close to fledging the nest. We had a bit of a staring contest from about 30 yards away. I watched for about 3 1/2 hours and did not see any adult owls, but I'm sure that they saw me and were keeping their distance.
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Watch the video:
I had an opportunity to photograph the resident education birds at the Iowa Raptor Project near Solon, IA and Lake MacBride State Park. Each bird has a unique story of how it was injured and can't be returned to the wild. They are now education birds open to the public to view the birds and learn about raptors. This is a joint project of Kirkwood Community College and The University of Iowa Recreational Services. [Click the images to see larger and read the descriptions.]
I took another trip to visit the rare Burrowing Owl in Humboldt county, IA. I watched for about 5 hours from the car and it stayed near the burrow the entire time. About every 20 minutes or so it would stand on the top on the dirt mound at the burrow and vocalize in every direction. I believe that it was calling for a mate, which seems unlikely that he would find one being so far from normal breeding territory. In the images below the owl has his head on backwards, Yes, you are looking at the back side - note the tail feathers. (Click images to see larger and watch the video below.)
Watch the short video below...
There are a lot of different birds and wildlife to be found in the Sax-Zim Bog area in Northern Minnesota, you just need to spend some time driving around to find them. All photos were taken with the long telephoto lens from the car, except for the Northern Hawk Owl. I had to hike back in the the woods to get that one this time to get better lighting. But it was very high at the top of a very tall spruce tree looking and listening for voles under the snow. The Great Gray Owl and Pileated Woodpecker were both quick grab shots out the window and then they flew away. There are so many more birds and wildlife that I didn't get, but because of heavy snow I decided to head home early.
Click the pictures below to see larger in a slide show.
I was thrilled to get photos of a Boreal Owl in northern Minnesota. They are one of the smaller owls in North America, at about 10 inches only about the same size as a Burrowing Owl and two inches larger than the Northern Saw-Whet Owl and similar in stature. The facial disk of the Boreal Owl is framed in black and it has a light colored beak, where the Northern Saw-Whet Owl has a black beak and white eyebrows. The habitat of the Boreal Owl is primarily Canada, Alaska and the Northern Rockies, so it gets a lot of attention when seen in the northern states in the Winter. I was fortunate to meet someone to show me where to find one. With a 600mm lens and 1.4 extender, effectively 840mm, I was able to keep my distance from the bird and still get some fairly close up photos, but I did still need to crop the images in the computer to get the close-up view. Boreal Owls and Northern Saw-whet owls are both very approachable, and generally don't seem to be bothered by photographers if not getting too close and making noise or commotion. Some bird books identify them as being 'tame', but I think tolerant is a better description. They don't want to expend any extra energy to fly away, because they need that energy to hunt every night.
Finding one isn't easy. Below is a medium view of the under brush as seen from the road while driving by. There is a Boreal owl in the upper right quadrant of this photo. Can you find It? Neither could I when standing in front of it, until someone pointed out the owl to me. The images below were taken on different occasions. Click the images below to see larger.
A Short video (no audio):
I've been to the Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota (northwest of Duluth) five times to photograph Great Gray Owls and other birds and wildlife. I have hoped every time to photography a Northern Hawk Owl, but have struck out the first four trips, until this past weekend. I've been following the Sax Zim Bog group on Facebook and seen numerous postings of Northern Hawk Owls every week since November. I finally got up there and found a couple near the road. It was -7 F degrees the first day I was there and -12 F the second day, yet, there were dozens of photographers and bird watchers with the same idea as me. I didn't really locate the birds myself. I found a dozen or more cars stopped on one of the roads with lots of big lenses pointed up in the trees. There are no pull-outs on the gravel county roads where these birds tend to hunt for food, so birders and photographers must stop on the road to take photos. The owl will sit on a branch or the top of a tree to get a good view to watch and listen for voles (their main food) under the snow, then launch off of the branch driving their talons in the the snow with amazing precision to grab a vole that was under the snow. But, how long do we have to wait in the sub-zero temperature to see them hunt? It could be minutes or hours, or the bird could just decide to instead fly off in to the woods and take a nap deep in the trees. I was lucky this time to see the owl catch three wild voles and quickly eat them. I did not photography any Great Great Owls on this trip (darn) but I did get a few other birds and mammals - see below.
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Other birds and animals at the bog.
There are several places where there are bird feeders that attract many birds and other wildlife. Below is a female Pine Grosbeak (a first for me), a Common Redpoll (I didn't see any Hoary Redpolls), a Gray Jay, and a chatty Red Squirrel (marauders of the bird feeders). These are just a few of the many Winter residents of the Sax-Zim Bog, plus one more below these photos.
Yay. My first Snowy Owl this winter. I've driven hundreds of miles already this winter looking for a snowy owl to photograph in Iowa. Despite reliable reports from other birders and photographers I have not found one where I could get a good photo. I did see one last week about 75 yards from the road but it was well after sunset with just a little light in the sky, but not enough to get a good photo. Tonight I went for a drive with my 13 year-old grandson to look in the same area as last week near Wesley (Hancock County) and he spotted this one on a power pole about a mile west of the one I had seen last week. We stopped about 100 yards away and I took a few photos out the sun-roof of the car just at sunset.. This image taken with a 600mm lens is heavily cropped as we did not want to approach too close. Snowy Owls in Iowa are often stressed at this time of year after a long migratory flight from the northern tundra. They have to work pretty hard to find enough mice and voles to eat and may be under weight and suffer from malnutrition. They need to conserve their energy, and approaching too close or getting out of the car to photograph them can cause them to unnecessarily fly away.
Update: There was a great article in the Des Moines Register about the Snowy Owls in Iowa - Read here.
Moorehead Pioneer Park near Ida Grove, Iowa is a mecca for wintering Northern Saw-Whet Owls. They have been there every winter for many years. Local volunteer at the park, Don Poggensee, helped me find three owls, but I wasn't able to get good photos of all three. These tiny owls roost during the day in the branches of pine trees about 6 to 12 feet off the ground, sometimes in very thick branch cover. They are difficult to find but usually easy to approach if done quietly, and generally won't flush while taking photos because they need to conserve their energy for flying and hunting at night. Two of the owls were clutching a dead mouse in their talons on the branch and did not move at all while we observed them. Very cool.
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Bruce and Suzanne (Great Gray Owl photo taken at Sax Zim Bog, MN, Jan. 2, 2015)
When I am out photographing birds, wildlife and landscapes I occasionally shoot some video at the same time. Here is a little video sampler of some of our photo adventures over the past few years. The still photos can be found throughout this web site.
I started out the new year taking pictures of Pine Siskins and House Finches in the back yard, very distant photos of Snowy Owl near Ventura, IA, then headed up to Sax-Zim Bog northwest of Duluth, MN to try to get pictures of a Great Grey Owl. This was my second trip (see previous post from February of 2014). I was lucky this time and got pictures of two different Great Grey Owls on Admiral Road and McDavitt Road that were fairly cooperative in allowing several photographers and birders to get some pictures from a distance with telephoto lenses while the owls were searching for an easy meal. It was fun watching one owl swoop down and land on a mouse in the snow (wild mouse - not baited). It was a dark, cloudy, dreary day, with snow and sleet in the morning. Not my favorite kind of day for bird pictures - a little too dark, but I got a few photos. Others included Purple Finches, Common Redpolls, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Gray Jays, Chickadees, a Barred Owl and many more. There were also several Red Squirrels. I did not get to see a Snowy Owl , nor a Northern Hawk-Owl which often frequent the area in the Winter, and apparently I just missed and Ermine. Maybe next time. There is no guarantee that you will see a Great Grey Owl if you go to the bog. It is a very larger area covering many square miles. Some people go to visit and never see an owl of any kind. Watch the Sax-Zim Bog Facebook page for recent reports. and drive around the likely areas many times. Early in the morning at sunrise and late in the afternoon at sunset are usually the better times, but it can vary day-to-day. Good luck if you decide to go. Be sure to stop at the visitor's center on Owl Avenue, where there are lots of opportunities to see and photograph smaller birds at the many feeders.
You can learn more about the bog and find maps here - http://sax-zimbog.com/
[Click the pictures below to see larger.] More Owl photos here...
Short Video of the Great Grey Owl (click below):
Friday, January 2, 2015, Admiral Road
Just a few notes about my photos. See more on Facebook.