Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snowl Owls - AT NIGHT

I'm pretty happy with these...

So there I was, driving around county roads at sundown. I had just been inundated with Snowy Owls over the previous ~3 hours (22 birds) and was ready to drift off into some form of Snowy slumber... The sky faded to a pastel pink as I snapped my final images of a distant bird preparing for its evening hunt. 

It was at that very moment, that precise instant in time; that a very profound thought took focus in my mind. Is this how the PeregrinePrints ... Blog rolls? Is THIS how the ... Blog ROLLS?! I DON'T THINK SO!!!

Let's cut the lovey dovey stuff and get right into the facts. The sun was going down - but that wasn't going to stop me from enjoying Snowy Owls. This is the " ... Blog" gawd dang it! 


I noticed a few individuals perched high on telephone poles, many of which flushed as my car approached. They looked strong and alert, unlike the "roosting" individuals we typically see during the day. I know they are often referred to as a "daytime owl" - but years ago I began to think otherwise. The only reason we typically see them during the day is because they're so bad@ss, they don't really care who sees them sleeping. Eventually I approached a bird that was on a low fencepost - allowing for my first attempts at photography. 

I had a sneaky suspicion that this bird allowed for closer approach due to the fact that it probably had no idea what was approaching it. The near-blinding beams from my headlights allowed me to grab some images, but I could clearly see that my presence (in this manner) was changing the birds natural nighttime behaviour. After a few minutes, I left in search of new individuals. 


After more sightings of birds flying over the road, and a few that were likely flushed by my approaching vehicle; I lucked into a very tame individual sitting high on a telephone pole. I paused to observe its behaviour. Sitting upright, very alert, and seemingly using its massive eyes to see details I could never hope to see. I wondered what it would take to capture an image of the bird like this... I wondered....

Turns out it's ISO 12800, F 2.8 at 1/50 - with manual focus to boot (thank god for image stabilization). The above image was pretty much my first "trial run"... And it wasn't terrible... The really high ISO greatly reduces image quality, as does any kind of blur from movement with a very slow shutter speed. On top of that - even under the best circumstances - F 2.8 only allows for a very narrow pane to actually be IN focus at all!

All said and done, what I DID capture was a natural pose and a very alert bird. Using very little light from my headlights (I was pretty much below the bird, so the only light would be reflected up off the snow covered road), and all the light I could muster from a full moon - meant that the bird was dealing with the same conditions. The result - those big eyes!!! Wide open with massive pupils showing. I really wondered just how well it could see...

Prolonged viewing showed some exciting behaviour. It was hoping from pole to pole as it hunted - and I eventually decided to pull back (back away) a bit each time to get a better angle for photography. In the above image, the bird did a "false start" - where it got ready to take flight after some unknown prey - but quickly aborted the plan and stayed on the pole! 

The few times it did hunt, I was surprised to see it was dropping down into a hayfield, very similar to how I see Red-tailed or Rough-legged Hawks hunt. A quick glide closer, followed by a slight hover (or two or three) before dropping down. I didn't see a successful hunt, but I really couldn't see much at all. The below image was one of these forays into the night - 

Beyond that, my luck ran out with owls for the evening... I spent a few more minutes attempting to get a "sharp" image of the bird perched, but eventually left so it could hunt in peace. I found some deer under the moonlight, and the photographic results were considerably worse than trying for the owls. This photographers desire to create unique images decreases at a rate of 1.2% for every 1% increase in hunger, and before long I was heading home!

What big eyes you have! - the only other way (I can think of) to capture these big eyes - would be to hit the bird with a healthy dose of flash... Which just seems unpleasant for the bird (even if the effects are short-lived) so I'll have to stick with images of this quality!