Tag Archives: Two Harbors Highlands

Dinner with Two of America’s Top Naturalists! (and a Boreal Owl)

Over the past two days I have been privileged to bird with Paul Bannick, who amongst other items is a senior staff member for Conservation Northwest. Knowing that he and Sparky Stensaas were good friends, after yesterday’s birding excursion Molly and I hosted everyone for dinner. (Sparky is the executive director of Friends of Sax-Zim Bog)

While we were having a glass of wine, Sparky was glancing at Paul’s new book, A Year in the Lives of North American Owls. Wow!  and I repeat Wow! Sparky immediately recognized the location of a particular photograph based upon some willows in the background of an image. This started an interesting test which truly amazed me. Paul would open the book to a given page, and then test Sparky’s knowledge. Could the location of the photograph be determined based upon the various plant life in the photograph, or the minor plumage variations of a given owl. I was dumbfounded how easily these two individuals could recognize the location of a given bird based upon plant life, etc.

Obviously the past two days were a treat for me. While I provided some local habitat knowledge, Paul was extremely generous is helping further my education about birds, and often specifically owls. Here are some of images I took over the past two days.

Day 1 was ugly, and not a good day for owling. The wind was screaming out of the Northwest in excess of 20 mph, and the snow came down almost non-stop. Somehow we found four owls. At one point we even stood in the middle of a pasture braving the -30F chill factors to photograph a Northern Hawk Owl.

Boreal Owl in the Duluth area

Northern Hawk Owl at -30F Windchill (Oh man it was cold while photographing this bird. Paul got a minor case of frostbite)

Great Gray Hiding from the Wind & Snow (We went back four hours later; the owl had not moved one inch. This spot captured what little solar warmth was available, and was out of the wind. The final image was taken during the second visit … sleepy owl)

Day 2 was fantastic … calm winds and +4F temperatures

Pileated Woodpecker … expressing its opinion about all these owl photographs

Northern Hawk Owl on the Hunt

Great Gray Owl on the Hunt

 And a Talon Shot

Owl Poopers & Bloopers (3 Species!)

If you’ve noticed, like most wildlife photographers, I only publish “great images”. Well, guess what … in the real world I take lots of horrible photographs, some even comical. Thus, I bring you my first in a series of “Owl Poopers and Bloopers” … with lots of butt shots!

Great Gray Owl Pooping
Thought this bird was going to fly when I pressed the shutter … Not!

Snowy Owl Butt
Raptors always taken off into a stiff wind … Not!

Northern Hawk Owl Butt
I repeat …. Raptors always taken off into a stiff wind … Not!

Great Gray Owl Butts
By the light of the silvery moon … and da Bog!

Great Gray Owl Silhouetted Against Moon!

I took this photograph 50 minutes before sunrise today, which made this an incredibly difficult image from a photography vantage point. Taking this kind of photo was my goal when I headed out in the dark this morning. Here are some of the things I needed to have happen:

  1. You need a full moon, or almost full moon. Thus, there are not too many opportunities per year.
  2. You needed to find an owl in the dark.
  3.  The owl must be willing to sit on the very top of a tree such that I could line up the bird with the moon.
  4. I needed all my thermal clothes. It was -9F when I took this photograph, and I have no idea what the chill factor was except to note 15 minutes hiking around outside of the car was plenty. It was plenty cold.

The owl never spooked during my time with the bird. It was willing to let me be within 15 yards, but I needed to back off to get the proper moon angles, etc.

I may be crazy as an owl, but I stayed out till 10 am, and ultimately saw seven owls … five Great Gray Owls and two Northern Hawk Owls. After all these “good shots”, I think it about time for a “owl bloopers post”. I have many! Stay tuned.

Northern Hawk Owl Demands Equal Time!

Great Gray Owl Take-Off!