Anne Elliott

Anne Elliott

Posted on 01/22/2016

Photo taken on January 17, 2016

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Asio flammeus
Short-eared Owl
Anne Elliott
E of Calgary
Family: Strigidae
17 January 2016
rural scene
bird of prey
bare tree top

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Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
Five days ago, on 17 January 2016, I finally got out for a much-needed drive out of the city. It seems ages since I did this, but I had some time, the sun was making its way through the clouds, and I had plucked up the courage to go east from the city. Recently, I was out that way on a birding trip with a group and we had seen a total of 6 extremely distant Short-eared Owls (3 pairs) at different locations. So, I was really hoping that my courage would be rewarded by spotting at least one owl : )

Those of us who were out there saw 7 of these Short-eared Owls in this area, though as you might guess from this photo, all the birds were far away, a few just a llittle closer. The owl in my photo was way across a field, so this is a heavily cropped image. I did go back to the area the next day, knowing that if I did that drive again straight away, I might start getting a bit more comfortable doing it. That was my main reason for going again, though of course I was also hoping to see an owl (or two). None of the owls on 18 January came close either. My first visit was on a Sunday, so I knew there would be people out there who had found the owls. The next day's drive was a Monday, so I was expecting far fewer people, as it was a work day. Made no difference!

None of these birds came to a close post during the time I was there. However, I can't believe that I was lucky enough to see three of them perched on a curved branch not much above the snow-covered ground (photo posted a few days ago). Not a clear view of them, though, and I had to find a small opening in the trees through which to take a few shots. How beautiful these owls are. This does seem to be a good winter for this species, which is exciting.

People who spend the day, or at least many hours, are far more likely to get the shots they want, but at the risk of stressing the birds. Unfortunately we are seeing, or hearing about, the same thing happening as happened a year ago with the tiny Northern Pygmy-owls in the city. It does make you ask yourself if these Short-eared Owls didn't come close because there are just too many cars and people. We even noticed footprints in the snow, showing that someone had climbed over the barbed-wire fence to get a closer shot. Unbelievable! I could almost guarantee that it was someone with a huge, long lens, who didn't even need to get closer! Just leaves me shaking my head. Please put the well-being of the owls (and any wildlife) before your obsession to try and get a closer/better shot than anyone else.

Standing in -15C (windchill -22C) weather is NOT fun, trust me! It was SO cold. Fortunately, people were standing right by their cars and could climb back in when the pain became too unbearable. Five minutes occasionally of running the engine was barely enough to keep me going, plus a handwarmer inside my right glove. My feet finally thawed out once I arrived back home. It was all worth it, though, just for the chance to see these beautiful owls.

When I left this area, I made a turn down a backroad, as i had noticed a red barn in the distance. Quite a nice old barn with a collapsing roof, with another barn next to it.

"A bird of open grasslands, the Short-eared Owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world. It is found across North America, South America, and Eurasia, and on many oceanic islands." From AllAboutBirds.