Anne Elliott

Anne Elliott

Posted on 01/24/2016

Photo taken on January 18, 2016

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Asio flammeus
Short-eared Owl
Anne Elliott
E of Calgary
Family: Strigidae
branch just above ground
rural scene
bird of prey
18 January 2016

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Sheltering in the trees

Sheltering in the trees
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 the birds were far away, a few just a llittle closer.

I went back to the area the next afternoon, 18 January, 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 - this 48x zoomed and cropped photo was taken on this second day, and this was the closest view I had. How beautiful these owls are. This does seem to be a good winter for this species, which is exciting.

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! I haven't been back in the 6 days since then, but I'm sure it has been a zoo out there.

People who spend the day, or at least many hours, especially if they go back on many days, are far more likely to get the shots they want (most likely perched on a close fence post), 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 the 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 shot than anyone else.

Standing in -15C (windchill -22C) weather is NOT fun, trust me! It was SO cold on 17 January. Fortunately, people were standing right by their cars and could climb back in when the pain became too unbearable. Five minutes of running the engine was barely enough to keep me going a couple of times, 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.

"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.