Monday, November 26, 2007

My Owl Mission Part 1-Short Eared Owls

Tis the season for owl hunting, if you are into that kind of thing, and I am! I can't wait for my first one of the winter season. There are many species of "owl" to seek in these parts. For instance, Part 1 of this series is: Short Eared Owls. SEO's are on the endangered species list. They are a medium sized rapter you can find in open fields soaring and hunting rodents, mainly in the winter months, acting alot like hawks, more specifically, the Northern Harrier. Their ear tufts are short, thus their given name. Their call is alot like the bark of a dog. It is sharp and high, like that of a "yippie" toy breed. They are not your typical "hoot" owl. You won't generally stumble upon them roosting, as most owls, although I have tried once, when I saw one land on a lower branch way off in the distance (it flushed as I approached). You mainly have to rely on the skies for spotting them. They compete with Harriers for food and territory, and I have witnessed the combats and aerial displays. I got my first shots of these guys last year at Goose Lake Prairie State Park. It wasn't a fun venture. When you prepare for this outing, expect alot of bone-chilling wind, along with deep-freezing temperatures. The trek into our "arctic" involves a complete lack of vanity. The knit hat, gloves, ear muffs, scarf, boots, tripod, your camera stuffed inside your coat, and lots of kleenex and patience makes for an uncomfortable few hours. Setting up for them isn't easy either. Short-Eareds are diurnal, but become most active at dusk. You have to deal with longer shutter speeds and tricky lighting. If you are lucky, the light will be enough to capture them as they fly without too much blur. The pictures above are a few I got last year, but as you can see, nothing worth much more than proof of their identity. The top photo is a "google image" of what they look like up close. Also, expect frustration, because with the waiting in the "tundra", its not a sure thing that they will be in your part of that tundra, for a shot. I spent plenty of evenings in the bitter extremes without taking a single shot. Is it worth it? It must be, because I am looking forward to that day I see them again, even in my "arctic frock", and of course, the pursuit for better shots of my favorite species, the owl.

Coming soon in this series: Long-Eared Owls, Snowy's, Saw-Whets, Screech's, Barred, Barn, and Great Horned.

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