I spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes Friday with the Great Gray Owl that has visited Newport, NH. He must like it there because he has stayed for over two weeks so far. He has been slowly making his way north along the fields west of Route 10. But he still has a long way to go to get back home to northern Canada.
After I parked my car and started walking a woman who was leaving said the owl just flew to a different spot, but it was easy to find, just look for all the people.
The sun was out and the owl was sitting on a fence post. It was an ideal situation for photography. The bird was front-lit meaning the sun was at my back as I faced him. There were no branches in front of the owl, unlike my first visit over a week ago. And the background was far enough away so it could be thrown out-of-focus unlike my second visit. But the owl just sat there.
About 20 minutes after I arrived it started snowing but the sun was still shining. How often does one get to photograph a Great Gray Owl in the sun when it is also snowing? Note the shadow of the post on the owl in the photo below.
About 40 minutes after I arrived the owl telegraphed that it was going to fly soon.
A short time later it flew past me to another fence about 200 feet distant. I was fortunate enough to get a number of photos of it as it launched and flew past me.
It was at its new spot only one minute before it dove to the ground and caught a vole. After grabbing it and looking right and left, it worked the vole around so it could swallow it head first. I suspect the vole had been crushed in its talons before the first photo of this sequence. The elapsed time between the first and last photos in this sequence was 25 seconds.
The owl flew back to a slightly different spot on the same fence.
It kept looking for other voles in the field below.
Then it began to snow again. But this time the sun was well hidden by heavy clouds where it would stay except for a 30 second peek out shortly before I left. From this point on, the afternoon was quite dark, ISO 3200, 6400, and even 12,800 dark.
I enjoyed the snow. It provided an interesting touch to the scene. I tried different shutter speeds in order to show the snow in different ways. While doing this I was nervous that the owl would fly and I would have the wrong setting to capture it.
The snow had let up considerably when the owl thought it saw movement on the ground behind the fence.
But this time it came up empty. It looked around, got low as it seems to do when it is about to launch from the ground, and flew back to its perch.
Here is how the scene looked with a normal angle lens, rather than the telephoto I was using.
The owl sat still waiting out another snow squall as it got darker and darker. The two photos below were shot at ISO 6400.
Finally after 17 minutes it again flew across the opening you can see in the photo above to another fence post. Notice how it crouches down before it flies. The photos below were shot at ISO 12,800, something unimaginable just a few years ago.
It stayed on this new perch only about a minute — perhaps it did not like the small piece of metal on the top of the post — before it flew south across the field landing just short of where the cars were parked. Since it was getting cold and dark and this was the direction we would walk to leave, everyone followed.
This new perch was quite nice, and it even seemed to be getting a bit brighter. I dropped my ISO all the way down to 6400 (!) for the photos that follow.
After about 8 minutes on this perch the owl flew a short distant to a new perch along the fence closer to the opening for the parking area and some of the photographers. As it landed the sun broke through a small opening in the dark clouds.
The warm light only lasted for a few seconds before the sun was covered by the clouds again.
A minute later the owl flew down right in front of me.
But this trip down was in vain. No mouse or vole, just another photo op.
Soon it was back on the fence.
It sat there for a minute before it made its final flight while I was present. It had been a great 90 minutes.
This was my third visit with the Great Gray Owl. You can see photos from my first visit if you CLICK HERE and from my second visit if you CLICK HERE. These links will open pages in new tabs if you click them.
During my first visit I watched the owl sit, look left, look right, and sit some more. During my second visit I got some flight photos after watching it sit in the same spot for a very long time. This third visit was the best with snow falling on and off, the owl catching a vole, and it flying several times. It was an action-packed 90 minutes although for most of the time the owl did what he does best — just sit and look around.
This was my second Great Gray Owl in the area. I found the first in Hanover 4 years ago early one morning. You can read about that discovery if you CLICK HERE. Then 4 days later I spent 38 minutes alone with the owl as the sun rose behind him. You can see photos from that magical event if you CLICK HERE. Neither owl seem to care about the presence of humans — I suspect they do not see us a danger.