Great Gray Owl Adventure

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.

 

Great Gray Owl in Action

Nikon D500, 200-400mm lens with 1.4X at 200mm (280mm effective, 420mm equivalent), ISO 6400, f/5.6, 1/400 sec.

Wednesday I got some photos of the Great Gray Owl that visited Newport, NH sitting, looking left and right, and sitting some more. I returned Friday intent on getting some action shots. I should have not bothered to come Friday morning, but I was there for 2 hours anyway. I returned in the afternoon for 80 minutes.

This was the scene when I left Friday morning a bit after 11.

When I returned in the afternoon, taking the short way in, I made this image from near the bridge. Some photographers are out of sight below the small hill.

Finally, 45 minutes after I arrived, there was some action. The owl pounced on something below it. The Great Gray either ate it while on the ground or came up empty, because it returned to it perch for the day empty clawed. 

 

At 4:48 the owl finally decided it was time to hunt. I had positioned myself with my back to the wind so when it left its low perch it flew right by me. Here is a sequence of it preparing to launch and the first part of its flight.

 

I did not actually clip its wings in the sequence above.  I simply lined up all backgrounds and cropped all the photos to the same size. Here is the later part of the flight.

 

The Great Gray flew to a tree at the edge of the field.

Here is how the owl signals it is about to fly.

 

Owls are amazing fliers, even in a jumble of branches.

It landed, the crowd followed it south down the field, then it flew again. A snow squall appeared out of nowhere, so I figured that it was a good time to leave.  It was pretty dark by then anyway.

Below is a comparison of a Snowy Owl with a Great Gray Owl based on information in Sibley. The Great Gray is 4″ taller, but only 60% of the weight of a Snowy.

Length 23″, wingspan 52″, Weight 4 lb

Length 27″, wingspan 52″, Weight 2.4 lb

If you CLICK HERE the photos of the Great Gray Owl from a week after the photos above will open in a new tab. These include more flight photos, the owl in a snowstorm, and the owl catching a vole.

If you CLICK HERE the photos of the Great Gray Owl from last Wednesday will open in a new tab.

If you CLICK HERE the first report of the Great Gray Owl I found in Hanover 4 years ago will open in a new tab.

If you CLICK HERE a fuller report of the Great Gray Owl I found in Hanover 4 years ago will open in a new tab.

 

Great Gray Owl in Newport and back in time

If this is the first Great Gray Owl page you have visited be sure to also see the two with the owl flying, eating a mouse, and in a snow storm. Click HERE and HERE and these pages will open as new tabs so you can finish reading this page.

I spent a bit less than 2 hours yesterday with the Great Gray Owl that visited Newport, NH. When I saw the postings of its location, I knew right where it was because my wife and I walk, and I have biked, the Sugar River Rail Trail from time to time. It is a lovely stretch of old rail trail all the way to Claremont.

Photographers came and went. Some were there before I arrived and stayed later than I did.  While I was there the owl just sat on one perch. If one is looking for variety with owls and flight shots, one has to put in time in the field which I did not yesterday. Yet I certainly enjoyed the owl, my second Great Gray in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Area. I found my first Great Gray early one Sunday morning while driving to Vermont to photograph some Trackers on assignment for a magazine. I saw it off to the side of the road as I drove by, turned around, and took a few quick shots out the window of my slowly-moving car. It was only when I got home later that afternoon and looked at my images on my large monitor that I realized what I had found.

Four days later I hiked into a nearby swampy area and spent over 30 minutes completely alone with the owl as the sun rose behind it. That was a magical experience.

Back to the Newport Great Gray Owl…

The most exciting time while I was there yesterday was when a vehicle came down the trail and removed a small fallen tree. That really perked the sleepy owl up.

 

Here is the owl staring at the vehicle as it approached from the north.

 

Even though it was mostly stationary, the owl was a joy to be with.

 

The owl twitched its nose, blinked, looked around, and went back to sleep.

 

I’m not sure if it saw something below it or not, but it sure can turn its head, as all owls can. At times it looked behind into the field.

 

It was a spectacular bird.

Last summer while hiking with my wife along the area where the owl was, I got a few birds with a “walk-around-lens”.

I returned two days later and got some photos of the Great Gray Owl in Action.  You can see them if you CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Townsend’s Solitaire in Orford

Many thanks to Jeff MacQueen who found a rare Townsend’s Solitaire in his Orford yard and invited others to come and view it.  With Jeff watching from a distance,  I was alone with the Solitaire for 13 minutes getting some nice views.  

I took a few distant shots then moved in closer. I was shooting through branches, which perhaps help relax the bird, but it seemed to pay no attention to me.

The bird stretched its wings…

Stood up tall…

Stretched some more…

And fluffed itself up, even though the morning was warm.

Here are three series showing it going through the motions of enjoying its perch. Note how the Solitaire stretches its right leg in the first series.

 

 

 

After 7 minutes the Solitaire flew to a nearby tree. I made some photos of it there without moving my tripod.

After another 2 minutes it moved to a nearby branch then flew somewhere out of sight.

 

It returned 3 minutes later to its initial tree, but in a much less visible spot. I could see it had a fruit in its mouth that it was working to swallow.  I got a few shots.  Sure wish I had a better view.

 

It swallowed the fruit and was gone. That is when others started arriving.

I stayed a total of 40 minutes at Jeff’s home, but the rest of the time paled in comparison with those early minutes. The Solitaire reappeared shortly before I departed.  I got a last few distant shots before to flew high into a pine. Good bye great bird, and thank you very much Jeff for sharing it.

 

On the way home I stopped to get a few quick shots of a pair of bald eagles.