(Post by Christopher Martin)
I’ve had a series of great encounters with one of my favourite animals, the Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa). Through the course of these moments, I have been able to make some in flight images that I’m really happy with. I have photographed this same owl for the past four years in all seasons but sometimes several months have gone between sightings. So far, this May has exceeded even my most out of reach expectations.
I had a gentleman express some concern via Twitter regarding me spending that much time following the owl. I strive to not impact all of the animals that I photograph and I feel I am successful at this. Particular to this owl, I know where its nest is but I have never ventured close to that stand of trees because that represents risks (like driving the mother away from the nest, stressing the owlets, etc.). I do not use blinds or hide from these owls – I make sure they see me and know where I am at all times. I have spent a lot of time learning what owls like to perch on and where they like to scout from.
I try to use this knowledge to anticipate a spot where an owl may choose to fly to and launch an attack from. In the open meadow and mixed forest settings I usually find owls in, they have many options and I select one that I think they may choose. It’s a bit like laying down a bet, if they fly my way, I’m in luck. If they choose one of the myriad other options, I may be too far away or just not in a good location for photography. I do not follow right behind the owl – it makes for many shots of them flying away. I stand a few yards away from a perch I think they may like and wait. When they fly away, I may stay there and see if the owl comes back or I may move to another location to see if they go there. Either way, I don’t chase the owl and to me, that helps to allow the owl to continue its activities (hunting, watching, preening, eating, etc.) uninterrupted.
Several times of late I have set up my tripod in a location more than a hundred yards away from the bird and, after some time – up to an hour later, the raptor has flown in my direction and landed within ten feet of me. That is an incredible experience and I strongly believe it is due to the comfort level the owl has with my presence. During the encounter when these images were all taken, the owl stayed beside me as it scanned the meadow for about 15 minutes. When it left, it dove on the far side of the gravel road and came away with a field rodent of some type.
Christopher Martin, Kananaskis, Alberta
Chris is a travel and landscape photographer who loves exploring new places and experiencing what people have to offer from around the world. He also enjoys photographing people at work and play and is drawn to the interesting moments, big and small. He regularly contributes to a local magazine, Bragg About the Creek, and his images continue to be licensed for a variety of printed and online publications. To find out more about his work check out his Blog or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.