The mission for Great Gray Owls

October 11, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Just got back from a two day mission to find and photograph Great Gray Owls. While these large impressive birds are fairly well known in many states along our northern border, they are rare and very localized in California. Even knowing where to look is no guarantee of success. The only Great Grays I've ever seen were in captivity or in a zoo... until now. For the sake of the owls I will leave their location secret except to say somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Heide and I hiked around our possible location the first evening with no signs of owls at all until we had looped almost all the way around to where we parked. Then, out of tree-line it appeared, gliding low into the meadow then swooping up steeply to perch on a snag. We stopped in our tracks. It was already too dark for any passable photos but we snapped off a couple anyway. You can see the results in the Great Gray Owl gallery. The owl then flew out of the snag and dropped onto something in the grass in the middle of the meadow. It remained in the grass for about 30 seconds then flew back up to a different nearby perch. It didn't look like it was successful as it did  not appear to eat back on the perch. We approached a little closer but the owl then left the meadow.

The next day we rose early and returned to the same spot in the hope that the owl would make an appearance in light more favorable to photography. No such luck. We stayed several hours until the sun was well up in the sky but no owl. Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-breasted Nuthatches, White-headed Woodpeckers, Ravens, Golden-crowned Kinglets, but no owl.

That evening we staked out the same location again getting into place about 4:30 pm. Same local birds but no owl. It finally got so dark that photos were out of the question so I started taking the equipment down. As if on cue, there it came, soaring down the side of the meadow toward us. It was about 10 or 15 minutes later than the previous evening's appearance and that much darker, but, there it was. It flew to a perch for less than 30 seconds then flew out of the meadow... just as quickly as it had flown in, it was gone.

So, a mission with mixed success. A failure in the aspect that we did not come home with any usable photos but a success in the aspect that we did find and see the owl, a first for both of us.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)A great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) perches next to a meadow at dusk. Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)A great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) perches next to a meadow at dusk.


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