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- Winter Birding in Calgary and the Foothills in Pictures – Part 1
- Southern Ontario’s Continuing Bird Vacuum
- Of Little Kings and Pretty Hermits
- Notes From a Northwestern Ontario Backyard – October 2017
- Late Autumn Birding in the Calgary Area – 2017
- Project Feeder Watch Celebrates 30 Years
- Thanksgiving Birding in Southern Ontario
- Warbler Watching
- Notes From a N. W. Ontario Backyard – September 2017
- Return of the Warblers and Shorebirds – Late Summer Birding in Southern Alberta
- Birding By Province or Area
- Birding Resources
- Birds of Canada
- Blog Contributors
- Respect For Nature
‘On the Prowl’…a Great Grey Owl hunt in pictures
Being able to observe a Great Grey Owl hunting for voles in the foothills west of Calgary has to be one of the great joys one can experience as a birder in southern Alberta. Moreover, no matter how many times I have the privilege to witness these owls in action the thrill of the experience remains undiminished. So in this month’s post, I’m going to try and share some of this experience through my pictures…
After rising early, followed by an 90 minute drive full of hope and anticipation of an owl encounter, the slow crawl along dusty, gravel roads begins in ‘owl country’: thickly forested areas adjacent to vole-filled meadows. Even with your eyes peeled and driving at 10km/h, the perfect camouflage of the Great Grey (their plumage is a virtual perfect match for a pine trunk) makes spotting them a challenging proposition. You’re in luck though when they help you out by choosing a prominent perch…
The GGO will constantly swivel its head watching, but mostly listening, for voles burrowing under the snow and grass. But not every patch of meadow seems to have the sought-after voles and the owl will often move a short distance…
This can go on for some time, the owl spending anywhere a few minutes to half an hour on a perch. Perches might be anything from fence-poles to tree trunks…
…anything that gives a good view of the hunting ground.
…until finally plunging almost straight down with talons being brought forward at seemingly the very last moment on the unsuspecting vole…
If successful, the owl will spend a few moments with its talons buried in the grass or snow performing a sort of shuffle as it gets a surer grip on the prey. A quick bite to the neck ends any resistance from the vole, and then the GGO takes off – vole in beak…
…to consume (or share with its mate or young) the unlucky rodent elsewhere, often deep in the depths of the forest…
The hunts I’ve seen are successful maybe 30-50% of the time, and it never ceases to amaze me how incredible the GGO’s sense of hearing must be for them to detect such tiny prey, from such distance, under anywhere up to a foot of snow!
Well, I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of what a GGO hunt is like – for sure, no hunt is the same but each and every one is always great fun to watch!
(Please note that these shots were taken on two separate days, with two different owls – I’m just not a good enough photographer to capture all the action in one sharp sequence 🙂 ).
For more of my wildlife photography check out my facebook page here.