Unexpected visitor – A Great Grey Owl in the ‘burbs

GGO2This past January, Calgarians were treated to a rather rare occurrence: a week-long visit from a Great Grey Owl in a suburban park. From what I understand from local birders, a GGO has not been recorded in Calgary for over 14 years so it was a sight not to be missed. I must admit I was little skeptical when I read the first reported sighting, but then over the next few days the reports continued to come in, as well as many photos. So by the end of the working week I was just itching to go & take a look myself, and went down early on a Saturday morning. To my delight, the GGO made an appearance not long after I arrived and what’s more, it was content to perch out in the open in light that was just about perfect for photography so I did my best to make the most of it. GGO1

Dive-bombed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk

Dive-bombed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk

I have a number of shots of GGOs perched, so I was keen to get some ‘in-flight’ shots and the owl duly obliged when at one point the owl went for a quick, albeit unsuccessful, hunt.A25K6525g-crop-fbGGO3

GGO4The only downside was it was about -10C and my exposed (to work the camera) thumb and finger meant I could only tolerate about an hour of watching the owl. Lesson #1: bring hand-warmers!

When I got home & examined my shots I was quite pleased with the results, although my major learning was that the GGO’s wingspan was a lot wider than I anticipated and as a result I was standing too close (about 20 meters away) and had ‘clipped’ the wings a few times. Lesson #2: don’t be greedy! When doing flight shots, stand further back than you think so get the whole bird in the frame.

On the Sunday, I thought I’d push my luck & see if the owl had stuck around. But alas, it was nowhere to be found so I went & photographed Bohemian Waxwings diving down from a spruce to drink from a nearby stream.Bohemian_Waxwing drinking

On my way back to the car my heart skipped a beat when I saw the owl again out in plain view – my luck was in! Learning from Lesson #2, I’d taken off my 1.4x  teleconverter off the lens (thus reducing my focal length from 840mm to 600mm) and stood further back than the day before. After patiently watching the GGO for 30 minutes it went on a hunting run before plunging into the snow feet-first almost immediately in front of us. Only the head & upper body were showing and after about 10 seconds it reached down to its talons and pulled out a vole with its beak – success! Quite a magical moment for me to witness this firsthand & something I will long remember.A25K6862g-crop-fbGGO7GGO9-with vole

GGO10-with voleApart from the owl, the other highlight of the weekend was meeting fellow birders and photographers, as well as seeing the great interest from passers by in this special bird. I am also pleased to note that in the time I was there all the birders and photographers were completely respectful of both the bird and each other – a heartening & reassuring sign for both of these hobbies.

And in other news…if you’d like to see more of my shots, please check out the ‘Gallery’ section on my website at www.timjhopwood.com. I’ve spent the winter compiling and categorising all my shots from the past year and am up to 182 Alberta species! Looking forward to building on that in 2014.

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10 Responses to Unexpected visitor – A Great Grey Owl in the ‘burbs

  1. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks, Dan. I’m one from two with the Bebo bird…hoping he/she makes an appearance this weekend!

  2. Dan Arndt says:

    Great shots, Tim! I’ve been skunked every time I’ve gone out to try to find that one! Hopefully the one at Bebo Grove is more accomodating!

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  4. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks, Pierre. The GGO has been seen several times since my visits, but has been a little more elusive. And oddly enough, a SECOND GGO was found in a park in Calgary this past week & I was able to get out & photograph that one yesterday. I guess when it rains, it pours!

  5. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks, Kellee – much appreciated!

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  7. Beautiful shots, great story!

  8. Kellee says:

    Wow, those are some amazing images you got here. Absolutely spectacular!

  9. Ah! Such beautiful shots!