Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Short-eared Owl female - 13 minutes of joy

Posted by Mia McPherson
Female Short-eared Owl on the road in the fog
D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited
A cool, foggy morning in September 2010 at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana brought me 13 minutes of joy after spotting a female Short-eared Owl peering at me through the dense fog as she rested on a gravel road. After a few moments she flew up from the road and then landed on a fencepost not too far from where I was using a vehicle as a mobile blind.

Female Short-eared Owl head on
D200, f7.1, 1/320, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, +0.7 EV, natural light, not baited
The fog was swirling around the Short-eared Owl, at times she would be clear of the mist and the post would be shrouded by the fog at other moments she would be partially obscured and the post would be in the clear. The female owl was at the very edge of the miasma as the warmth of the rising sun seemed to be trying its best to burn the fog off.

Female Short-eared Owl parallaxing
D200, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, +0.3 EV, natural light, not baited
Photographers often dream about the "sweet" light usually found early in the morning or late afternoon. I know I appreciate that light too and I am usually at the location where I want to photograph from just as the sun is rising but I also love to test my skills by photographing birds in difficult lighting situations while attempting to create compelling images. Photographing birds in a fog is one of those situations.
Female Short-eared Owl staring
D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 280mm, +0.3 EV, natural light, not baited
The heavy fog that September morning aided me in creating a monochromatic background for these images, the grasses and sagebrush behind the owl were smoothed out by the fog and the bokeh of my lens. The Short-eared Owl female was quite comfortable with my presence and posed on the fencepost in various ways with many different head positions.

Female Short-eared Owl with head turn
D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 330mm, 0.0 EV, natural light, not baited
While I was photographing this owl I remember that I kept hoping that the fog would burn off and leave her in the sweet, golden light of the early morning sun which would have allowed me to lower my ISO and show more of the fine details of the owl's plumage. I was; however, extremely glad to have the chance to photograph her in the fog and to create images under the challenging circumstances. She looked stunning and the setting felt magical to me.

Female Short-eared Owl looking down
D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 400, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 330mm, natural light, not baited
All that I had was a mere thirteen minutes of unforgettable time with this beautiful Short-eared Owl but those thirteen minutes brought me tremendous joy. Before the sun had succeeded in burning off the mist of the fog the Short-eared Owl flew away into the mists and became for me a creature as ephemeral as the lake fog itself.

- Mia


  1. ...absolutely beautiful! I really enjoyed reading your post and learning about the conditions you were shooting in. The bird is spectacular...

  2. Very nice post and photos - a beautiful bird. I am at the beginner end of spectrum learning how to photograph, with a dslr. Nice to see how well they can come out if I do it right.


  3. Beautiful photos. Love the natural light and fact the owl was not baited. What a joy!

  4. I so enjoyed reading this post! A most wondrous experience for you. I oohed and aahed viewing each of these sensational images. A most stunning bird. Absolutely magnificent!

  5. Thanks Kelly, Dan and Julie, she was a pleasure to photograph. Lillian & Don, thanks for your comment also and for noticing that this Short-eared Owl wasn't baited. I never bait raptors or other birds but always feel it is important to disclose that I don't use bait.

  6. Excellent photos of an imposing bird! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great series, especially the third aside though, how did you know this bird was a female?

  8. Thanks for all the nice comments! Seagull Steve, female Short-eared Owls are darker than the males, that is especially noticeable to me in the chest area. The females are buffier there and the males are more creamy colored.

  9. Great series of photos. You used the fog to create really beautiful images.

  10. Wonderful post, Mia. I love those photos!