Snowy Owls; Nature's Cruise Missile

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It's interesting how similar birds can hunt so differently. Short Eared Owls cruise around overhead looking for mice and voles and dive straight down on their prey. Snowies hunt the same prey but completely different technique. They sit on a perch and scan a field. When they spot prey they launch and approach at high speed and low altitude skimming as low as the surface/ground cover allows like a missile with ground tracking radar. And sometimes they just fly low for the heck of it when moving to another perch. Practicing? Just having fun? One thing that surprised me when shooting these guys is how fast they move.

Here are a few that I don't think I've posted before. These were all shot the same day. It was raining sideways(and freezing) when we headed out pre-dawn as it had all night. So I left the big stuff in the room and just carried the D500/AFS 80-400mm. Then it cleared up shortly after dawn. Go figure. I was happy not to be hauling the heavy gear slipping and sliding around on the sea of ice that was a field the day before. But the birds were really active after the storm and I wished I'd had my big prime.

1) An early morning flyby. Note this bird's spots/banding is black on the head and brown on the sides. We saw a couple of them with brown banding.
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2) Half an hour later the same morning. I love it when the tail and primaries are lit up like this.
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3) This is one of those times I'm looking through the viewfinder and I'm thinking "don't screw this up!" This was an evening shot. Where/when we were shooting these guys stayed active all day. Or none at all. A couple of days they just sat on top of barns, silos, etc, and did nothing.
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These are wonderful shots.
That feeling of -Don't screw this up, please don't screw this up, please please please don't screw this up- I think is felt by all artists, but especially photographers.
The light is perfect, I am in just the right spot, the background is just as I planned, everything is coming together for one second..... please don't screw this up.
I think it was actually easier in films days, I would not know for a week or more that I had completely blown some component of the shot. Now with digital I am often disappointed with myself immediately.
Gary
 

Butlerkid

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Truly outstanding images, Dan! You certainly capitalized on the shooting opportunities that day! Maybe the smaller more maneuverable was a plus that day?
 
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Thanks, Louie.
Never had the privilege of seeing these hunt (except on TV), but your pictures and description are so detailed!
Glad you enjoyed the post, Nick. I hope I get another opportunity some day.
...I think it was actually easier in films days, I would not know for a week or more that I had completely blown some component of the shot. Now with digital I am often disappointed with myself immediately.
Even now chimping doesn't tell me anything. I never know till I'm sitting at the computer what I've got. Except for the really bad ones. They're obvious.
Outstanding....love them all.
Thanks, Bob. Do these guys hang out in your neck of the woods?
 
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The more heavily marked birds are females, whereas nearly pure white birds are males!
And as I understand it the darker ones are younger birds. The spots/bands fade with age.
Wonderful series and narrative!

In #2, the colors of the entire scene and the textures in the background convey for me a sense of calm and peacefulness. Ironically, a struggle for life and death is likely to have occurred just moments later.
Thanks, Mike. The other thing that's not evident in these images is that the wind was blowing 25-30 mph. It was bloody cold.
Truly outstanding images, Dan! You certainly capitalized on the shooting opportunities that day! Maybe the smaller more maneuverable was a plus that day?
Thanks, Karen. The light kit was definitely an advantage when we changed locations and had to move around on the ice. But once set I actually prefer shooting BIF with a big lens and tripod. I'm able to get a much smoother motion tracking flight paths therefore keep the bird centered better.
 
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These blow me away! I saw one fly over a state park outside of Manhattan KS during their last serious irruption way back when, maybe in 2012(?). I then spent 5 hours driving and tracking reports near Lawrence, KS; finally found a bunch of photographers congregated near a reservoir; pulled out my gear and trekked up to observe . . . a WalMart bag fluttering in a juniper.:eek::D
 
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Great set. We had one nearby a few years ago, seemed like every time I was there he was sitting on a roof and everyone said I should have been there yesterday.....
 
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This is where Google is your friend!
The dark birds are definitely females!!
The dark ones are young females. The lighter ones are mature females. All of the juvenile birds migrate south for the winter. A few mature birds stay up north. In the winter the males and females tend to inhabit different ranges(for whatever reason).
Tremendous images - jealous as hell. :)
Thanks, Allan. All you have to do is drive east a bit from NH in mid winter :)
that last one is incredible
Thanks, Randy. Yeah that one is definitely in the top five for the trip.
These blow me away! I saw one fly over a state park outside of Manhattan KS during their last serious irruption way back when, maybe in 2012(?). I then spent 5 hours driving and tracking reports near Lawrence, KS; finally found a bunch of photographers congregated near a reservoir; pulled out my gear and trekked up to observe . . . a WalMart bag fluttering in a juniper.:eek::D
Thanks, Eric. They do draw a croud. Walmart bags usually don't.
Great set. We had one nearby a few years ago, seemed like every time I was there he was sitting on a roof and everyone said I should have been there yesterday.....
Sounds familiar. We have snowies and greys hanging around the Anchorage airport once in a while. But every time I've gone where they'be been spotted I get nothing. Never even see one.
Wow, what a set of images.
Thanks, Brad.
 

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