Snow Raptors

A few from a couple snow days this past January. Some of the first outings with the Canon R5. On one day, light levels were quite low and birds were at a great distance. Tried shooting with and without teleconverter to get more light. Difficult circumstances.

Short-eared Owl cruising over snow-covered grassland.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-3200.
Short-eared Owl shortly after leaving perch.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2500.
Short-eared Owl with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/800 sec., f/4, ISO-2000.
Male Northern Harrier
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-2000.
Female Northern Harrier with prey.
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Squabbling Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier
Settings: 500mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/4, ISO-3200.
Whenever a Short-eared Owl tried and missed its intended prey, it would immediately shake the snow and other materials from its talons.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
Short-eared Owl skimming snowy landscape.
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2500 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1000.
A great catch!
Settings: 700mm focal length, 1/2000 sec., f/5.6, ISO-1600.

Ozark Bill

“Raptors” of 2021/2022 Winter Season

I know that at least one of these birds pushes the definition of a raptor a little far, but, there is no denying that each of the birds featured in this post is a truly horrific predator if your are unfortunate enough to be considered their prey. It’s been a lot of fun this season shooting these birds. I get out as much as I reasonably can and although it looks like the season is turning over, I’ll have a lot more photos of these birds to share in the following weeks.

The smallest on this short list, the American Kestrel feeds primarily on small rodents and birds during winter months. During warmer times of the year, Kestrels will include arthropods and reptiles in their diets.
Anyone who has spent any time on grasslands, marshes or other flat rural areas will know the distinct shape of the ubiquitous Northern Harrier. These low-flying raptors are the scourge of rodents trying to make their living among dead winter vegetation. In rough times, they will also kill and eat birds, including members of their own species.
The Short-eared Owl should already be pretty well known to anyone that has recently visited this blog. They are terrific predators, combining keen eyesight, hearing and the ability to fly completely silent while performing aerial acrobatics. This bird is on its way to attempt a prey capture.
This was an irruption season for the Rough-legged Hawk. Many more birds than typically seen have been observed in eastern Missouri including this very cooperative female that was photographed in St. Charles County, MO. These birds, along with Short-eared Owls, have already begun moving north towards their summer habitats.
Sure, the American White Pelican is not typically lumped in with the Raptors, but I thought this photo conveyed the ferocity that this predator can use to catch its fish prey. This is another great winter photography subject.
Finally we have the Bald Eagle. We tried a few times this season along the great Mississippi River to photograph these guys pulling stunned fish from the waters. We had some success, but unfortunately, we did not have a long enough deep freeze to bring them down river in the concentrations that photographers dream about.

That is all for tonight. I will hopefully have more photos of these species to share soon.

-Ozark Bill

Short-eared Owl vs. Northern Harrier – A Case of Kleptoparasitism

Miguel and I watched as this SEOW returned to a favorite perch after just catching a vole. It wasn’t quick enough to ingest its catch and the NOHA is coming up behind to take advantage of this.

I would love to know how many thousands of years this struggle has been going on. The Short-eared Owl (SEOW) and Northern Harrier (NOHA) are separated genetically by millions of years, currently existing in separate orders. The SEOW belongs to the Strigiformes and the NOHA falls within the Accipitriformes. However, they have evolved to have similar lifestyles that have placed them in similar niches and thus, pushed them into direct competition with each other.

Yes, technically, the SEOH has developed more of a nocturnal habit and the NOHA is more active in the day. However, both species are highly crepuscular (active near dawn and dusk) and the SEOW is one of the most diurnal owl species, routinely hunting during daylight hours. They also use the same prey sources – primarily feeding on small rodents like mice and voles in winter. Additionally, both species have similar hunting strategies of flying low over the prairies, meadows and agricultural fields, using both their keen sight and hearing to locate their favorite scuffling mammals.

As the NOHA arrives, the SEOW leaps from its perch with catch in claw.

On average, harriers are roughly 25% larger than the SEOW but the wingspan of both species is nearly identical. Short-eared Owls use this increased wing area to their advantage with increased maneuverability. They can find themselves on the menu of NOHA but this is a much more challenging prey for the harriers who usually prefer their acts of kleptoparasitism (stealing another’s food).

This female NOHA rushes in talons first with her eyes on the prize.

After spending dozens of hours this season watching these two species forage across these grasslands of Lincoln County, MO I can attest that both species are terrific hunters. However, I think it’s safe to say that the SEOW has the higher success rate. They were not successful every time they plunged into the vegetation but more often than not, we saw these birds rising with a recently departed vole or mouse in their beak or claws.

An observation I found interesting is that when the SEOW made a successful kill, they almost always would fly a short distance and either eat it on the wing or, more often, would land in a new place to consume. I can only speculate that they do this because they think the act of catching the prey may alert would-be kleptoparasites and they move with the prey to get a better idea of who may be watching. On the other hand, it could be argued that this action could make it more obvious that they have had a successful kill and potentially ring the diner bell. Here is another interesting question.

Moment of impact. We can’t say for certain what happened here but I like to think the NOHA put one foot on the prey and one directly in the owl’s chest. Note that each bird pulls their head and delicate eyes as far from their opponents weapons as they can.

It’s a complicated relationship, for sure. I do not know for certain, but I would anticipate that the NOHA gets a significant portion of their caloric needs from the SEOW – or at least in this particular setting. As I mentioned earlier, the SEOW are so successful, it appears they can take this loss with little significant impact – or at least in a setting such as this with ample rodent populations. It may be a completely different scenario when they find themselves in a less productive area.

Caught in the act. I was very happy to have caught a frame that shows a foot of each bird on the vole at the same time.

On numerous occasions, Miguel and I watched as the SEOW took a much more aggressive and territorial stand. They were much more likely to pick a specific area that they foraged in and defended, often chasing NOHA and other SEOW away from their lands. NOHA, on the other hand, appear to cruise much more at random.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy ethologically speaking about this image. I just liked the shape of the SEOW with wings and tailfeathers spread and backlit by the low-hanging sun.

I have read that others have documented the swings in the numbers of SEOW from year to year and location to location based on the availability of prey. It is also well known that the SEOW is one of the most migratory of owl species. In the years we have followed these birds in Lincoln County, we can attest to this. If not already done, it would be really interesting to see the results of an in-depth look at the population dynamics and migration patterns of the SEOW and determine what role, if any, the NOHA may play.

The NOHA has its meal and the owl will likely have another for itself in little time.

Finally, I tapped into the inner comic writer in me and produced this silly little GIF that personifies the above interaction. I apologize if I offended anyone with my bad attempt at using a Cockney accent for the “villain” of this story… 😉

Northern Harrier

A Northern Harrier formel glides by, always on the lookout for a small mammal.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In fact, with the Northern Harrier, a bird with keen eyesight and talent for being as far from people as they possibly can, I’d say being lucky is the best thing to be.

A female Northern Harrier photographed at Columbia Bottom C.A. in St. Louis County.

During a recent trip to Columbia Bottom C.A., I spotted this formel (an old-school name for a female hawk or raptor) flying back and forth over this small patch of sorghum that was planted near an equipment shed and a small patch of woods that were both near an easy place to park. I doubted I would have the time to get close enough without being seen, but thought I’d give it a try.

Northern Harrier in a typical “V” gliding pattern used to silently move inches above the fields while hunting.

I realized I was in a promising position in which I could move perpendicular to the course the bird was moving. I just needed to make sure I was either hunkered into the scrub-lined woods on the one side, or plastered against the equipment shed on the other. I did this without either being seen by the bird or at least by not being considered a threat.

The Northern Harrier is a rare sexually dimorphic raptor. Males are smaller and colored blue-grey and white while females, like the one pictured here, are full of warm-toned browns.

When I was close enough that I felt I could put my 400 mm f/4 lens to good use, I was ready to shoot the next time she came by. I was able to get some shots on a couple or three passes before she started to move to other locations. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera settings optimized for such an occasion. I left a lot of potential aperture (DOF) and shutter speed on the table (these were mostly shot at ISO 100). But, I am happy with what I was able to get while being sure I did not make the bird too uncomfortable in the process.

The last looks a lot of poor mammals might have – a Northern Harrier overhead.



Clarence Cannon in White-Out Conditions

This past Saturday I headed up north on Highway 79.  Knowing that the frigid temps and predicted winds of 30 mph + would not afford many great opportunities, the chance of snow in these areas made me think that something interesting could happen.  Here are a few I thought worthy to share.

Harrier Still Hunting
Harrier Still Hunting

Snow Falling on Pintails
Snow Falling on Pintails


A Random Five

Hello again and happy holidays.

These five were all taken at the confluence, either at RMBS or CBCA.

Rough-legged Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk

This gorgeous juvenile light-phase Rough-legged Hawk spent nearly a week at the confluence recently.  These infrequent winter residents nest up north, far north, like arctic circle north.  One of my favorite birds, it is always a pleasure to find one of these guys.  Sarah and I very much enjoyed this bird, nearly the size of a Red-tailed Hawk, as it hover-hunted much like what is seen by the American Kestrel.

The Rosses Came to Town
The Rosses Came to Town

Steve and I were tipped off to these Ross’s Geese at Teal Pond by a kind birder.  I can’t imagine a cuter bird.  Well, maybe a few.

The Marsh Hawk
The Marsh Hawk

This has really been my year with the Harriers.  I don’t know if it is luck, patience, or what.  This one drifted by closely yo me at CBCA recently.

Harlan's Hawk
Harlan’s Hawk

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the dark-phase Red-taileds invaded the confluence area.  I do not believe I have ever seen such a dark RTHA on the eastern side of Missouri before this one.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel

This handsome young Kestrel was quite cooperative in posing for me recently at RMBS.


A Random Five…


I have a goodly number of images backing up to share, so here are a few chosen at random, more or less.

The first image was from a month or so back, when Steve and I traveled up to Clarence Cannon NWR.  The highlight was the extraordinary number of Mallards we found.  Not too much in the way of diversity of waterfowl during this visit, but the mallards were using the refuge in the peak of the hunting season.  We tried our best to keep them in peace, as they were obviously trepidatious to anything with two legs.

Many a Mallard
Many a Mallard

The next pair showcase a couple of birds that exemplify the great winter season we have been having in this region so far.  The first is a Horned-Grebe that we were able to get quite nice views of during a very cold morning at Creve Coeur Lake in November.

Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe

The next photo is of a Western Grebe and is the first photo of this species I was able to acquire.  I found this guy near the Clark Bridge near RMBS, where he may still be found.

Western Grebe
Western Grebe

The final pair of images are of a couple Northern Harriers, a species I have been finally able to achieve some success with lately.  The first, taken at CBCA, was fortunately timed while the bird was back-dropped by a flock of Blackbirds.


I have provided this last photo, also a Harrier taken at CBCA, in a larger size so you can see the cockle-bur that is stuck on the underside of this poor creature.  I know these things can be a nuisance for me in this habitat, and I guess it is for the birds as well.




Location Spotlight: North America’s Most Endangered Ecosystem, Tallgrass Prairie – Part II

So, a week or two after the weekend trip that Steve and I made to SWMO Sarah told me she had a hankering to go on a bird/photo trip to the same area.  She didn’t have to ask me twice.  😉  We loaded up the N.E.V. even though we were getting reports that the world had ended the day prior due to a dumping of snow and ice.  Not really knowing what to expect, I shoveled enough of the ice and snow to back out of our driveway and hit the road.  We were expecting to travel the whole way doing 30 mph or so and we knew we might even be forced to turn back if the conditions were too dicey.  Well, I guess it goes to show how unused to driving in winter weather we have become in this state, because once we got outside StL County, the roads were perfect the entire trip!  We did make our way north for a stopover in KC for some BBQ before heading back home, and they did get a foot or more of that weird white stuff, but by the time we made it there on Sunday, the roads were in pretty fair shape.

Okay, enough about our life, get with the picture making and depressing conservation talk, right?  We arrived at PSP with about a half day’s worth of light remaining to do some birding from the car, watch the bison, shoot some landscapes and visit the visitor’s center.  Dana was there, but he seemed pretty busy so we didn’t stop to chat this time.  The park was beautiful!  They had obviously received more of the “freezing rain” type of precipitation (on the east side of the state it was mostly “sleet” and snow), as nearly all the vegetation was enveloped in ice.  The look of the prairie was captivating as I hope I recorded in some of these images.  The sky was partially cloudy and moving quickly, and every five minutes the lighting changed dramatically pulling the eye this way and that from our vantage point from top of one of the higher hills.  After throwing a handful of fruits, nuts, grains and grubs into my mouth, I put the gear together, jumped onto the hood of the car and made this image…


“Welcome Back to Prairie State Park″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 29mm, ISO 100,  f/16, manual blend of two exposures

Sunlight was bouncing around the ice-encased grasses and branches.  The light did very little to battle the frigid temperatures and cruel winds on this lookout.  Sarah shot this closeup of what the prairie looked like.  I can’t say for certain, but I think this made it a little more difficult for the Harriers, Shrikes and Kestrels to catch their rodent prey.


“Mighty Mouse’s Fortress of Solitude″

Technical details: Panasonic DMC-FZ50 Camera, 28mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, by Sarah Duncan

Don’t think I forgot about the bison.  Although we could watch them from afar during this visit, they were not close enough to the roads to take any photos.  Here’s one from the previous trip.  This is far from an artistic or technically perfect shot.  But, shooting at dusk with a 500mm and getting something usable with 1/40 second is pretty nice.  The rig was on a tripod, there was almost no wind, I used “live-view” and a remote cord to release the shutter.


“The Inquisitor”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1250,  f/5.6, 1/40 sec

I’m still astounded by how much the bison will move in a day.  There isn’t a spot in the park that does not show signs of them.  Even though they were quite a distance away, the tracks we found in the snow declared they had been where we stood at least 12 hours previously.


“The Forgotten Herd”

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 33mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1/40 sec

I know what you’ll think about this next image.  “Oh my! That pathetic creature must have stood outside under 17F and 30 mph winds for too long.  It must have been a painful death, his face being all contorted in that death-mask.”  Nope.  That is me…smiling.  It’s true.  I’m not sure, maybe it’s too many years of corporate America taking their toll.  Perhaps it’s the self-imposed, lifetime ban on cigarettes, Ben and Jerry’s and pig’s feet, but this is apparently how I smile now.  I’ve tried this in front of the mirror a few times since I saw this, and I’ve decided I won’t be doing it any longer.


 “Pathetic Creature″

Technical details: Panasonic DMC-FZ50 Camera, 50mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/640 sec, by Sarah Duncan

One of the more abundant bird species we observed during our visits in the prairies was the Northern Harrier.  As pictured below, their method of hunting is to fly low over the grasslands while listening for their prey.  These birds have keen hearing and specially developed facial disks like those of owls that help amplify sounds by directing them towards the ear.


“Icy Heavens”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/4000 sec

If I could do this, I wouldn’t have those crusty, woolen sleeves on these cold and windy days!  Look closely and you can see an example of something that plagues this herd.  Dana told us that they have a pretty bad time with conjunctivitis.  This has resulted in many of the animals having cataracts in one or both eyes as can be seen in this bull.  Good thing they have poor vision to start with?


“Blind in One Eye, Can’t See Out the Other”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/640 sec

On our second day in SWMO, Sarah and I were dedicated to visiting a few prairies that we had not previously visited.  This was tough, because it meant leaving PSP.  But, we rose early and headed about 40 minutes north-east to the town of El Dorado Springs.  Our primary stops were two of the largest, eastern-most native tall-grass prairies – Taberville Prairie C.A. and Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie (Nature Conservancy and MO Dept of Conservation).  Because of the frigid temperatures, our hikes through these areas were limited and we spent most of our time birding from the car.  Wah’Kon-Tah, a term used by the Osage Indians to describe the “god-like” spiritual presence or life force that inhabits all things, was hilly and quite attractive.   A quick morning hike through a portion of Taberville resulted in very few birds, but many tracks were spotted, including coyote, in the fresh snow.

We also visited a couple of smaller prairies that were mere minutes away.  During a detour across snow and ice-covered farm roads to visit the backside of Monegaw Prairie C.A., we found our best bird of the day, a Loggerhead Shrike.  It was actively hunting while moving along a barbed-wire fence.


“Loggerhead Shrike, February 2013”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/6400 sec

Another stop was the small, rectangular and down-right charming Schwartz Prairie.  This slice of prairie is owned and managed by the Missouri Prairie Foundation and is named for conservationists, Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.  The Schwartzes worked directly towards prairie chicken conservation and were a fascinating couple.  Not only were they active conservationists, they were authors, film-makers and illustrators.  Libby and Charles were responsible for the superb field guide, Wild Mammals of Missouri, and Charles was the illustrator of Leopold’s landmark A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There.  I am looking forward to doing some more research on this couple and hopefully picking up some of their harder to find books and videos.  This photo of an Eastern Meadowlark was taken at Schwartz Prairie.


“Prairie Land Ethic”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 400,  f/5.6, 1/1250 sec

So, that covers most of the highlights regarding the experiences and images I wanted to share from our recent prairie adventures.  A grand total of three short winter days are not nearly enough.  I am very much looking forward to future visits to the western side of the state, to witness these endangered habitats during the growing season.

“Whatever else prairie is—grass, sky, wind—it is most of all a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness; there is no such thing as a small prairie any more than there is a little ocean, and the consequence of both is this challenge: try to take yourself seriously out here, you bipedal plodder, you complacent cartoon.”

-William Least Heat-Moon-


“Frozen Oceans of Grass”

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 37mm, ISO 100,  f/14, manual blend of two exposures

Birding Up and Down Highway 79

On a rare Saturday off from work Sarah decided she wanted to join me in a birding trip up the Mississippi flyway following Highway 79.  Lately, we have not done as many of these trips together as we once did, so this was a rare treat and I expected she would bring her typical luck and skills at finding the interesting birds.  I was not mistaken.  We hit the road early and made our leisurely way up north following a breakfast at Cracker Barrel.  Our goals were to ultimately hit Lock and Dam 24 in Clarksville to see if there was enough ice over the river to bring the Eagles in significant numbers.  What makes this trip so nice is that you rarely drive more than ten miles without having a nice place along the river to stop and look for birds and other wildlife.

Our first stop was the Winfield Dam where we looked for the American Avocet that apparently is happy to overwinter here.  We did not find this bird, but were happy to watch the Northern Shoveler and American Pelican that were quite active in the nearby slough.  Also unseen were the dozens of Common Snipe that were there a few weeks prior during my last trip up this way.  Leaving the dam we headed back north and made mostly unproductive stops at BK Leach C.A., Clarence Cannon NWR and a few other locations.  With most shallow waters frozen, not many waterfowl or marsh birds were apparent, but raptors, particularly Red-Tailed Hawk, American Kestral and Northern Harrier were abundant.  We were able to watch as a coyote crossed across this “frozen waste”, amazed at the sight of him running full-speed over frozen water while not loosing a bit of speed.  He was a healthy looking animal, which we love seeing on our excursions.

Arriving at Clarksville we were rather alarmed to discover that we had arrived at “Eagle Days”, meaning that finding parking and ample real estate to set up for photography near the river would not be easy.  We were able to see that the eagles were not present in great numbers around the dam, so this made our decision easy to continue heading north.  The drive between Clarksville and Louisiana is scenic.  If you are in the area stop at the Village of the Blue Rose as a bed and breakfast or a one-stop restaurant.  You will not be disappointed.

For the past several years highway 79 has ended just north of Louisiana, major rerouting/new bridge? have kept the direct route to Ted Shanks C.A. closed.  We decided to give it a try and were pleased to see the road was now open.  Although mostly frozen, it was nevertheless nice to finally drive through this large wetland/forest area.  Other than several Bald Eagle, no birds of note were observed.  I was finally able to photograph a lovely Fox Squirrel.  She was satisfied sitting out in the open collecting some sun-rays on this nice winter day.  However, as the shadow of an eagle literally passed on top of her, she quickly scurried into his knot-home and cautiously peaked out to see if the coast was clear.

    IMG_9722   Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/7.1, 1/1250 sec

Leaving Ted Shanks we headed a few miles further north and turned around in the city of Hannibal.  Going back towards home and snacking in the car we made similar stops.  I had planned to spend the last couple hours of daylight at BK Leach C.A. and hopefully spot the Short-eared Owl that I have heard were really working the area.  The problem was that BK Leach covers a lot of ground and we were not sure where the greatest likelihood for success might be for spotting them.  Ultimately we decided to drive slowly through areas where the habitat seemed most to their liking: area of shrub and grass, agricultural fields – especially those that were recently left to fallow.  So this is what we did and this is when the fun started.  As usual I was driving a bit too fast for our situation (I’m always afraid we are missing something down the road) when Sarah yelled, “stop, what the hell is that?”.  Looking out the windshield of  my side I looked down and watched as a pair of Ring-necked Pheasant stared curiously back up at us.  This was my first view of this exotic, naturalized species.  Unfortunately, I could not get a photograph of the female, but she was every bit as beautiful as the brightly colored male, although quite different in appearance.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/7.1, 1/500 sec

 After a few seconds in the relative open these two moved deeper into the grass until they were just barely out of sight.  We could hear them clucking and vocalizing back and forth, but we decided to move on and look for the owls, knowing we could likely spot them later.  Just mere minutes following our decision to move forward once again Sarah pointed down the road on the driver’s side and asked is that a bird?  With unaided vision it appeared to be a jumble of dried leaves suspended a foot or two above the thick grass.  As I got the binoculars on it, it turned into a SEOW!  How easy was that!?  We made our way slowly down the road, stopping now and then to make sure we at least got documentary photographs.  This photo shows the first bird in the same position in which we found it, bathed in the glorious warm light from the late-day, winter’s sun just a few inches above the tops of the Lincoln Hills.


 Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/6.3, 1/1000 sec

SEOW are reportedly the most diurnal/crepuscular species of owl to be found in Missouri.  They can often be spotted hunted during the day and are usually easily observed at dawn and dusk.  Shortly after this image was taken the sun was mostly covered by what little cloud cover existed.  Typical.   This meant that ISO would have to go up while shutter speed went down.  This created the challenge of keeping the new lens steady in order to come at all close to a reasonably sharp image.  It also meant trying to get closer and that auto-focus on birds in flight would be problematic at best.  I also came to the conclusion that a much more stable and professional bean-bag support will be needed to shoot from the vehicle’s window.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 640,  f/6.3, 1/500 sec

The photo above shows the characteristic feather-covered legs and feet of these birds.  SEOW are also well known for their style of flight; they slowly and methodically beat their wings in a rhythm and pattern quite reminiscent of moths.  Previous to this day, my one experience with this species was watching a far-off silhouette flying in this manner as the last light of the day ended.  This day was definitely more satisfying.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 800,  f/6.3, 1/500 sec

Not long after seeing the first owl we began to see giant moths silently gliding across the landscape.  They would land for several minutes on a perch, often signs placed along the road, and then take to wing.  Once Sarah and I watched as one tried for a pray item, but came up empty-taloned.  They were not the only predators in the area.  Northern Harrier, aka “Marsh Hawk” are the daytime counterpart of the SEOW.  They both fill the same basic niche, gliding low and silent over the terrain, listening for the sounds of rustling rodents.  In fact, because they so often come into contact with one another, squabbles and violence sometimes occurs.  NOHA are known for stealing food from the owls and sometimes even killing and eating them.  The image below shows a Harrier in flight.  These guys are one of my nemesis birds. Keenly aware of their surroundings, they have a knack for staying far enough away to avoid being able to get the perfect photograph.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1600,  f/5, 1/640 sec

I could not believe how active these birds were.  How dynamic the scene presented.  Oh, if the last hour of the sun were allow to shine and not be covered by the clouds and hills!  We counted at least six SEOW and probably as many NOHA within sight of our vehicle.  The SEOW not only have to keep an eye out for the Marsh Hawk, but each other.  We saw constant apparent aggressive behavior among up to three birds in flight at a time.  For several minutes, we watched and photographed the bird pictured below against the Lincoln Hills.  The bird’s head rarely stopped moving as it scanned and watched all the flying raptors surrounding it.  No wonder they were using anything as a possible perch!


 Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1000,  f/5, 1/160 sec

 A question of ethics.  Wildlife photographers have a reputation, often deservedly, of using questionable practices in getting their images.  This has been a growing concern of mine lately.  I by no means consider myself perfect in this regard, and I realize that some of my activities could be seen as unethical by others.  I do, however, feel there is a line of continuum in certain practices used by photographers, or other nature observers.  For instance, using flash photography on owls is seen by the majority of wildlife photographers to be off limits, but some will use fill-flash to capture images of diurnal birds.  I have dabbled with this in the past and in my opinion the use of flash has a definite effect on their behavior a significant amount of time.  Therefore, I will not use artificial lighting to capture wildlife.  Similarly, most, but unfortunately, not all photographers consider the use of live bait to attract raptors as taboo.  But, we will use fruit and seed to attract species that feed on such.

I bring this up because of something Sarah and I observed last night.  I am somewhat embarrassed that I had never heard or read about this technique.  When Sarah and I stopped to watch and shoot the first couple of owls, we saw that ~0.5 miles or so down the road was a car that appeared to be on an owl that was on a perch no more than 30″ from the car!  We were jealous, but being very eager not to disturb the bird or the photographer we made sure to stay far away.  Twenty minutes later we realize the bird had not moved once off its perch.  What luck we thought!  Even with sometimes two other owls buzzing by it time and again, the owl stayed put.  We finally inched close enough to realize the owl was indeed a pretty well done decoy and the photographer was outside the car sitting against it shooting the owls as they strafed by the perched fake.

I had to do some internet searching to finally figure out what was going on.  Now I do feel guilty about sometimes causing a perched bird to flush as I inch closer, but this bird was perched inches from a road.  These roads do have traffic from hunters and general wildlife watchers and are constantly being exposed to vehicles when they perch near the road like this.  I will also use some voice playback, as minimal as possible, and phishing to attract birds closer for a picture.  I am not quite certain about this practice of decoys, but it does taste of going past that invisible ethical line to me.  Is it as bad as using live bait to attract an owl or other raptor, or getting within 10 feet of a Barn Owl and using flash to get a photo?  Probably not.  I plan on asking some veteran and respected birders and photographers what they think.  Please let me know your opinion.  On a further note, when driving by this guy who was using the decoy, for some reason he gave us the stink-eye.  I’m not sure what that was about, maybe he thought we were taking advantage of his hard work?


 Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1000,  f/5, 1/250 sec

In my humble opinion the photo of a SEOW perched on a sign or post has become a bit cliche’, but this is still probably my favorite image from the day.  Any time you can watch a bird like this so close, to see that detail and be able to capture it with your camera is very special.  I think this photo depicts how special these Conservation Areas are for providing the necessary habitat that these species needs.

This photo will also always remind me of a particularly memorable moment.  This image was taken at near 5:00, well past lunch and damn-near dinner time.  Now, I am perfectly used to eating fruits and nuts for most of the day, you know, “hippie food”, and then having a hearty dinner.  Well Sarah’s stomach was definitely not made aware of this and just when we were closer to one of these owls than at any other time, her stomach decided to stage a vocal protest.  It was loud and it was continuous!  I was becoming legitimately concerned it might disturb this beautiful animal!  So she and I of course started chuckling.  The more we tried to stop, the worse it came.  Thankfully, I don’t think the bird took any more notice than before.

So ended a fantastic day.  The sun setting behind the Lincoln Hills lit up the clouds in a dramatic, fiery sky.  We did not try to find a spot to make a sunset shot, but preferred to watch as we slowly drove away from the owls and harriers as they went about their living in the Mississippi flood plain.


 Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera,  EF500mm f/4.5L USM lens, ISO 1000,  f/5, 1/640 sec