Barred Owl (Strix varia) Fledglings in Campbell Valley Park

Barred Owl (Strix varia) fledglings perched in a tree at Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

barred owl owlets fledglings perched begging call

Barred Owl (Strix varia) Owlet Begging Call while Sibling Looks on (Purchase)

I recently went for a walk with my Mom in Campbell Valley Regional Park. At the bottom of a hill there was a man standing in the path with his fingers to his lips, and he then pointed up into the tree canopy. These two Barred Owl owlets (Strix varia) were perched on a Cedar tree branch close to the trail. I had brought my camera, but only had my 24-70mm lens with me just in case some wildflowers or other small scene was too interesting to pass up. Unfortunately – a lens that wide (even at 70mm) is not something you can really use to photograph juvenile owls up in a tree (that are 21m / 70ft away). When I got home I immediately packed my 100-400mm lens and went right back to the park. I had no idea if the young owls would still be there, but I was lucky and they were! I was completely prepared for them to have moved on but I was back there in under an hour which helped. I’ve not seen young Barred Owls like this in the wild before, so seeing them this close (and with a clear view) was a great opportunity. I have photographed adult Barred Owls before, both in my front yard and in Campbell Valley Park. Now that I know the sound of the begging calls (watch the video at the end of this post) they make I might be able to spot other young owls in the future. They certainly aren’t songbirds!

When I returned the two owlets were still sitting a few feet apart on the branch. The first photograph above shows the one on the left in mid “begging call” which it repeated very frequently during the time I watched it. It seems likely the owlet on the left is a bit younger, or at least has a lot more of the fluffy baby feathers compared to the one on the right. I wasn’t too sure at the time of the way things work with baby owls, how quickly they leave the nest, and if they are fed by parents at all or for how long so I had to do some research.

Barred Owls are generalists – they have a wide variety of prey that includes mostly small mammals and rabbits, but they also eat other birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. While the female is sitting on the nest (for 28-33 days) the male occasionally brings prey to the nest, and the female may leave to hunt while incubating the eggs as well. After the chicks hatch both male and female owls will feed the chicks, though the male sometimes brings the prey to the female to give to the chicks. After about six weeks of being fed in the nest, the owlets leave by climbing up or down a tree (if nesting in one) or flying to other branches. For 4-5 months after leaving the nest, the young owls are fed by parents while they learn to hunt. After this period they disperse and find their own territories.

barred owl fledglings snuggling on a branch

Barred Owl (Strix varia) Owlets Snuggling (Purchase)

After I observed these owls for a while the older one on the right moved across the branch and snugged up with the younger one. The younger owlet continued very frequent begging calls. Perhaps it had not fed as recently as the other, or was just a bit less patient. My presence, and those of other people passing by in the park didn’t seem to be of any interest to these owls. As they have such good eyesight and hearing though, it wasn’t as though they weren’t aware of everything happening around them. At one point (photograph below) they were both looking intently at the hillside behind me. I didn’t hear anything, and turned around a few times and didn’t see anything. When they got really interested again I turned around and there was a deer in the bush about 15m (50 ft) behind me. The deer hadn’t seen me and ran back up the hill, crashing through the bush and making lots of noise. The owls didn’t move or care that much about this occurrence.

barred owl owlets fledglings watching

Barred Owl Fledglings Watching a Deer (Purchase)

At the time I hadn’t remembered at what point baby owls leave the nest so there was some speculation with passersby regarding their flying abilities. Sometimes young Barred Owls leave the nest without flying, and climb up and down trees and hang out on the branches before flying around. Eventually the smaller owlet on the left answered the question for this pair and switched trees. The flight looked quite smooth and the landing was relatively elegant. They seemed to have moved beyond the crash landing stage.

barred owl owlets fledgling stretching

Barred Owl Owlet Stretching on a branch (Purchase)

The remaining fledgling remained on the branch itself for a while after that, and sometimes rested its head on the branch (photo above) while stretching out its wings. It really sort of looked like it was bored waiting for an adult to show up with some food. C’mon Mom – I’m hungry!

barred owl owlets fledglings perched in a bigleaf maple tree

Barred Owl Fledglings perched in a Bigleaf Maple Tree (Purchase)

Eventually the older fledgling joined the younger on the nearby Bigleaf Maple tree, though not initially on the same branch. After a few minutes it hopped around onto a few different branches and then jumped up and rejoined its sibling. I noticed in this new location that both owlets were doing an almost equal amount of begging calls (and simultaneously at times as in the photo above), so perhaps it was getting closer to the time when free food might usually arrive.

The video below is about 2.5 minutes of the ~10min of footage I recorded while viewing these fledglings. My favourite part is probably the first 20 seconds or so. The younger owlet suddenly looks at the older one, does a loud begging call, and the older one looks away. It reads a bit like a bit of a rebuke of sorts! Near the 1 minute mark a Crow can be heard cawing overhead. Crows and a few other species of birds don’t exactly get along with owls, and will harass or mob them when they can. The young owls here didn’t seem perturbed by the overhead cawing, and even let out a few begging calls while the crows were nearby. I would think crows would be smart enough to know what that sound means. Apparently the owls didn’t draw a connection between the cawing and any potential for harassment. Perhaps they haven’t learned or experienced that yet, or the crows don’t often mob fledglings.

Video of Barred Owl Fledglings in Campbell Valley Park

For more photographs of these (and other) owls visit my Bird Photos Gallery.

Adult Barred Owl (Strix varia)

A Barred Owl (Strix varia) looks down from its perch in a backyard forest in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada.

barred owl strix varia fraser valley

Barred Owl (Strix varia) (Purchase)

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   I have described myself before here as a “wildlife opportunist” in that I seldom seek out animals to photograph, but happily do so when they are nearby – as was the case with this Barred Owl a few days ago. I came home from some grocery shopping and decided to check out why the Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) and Steller’s Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) were going a bit nuts in the forest next to my house, and found they were harassing a Barred Owl. I immediately went inside and grabbed my camera. As with any wildlife encounter, my camera had the widest angle lens on it at the time, so I had to switch to my 70-200, replace the battery, and put in a new memory card. Luckily the Barred Owl was still in the trees when I returned. The crows and jays seemed more worried about my presence than they were motivated to harass the owl, so they moved on pretty quickly. I made a few photographs of the owl but as usual with the owls I see, there were plenty of branches and leaves in the way. I did what I could, but then another bird species actually helped me out – an Annas Hummingbird (Calypte anna).

barred owl strix varia fraser valley

Adult Barred Owl (Strix varia) (Purchase)

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   Hummingbirds can be quite aggressive and territorial, and this one was living up to that reputation. A group of hummingbirds is called a “troubling” which makes sense in this context. Another name – a “charm” of hummingbirds doesn’t seem quite as relevant. This summer I saw a Bald Eagle fly over the house – without the usual assortment of crows etc harassing it. What was after the eagle was a small swarm of Hummingbirds orbiting it like angry wasps. The Hummingbird in this case would strafe the owl, hover, move off, and then repeat. Occasionally it would perch nearby before continuing the harassment campaign. What worked out in my favor was that the Hummingbird actually ran into the back of the owls head at one point, and so the owl moved to a different location about 20 feet away. Also lucky for me was that this actually put the Barred Owl in a better position for me to photograph it without (as many) distracting branches and leaves in the frame.

   When I photograph wildlife I try to make sure I am not disturbing their normal behaviour as much as possible. This owl seemed much more interested in what was happening on the ground below it with the occasional glance at me or to track the latest strafe from the Hummingbird. This was maybe an hour before sunset so perhaps it was starting to think about hunting. I’ve found a few owl pellets on the ground near here this fall, and found a number last winter, so there is a chance I’ll see this individual again.

barred owl strix varia fraser valley

Barred Owl (Strix varia) in the Fraser Valley (Purchase)

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For more photographs of owls and other birds visit my Bird Gallery.

My Top 10 Photos of 2012

   I always find it difficult to narrow down a years worth of photographs into one list of the “best”. It is a good exercise, however, to really sit down and go through your work and determine what images best fit your current vision for your photography. I did this back in 2010 and 2011 as a part of Jim Goldstein’s project and I am please to enter my images again for this years version.

   All of these photographs are available as Fine Art Prints.

   So in no particular order these are the “top” (probably better termed as favourite) photos I have made in 2012.

kalamalka lake provincial park panorama
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park Spring Panorama

(Coldstream, British Columbia)

Read moreMy Top 10 Photos of 2012

Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - keeps an eye out for a dive bombing harrier at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl
(Bubo scandiacus)
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   Back in mid February I went to the Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area to photograph the Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus). The Snowy Owls are not normally in this location during Winter. This is an “irruption” year, where the Snowy Owls venture further south than they normally would. There are various opinions as to why this occurs, though most often I see it being related to food supply in the Arctic. As this happens only about once every 5-6 years I made sure I went down to take a look. I figured even if I could not photograph the Snowy Owls as they were too far out in the marsh I would be able to at least see them from afar. I was not disappointed.

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - yawning at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Yaaaaaawwwwn!
A Group of Snowy Owls
(Bubo scandiacus)
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   The first photo here shows an Owl that was like many of the others sitting on the driftwood – it had to occasionally keep a wary eye on a passing hawk or Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus). The Harriers especially seemed to like to dive bomb some of the Snowy Owls – though I don’t know if they ever make contact. One flew over the head of this owl and it kept an eye on it as it passed. The second photo shows one of the first signs of the Snowy Owls “waking up” from their earlier positions of just sitting on the logs with their eyes closed. There was lots of yawning, though I didn’t see it go through the group in any sort of contagious manner like it does in humans.

a group of snowy owls - bubo scandiacus - warm up for flight on a piece of driftwood at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Warming up for flight
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   The last two images here show the Snowy Owls stretching and fluffing up their feathers in preparation for flight. I had seen a few other groups of Snowy Owls further down the trail do this, before they ultimately took off towards the marsh. I presume this was to go look for food, as they were not being harassed by photographers at the time. The group I was following did not take off during the day, so I will have to wait until the next irruption to get some flight photos. Of all the photos I made of this group of Snowy Owls, I do not think I ever had one where they were preening and fluffing up their feathers where all three were facing the same direction. This is part of the fun and challenge though. Two out of three ain’t bad!

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - stretching before flight at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
stretching
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   I wrote in my last Snowy Owl post that I was easily able to photograph these Snowy Owls from the trail at Boundary Bay. The individual Owls pictured here were all within about 40-50 feet of the trail. I was going to make this post a bit more about the ethics of wildlife and landscape photography as I see it – but I think that is a topic that I need to mull over just a bit more and probably deserves its own post anyway. As I’ve said before though, I do not see trampling the marsh habitat or approaching the Snowy Owls and spooking them to be something anyone should be doing just to “get the shot”. On this day there were maybe a dozen plus “Big Lenses” wandering around in the marsh no doubt causing much damage – especially as a cumulative effect.

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) hops onto a piece of driftwood at Boundary Bay in Delta, British Columbia, Canada.

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - hops to a different piece of driftwood at boundary bay british columbia canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (Purchase)

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   I will do a more thorough writeup of my trip yesterday to Boundary Bay, but for now I wanted to quickly share this image of a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus). Of the over 600 photographs I made yesterday, this one stood out as one that showed the best action of the day. The Owls hunt sporadically, so there is a lot of sleep and relaxing in between. Sometimes they just sit there and barely open their eyes. This one started to warm up for the hunt and hopped around a little before taking off towards the water.

   I should point out that I made this photograph from the path at Boundary Bay. Many photographers have behaved badly in this location in the last few months, a fact I will document and speak to in a later post. I was able to hang out for hours within 30-40 feet of a dozen Snowy Owls right next to the path, I have no idea why trampling the marsh and chasing the Owls is necessary for a good photograph. More about that later (and more Snowy Owl photos too!).

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)

A wild Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) stares down from a branch in Mission, British Columbia

northern pygmy-owl - glaucidium gnoma

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) (Purchase)

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   On Friday I drove out to the area searching for Bald Eagles to photograph. The Lower Stave River still has a lot of Salmon carcasses (and still some live Salmon) for the Eagles to feed on. There are also a ton of Seagulls, Great Blue Herons, and Ducks of all sorts. I still have not managed to get a “good” Eagle photo – but I am still working on it. There are a ton of Bald Eagles out in the Fraser Valley right now, so I will keep going out there for a while trying to get some of the shots that I have in my head (or totally different ones).

northern pygmy-owl (glaucidium gnoma)
Northern Pygmy-Owl
(Glaucidium gnoma)
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   Neither photo here is a Bald Eagle of course. So often I head out seeking a particular subject or photo, only to come home with completely different subjects. This is great, because even if I am not able to photograph the subject I am looking for – coming home with good photos of something else is nice. I think one of the many things I like about photography is you are just never quite sure what you are going to get.

   I had never seen a Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) before but immediately recognized it. A very small Owl species, this guy was probably only 17cm (7 inches) high. Much much smaller in size than the other Owl I photographed recently, a Barred Owl. I really enjoy the glare it is giving, though I have no idea what it was looking at. I made several photos of this owl and I think the first one here is my favourite just because of the facial expression – it looks like it is about to kill something. More apparently in a larger version is the small smear of blood on its chest feathers, indicating this is not necessarily an idle threat.

   This was also one of my first set of photos using my new Canon 1.4x EF Extender II on my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens. This was handheld and I am quite happy with the early results from the combination of these two.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

A Barred Owl (Strix varia,) in Campbell Valley Park, Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

barred owl strix varia campbell valley park

Barred Owl (Strix varia,) (Purchase)

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   I went for a walk through some trails last week and while I wasn’t going there specifically for photography I brought the camera along. I figured that if I didn’t have it with me, an eagle would land in a tree right in front of me and well, I would be out of luck photographically. No eagles this time, but a Barred Owl (Strix varia) did land right in front of me and posed for long enough for me to get a few decent shots of it. I have never seen an owl this close before, and I’m lucky I had a camera poised to take the shot. A few weeks ago I was in the same spot on the trail taking some macro shots of Pacific Bleeding Heart flowers. If the owl had shown up then I would have had the macro lens on (instead of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS), camera on the tripod, mirror lockup turned on, the ISO too low, and an aperture stopped down enough that a handheld shot would have been impossible. I guess what I am saying is I feel fortunate to have had all the factors work out for me this time! Getting a nice composition is difficult with so many branches sticking out everywhere though.