Owls Will Always Excite Me

I spotted this magnificent barred owl yesterday morning in 18° weather. I woke at around 7:45 a.m. with park withdrawal thanks to the sudden chilly temperatures we have been experiencing. For some reason, I pushed myself to go despite the weather report. I  traveled to a few of my favorite spots and got out the car for very brief hikes to look in the trees for owls and around the edges of the woods for a fox. No luck and it was very cold. I was on my way out when I decided to stop at one last place and get out and take a look. My hands were frozen because I forgot to bring gloves but after spotting the owl, I decided to get out and snap a few photos.

This was a barred owl and it was also my first sight of one in the wild. He appeared to be sleeping. I didn't stay too long or try to encroach. I took the photo at a comfortable distance thanks to my Tamron 150-600mm lens. I left feeling grateful that I was able to get my butt up and go birding that morning.

I have felt fortunate every time I have spotted an owl. There is something really magical about spotting one of these beautiful and elusive creatures. This year alone allowed me to tick off seeing a great horned owl and her owlets in the spring. An experience I was able to share with my husband who now has an even more profound love of the owl.

That sighting, thanks to my good friend Rich Miko's navigation, led me to purchase the Tamron 150-600mm lens. I had wanted that lens for travel and exploration but felt that the Sigma 85mm was more practical since shooting portraits could actually help pay the bills. After visiting the owlets with my 85mm in tow, I was sorely disappointed. Such a beautiful, once in a lifetime experience, rendered me without anything worth sharing. Steve convinced me to get the Tamron so I ordered it on Amazon and the next day when it arrived I went right back to take more photos of the owlets. This time I was not disappointed.

great horned owlets in nest

In November when all but a few rose gold leaves remained, I waited for the sun to start to rise in the parking lot and then got out and decided to take a long hike through the woods. It was in the 30s that day but I wore a couple of layers and had my coat, hat, and gloves. I had just entered the woods on a familiar path and walked about a quarter of a mile when for some reason I stopped and turned around. I saw an eastern screech owl staring at me with his head almost sideways and his eyes eerily wide. That was by far the best experience yet. This was an owl caught off guard and completely aware of my presence before I detected hers. The woods were quiet and not another soul was around. I tried to back up slowly to not scare the owl. I was within arm's reach. I backed up to what I thought was a safe distance and raised my lens and immediately she took off but I was blessed with a sight I have never seen in the wild either. An owl navigating through bare trees in the woods. I could see it cross over quite a distance before landing in a tree far from where I was on the path. I followed the path but never spotted it again.

I have had other magical experiences with owls too. For example in 2016, on our way to Disney World, I told my husband that the only thing I was really hoping for was to experience spotting an owl on our drive down. Sadly, I never spotted one. When we arrived at Epcot the very first thing we saw to our left was a tent with some sort of bird show going on. I asked Steve and my daughter if they wanted to go inside and they both said yes. We walked in and sat near the back. There were so many people already in there. As we were sitting down we heard the man ask if anyone in the audience had a camera and if so to raise our hands. My hand shot up immediately. I had my old Canon Rebel with a 50mm lens at the time. He pointed at me and said, "You, come on up here." I turned around and then heard him say, "Yes, you, in the black t-shirt." We had just arrived and this was our first experience. As I am walking up there, I hear them say that the owls are going to fly over my head and the head of another volunteer and we would have the opportunity to snap a photograph. I could not believe this was happening. The best part of it was that the owl was released behind Steve and V and they felt the air move just as I did when the owl passed over their heads. That is honestly the only thing I truly remember about Disney World. Sadly, I lost the photo in a hard drive crash a couple of years ago.

Birding was something that happened accidentally. I have always enjoyed birds. From the homing pigeons, we had to the various cockatiels I hand-raised and a little bit in between. I have always enjoyed sighting hawks, a talent I am exceptionally skilled at. But this year has brought owls into my life in a more concrete way than I have ever experienced before. I imagine I will only see more with each day that passes. And I am grateful for rediscovering what was always a natural love and curiosity for me.