Monday, 23 December 2013

Long-eared Owl photoshoot

This past weekend I made my monthly visit to Point Pelee and other areas of Essex County. I arrived Friday evening and Saturday was spent looking for birds on the Lakeshore Christmas Bird Count, located near Tecumseh and points further east of Windsor along the Lake St. Clair shoreline.

I met up with Jeremy Hatt, Jeremy Bensette, and Kory Renaud to cover a section of the count. Later, Dwayne Murphy joined us for a few hours as well. The day was characterized by rain, wind, and more rain and as a result birding was pretty much ineffective...we did have a few highlights though, including three separate Snowy Owls, all sitting out on the ice of St. Clair.

At one point, I caught a catfish...there were several of these swimming in the puddles that were forming on top of the ice. I was somewhat confused how they got there.

Photo taken by Kory Renaud

We finished with a measly total of species...I think it was in the 30s? But then again we only birded a half day before it was time to attend the wrap up meeting.

The following morning I had a bit of a late start but eventually got going and checked out the Point Pelee area. I only had a few hours unfortunately before having to drive back to Cambridge for a family function.

First up was the Shuster trail inside of the national park. This area can be pretty decent in early winter as it is a fairly sheltered area with an abundance of sumac. I did not see any birds.

Next up was a slow drive through the onion fields north of the park, normally a great area for wintering raptors, and occasionally gulls and waterfowl. I did not see any birds (except a few harriers and one Rough-legged Hawk).

I checked the south end of Hillman Marsh. I did not see any birds.

While driving near the north end of Hillman Marsh, I just happened to look to the left to see a suspicious dark lump perched out in the open - a Long-eared Owl!

I backed my car up to the spot, parked on the shoulder, and readied my camera equipment while the owl kept an eye on me. I then proceeded to spend about half an hour shooting photos of the little beast, changing different settings and trying different techniques while the owl quietly sat still, basking in the occasional sunshine.

This particular area contains quite a few cedars and as a result it is a favored wintering area for Long-eared Owls. I have spent several evenings over the past few winters waiting quietly along the roadside for the owls to emerge from their favored cedars around dusk, to fly around nearby fields to hunt for small rodents. And while I have seen them tucked away deep into the cedars before, this was my first time watching one out in the open. A beautiful owl!

It was quite windy at the time and several gusts were strong enough that the owl nearly fell off its perch. But it remained there, seemingly content to quietly watch the world go by while it warmed in the sunlight.

Occasionally the Long-eared Owl would fluff itself up and shake all its made for some interesting photography.

A Blue Jay dropped in for about 15 second to squawk at the owl, but it calmly watched the jay and refused to leave its perch, and the jay quickly moved on.

I continued on, managing to not see any birds at northeast Hillman Marsh and Wheatley harbour. But, as is often the case, one bird makes the trip. This was a fantastic experience that I won't forget for some time...


  1. Very co-operative for a Long-eared Owl!

  2. Wow, what amazing, wonderful photos! You hardly ever see this species 'in its element' in pics. In the pics I have seen, they mostly look scared and wary, but this bird seems so laid-back and calm. I'm sure you were grinning from ear-to-ear after that experience. Thank you for sharing the experience on your blog.