We do! We were wandering down from Steptoe Butte in the Palouse on our last morning of the photo tour. One of the participants said she had three things on her ‘checklist’ and they were ‘an owl, crop dusting, and a harvester in action’. We were on our way back to the hotel, slowly, planning to visit one last barn, and suddenly, Jed and I spotted this Great Horned Owl sitting on this sign. We figured there wasn’t a chance in h— that it would stay there once we even looked through our lenses; they have an uncanny way of knowing when you’re about to make a picture and they fly off – but we thought we’d try. It wasn’t leaving, so we slowly got out of the car and Jed walked back to the other cars and suggested they slowly get out. It still didn’t fly away! We photographed there for a little bit and then slowly walked to another position, getting ever closer. It was really wonderful. Yet even though I did get closer, this picture tells a story of being in the golden fields on country roads. (should read very dusty roads) When it finally decided to fly – I managed one picture that worked out of the series. (see below) Owls are challenging from the side because they don’t have a strong profile, but I’m still happy with this picture for the moment it captured! Oh, and our participant? She got the owl too, and just a short piece down the road, we encountered crop dusting right in the field on the side of the road. Some mornings are just like that – many unexpected gifts.
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Hi Brenda, I saw these signs too, they cracked me up. Wonderful opportunity with the owl. What a gorgeous creature. I love birds of prey shots, so I’ll tell you a couple of things I have learned. Obviously they are extremely wary. I followed a huge hawk in the Palouse this year, all to no avail, she just kept getting further away.
They tend to be less afraid when you stay in your vehicle. I suppose that through experience or DNA they think they will be shot at when someone jumps out and points something at them. So slowly driving to a shooting position (if possible) is helpful, then shooting through your open window.
Another things to remember is that they have 8x binocular vision. Basically they can see like looking through binocs. If you point a big old 2.8 lens at them, supposedly they see right into the lens, and see your (huge) eye! And it terrifies them. I try to not look at them, not point my camera at them, and then slowly but deliberately point the camera and get my shot.
Of course they are smart and often fly the opposite direction, as in this case, which makes them frustrating photo models to say the least. I have taken a few nice shots by opening my sunroof, and then just waiting to see if they’ll fly overhead. They don’t see you until it is too late and you can shoot right up at them. Hope this helps!
Hi Bob – thanks for all your helpful advice. Other readers will no doubt benefit from this as well. I have photographed birds for a long time – but only now and then, and hawks and raptors in general are very wary! It’s so true about pointing that long lens at them – they can see our eyes. When I work in the Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, I work from my car – using a Vacupod mount to put my long lens on the window or to mount it to my sunroof so it’s suspended inside the car – there are only a few places where you can get out successfully but mostly the birds are then too far away for my liking. Sunroofs are a great way to photograph birds as you pointed out, staying in the car provides the ‘blind’ that makes they less flighty, no pun intended. But in the end, the pictures you get are always blessings for the effort you put out on raptors! The owls in the Palouse are much more habituated to people, as they often live in the barns and trees on the property of the farmers, the only trees left in the area, more or less! So they get used to people but they are still not used to lenses looking back at them. But this one surely was – imagine 8 of us approaching this one owl slowly, carefully, with our lenses pointed at him. He must have been a very habituated owl to not fly off immediately!! And when he did fly, it wasn’t very far away just into some nearby small trees on the farm. Thanks for commenting!
Hi John – Boy, it sure does matter that you have a good lens for birds and wildlife, I learned that the hard way too many years ago. Sorry you had that happen, too. With today’s digital sensors, every flaw in a lens shows, it seems! Ironically, for this image, I used a Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens!! It’s a very sharp lens, fast to autofocus, lightweight and what I travel with when I’m not working more with outdoor/landscapes, and expecting wildlife encounters. HA! when you least expect them, that’s when they show up, right?! Thanks for commenting.
Great shots! I can never decide which bird is my favorite, owls or hummingbirds. I recently went on a burrowing owl shoot, took a couple hundred photos and basically trashed every one. The lesson was, don’t count on an average lens to give you excellent results – especially with a camera like a Nikon D7000. So, I’ll try again sometime – maybe next year.