I’ll take a brief break from my Zion images to share one from today’s adventure. I went “owling” in the San Gabriel Mountains with a local owl expert, in hopes of seeing some of the more uncommon owls around. We started an hour before dusk, using call playbacks to try and find a Northern Pygmy Owl. It wasn’t until we were deep in one of the canyons alongside a babbling stream, that we finally heard one hooting quietly from the dark foliage. We spent 45 minutes or so trying to find the little guy, without any luck. By this time it was very dark – time to start looking for our primary interest, the Spotted Owl. Within minutes of playing back a few deep hoots, we were greeted with a strange screeching sound. Soon after which, some more recognizable hoots confirmed: we had a pair of Spotted Owls! And they were very close! It didn’t take long before we found them, and we were treated to some fantastic looks.

“Spotted Owl” ~ San Gabriels, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 500mm f/4 + 1.4x tc, 580 exII flash, better beamer, tripod/sidekick
Exposure: iso 3200, f/5.6, 1/50th
Notes: I was trying some alternate flash methods, which necessitated the higher iso, though those did not work out. While I have some exposures at iso 400, the curious look in this one was the best. Thanks to the 5D2’s iso performance (given proper exposure), the noise is a none-issue. The exposure time for flash work like this is irrelevant, since all the light comes from the flash.
Processing: I darkened the backdrop significantly, to reduce the “flashed” appearance. Also, Spotted Owls are notorious for their “red-eye”, I opted to adjust the reds to a more natural looking pale yellow to remove the “evil” look.

The Spotted Owl is an IUCN near threatened species, so we were very fortunate to get to see them so well. The California subspecies, such as the ones we saw, are not quite as threatened as the Northern subspecies, which makes its home in old growth forests of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Still, these birds don’t have it easy with the frequent wildfires tearing through the landscape, in addition to habitat encroachment by the growing cities. After watching them for about 10 minutes we started back, so as not to stress the birds any more. On the way back we had two close encounters with Screech Owls, however, they were too shy to pose for more than brief glimpses. Meanwhile Great Horned Owls hooted from their hidden perches. Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience to hear and see so many owls in the dead of the night. Owls hold a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of many, because their mysterious nocturnal lifestyle, curious nature, and almost human faces. It’s always a joy to get to hear and see them!

One Comment to “Creatures of the Night”

  1. Wow, you needed a 500 mm lens to shoot the owl! And it takes you 45 minutes to succeed on it!… and what about holding up this heavy lens?

    Of course this owl shot is gorgeous but it seems to require a big effort. I admire you for that passion in nature. I love your pictures!