Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bulletin #122 – North American Owls - The Houston Arboretum Show

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

September 15, 2010

Bulletin #122 – North American Owls - The Houston Arboretum Show

As many of you know, owls are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. The Houston Arboretum currently has a show of 10 of my owl photographs. Thank you to Bill Eley and the Arboretum staff for this honor.

The reason owls became a favorite subject is their eyes. Due to their flat faces, their eyes look human. As the owls are primarily nocturnal, it is hard to appreciate this. However, I have been lucky to find most of these owls in the daytime which makes for easier photography and better photos. Compare owls to other birds. Here is a photo of an eagle straight on. He almost looks sinister compared to the 'wise old owl'.

This photo of a Burrowing Owl that I took March 31, 2007 at Fort Travis Park on Bolivar (across from Galveston) illustrated this feature. When I got home and saw the photo, I was astounded. The owl has 'Mona Lisa' eyes that follow you around the room. I still consider this to be my best ever photo.

I have photographed most of the owls in North America since then, and I try to have them looking directly at the camera to get the same effect. Of course it doesn't always happen.

The next 2 photos were taken in Patagonia, Arizona in late October 2008. My guide who helped me find these birds was Matt Brown. He has been the most enthusiastic guide to take me out after dark to look for owls. Here are 2 of the 4 owl species I have photographed with him. The first is the Western Screech-Owl.

The second is the endangered Spotted Owl. Again in this photo, I was able to have the owl looking directly at the camera, but the dark eyes of this owl aren't so dramatic as the Burrowing Owl above. 

In January 2009, I was on vacation in Sarasota Florida. My wife and I went to the Sarasota Botanical Gardens to see their orchid display. After touring the green houses, we walked outside into the gardens. This Eastern Screech-Owl was roosting in a palm leaf right outside the door. He was at eye level to make an ideal picture. I went back to the car for my camera and took this photo. Again, I was able to have him looking right at the camera.  

A month later in a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, I went to the San Miguelito Ranch, as that is the easiest location to find the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. They nest in bird houses in the back yard of the ranch house! 

As luck would have it, the owner Leticia Tijerina was also able to show me a sleeping Barn Owl in her horse barn. 

And the third owl at the ranch was a Great Horned Owl on it nest. This completed a trifecta of owls in the single location!

In  Feb 2010, I went to Duluth Minnesota to photograph winter birds. My guide there was Sparky Stensaas. We found 2 of the owl species that I was searching for. Here is a juvenile Snowy Owl. He also was looking directly at the camera in this picture.  

The other owl was a Northern Hawk Owl. We saw at least 5 of these birds. They always sat on the tops of trees in the daylight, so they were quite easy to find.  

One of the owls missed in Minnesota in February, was found in Alaska last June. This Great Gray Owl was found on her nest. This is North America's largest owl. 

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald
photos copyright 2010 David McDonald

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