Burrowing Owl – A Romp Through The Flowers

This owl played hopscotch through a sea of flowers in a howling wind on Antelope Island yesterday morning.

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I believe this is the male near the entrance to his burrow. His mate spent most of her time in the burrow, though I did see the top of her head for a few minutes. In this area the soil is mostly oolitic sand which is white – accounting for the white color of the burrow mound.

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The dominant force in play while I was with this owl was the howling wind. It was blowing at least 40 mph (having lived in Cut Bank, Montana for so many years I’m quite good at estimating wind speed) and birds in the area, including this one, were having great difficulty dealing with it. Here, even though he’s facing into the wind, his feathers are ruffled and we can see blowing sand in his shadow beneath him. I’m somewhat surprised I got as many sharp shots as I did because the wind kept catching my lens hood and making my lens wobble and jerk. Later in the day wind speed reached as high as 82 mph in some areas.

On top of the mound he was quite exposed to the wind and I was surprised he didn’t go down into his burrow to escape it. Instead he chose to…

 

 

1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

fly a few feet away in an apparent attempt to find a low spot where he could hunker down. He stood erect for a few moments and posed for me in the flowers before doing so.

  • A note about the flowers – they’re redstem filaree, an invasive plant that’s particularly common in dry areas of the American West. Large areas of the island are blanketed with them right now, giving the hillsides a distinctive pinkish-purple glow especially in morning light. I think they make a wonderful setting for the handsome owl.

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

After scoping his immediate surroundings for danger he hunkered down to escape the worst effects of the gale and he maintained this posture for some time.

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Occasionally he’d stand up and pose for me again but he was still being buffeted by the wind and suddenly, as if shot from a gun…

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

he bolted across the flower patch to look for a more protected spot.

 

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

These guys can really scoot!

Every movement they make, whether flying or running (or most everything else), is incredibly fast and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep him in frame and in focus for four frames while he was running. By the time this shot was taken I was panning (moving my lens to follow the bird) so this is one of those many situations where my habitually high shutter speed paid off.

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is the new spot he chose to escape the wind. Once again he stood erect for a few moments to scope out his new environment and then…

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

hunkered down for some protection. But apparently he still wasn’t pleased with his new spot…

 

 

1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

so without warning he took off to find another one.

I was as ready for this takeoff as I could possibly be and I still cut off an entire wing. Believe me, these little owls are fast!

 

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

His third chosen refuge from the wind was near another burrow entrance but he didn’t get much relief there either (as seems apparent from his grumpy look) so eventually he went down into the burrow and I left the area.

That damned wind is aggravating and hugely inconvenient for humans. Hundreds of homes have been without power, big trees were toppled on houses, big rigs were blown over on Interstate 80 and some airline flights were cancelled. But at least we can escape it in our homes. Burrowing Owls are one of the few birds that can do the same but most birds can’t.

Life is tough for birds and I’m often amazed that they do as well as they do.

Ron

 

 

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38 comments to Burrowing Owl – A Romp Through The Flowers

  • Wonderful photography and post.

  • Pamy Bly

    I have seen many burrowing owls here in Florida. They are on the Gulf Coast, Cape Coral to be exact. They are fun & interesting to watch. Cape Coral even has a Festival every year to celebrate them.

  • Zaphir Shamma

    One of your best posts I’ve seen…love these birds and the work you do to bring them to us. Thanks Ron…well done Sir.

  • I am not a fan of wind. Like young children it makes me irritable and antsy. I hope that you and your house are safe.
    However, I am smiling so broadly my face hurts.
    Owls. Burrowing owls. And a link to an oxygen thieves come-upance.
    Thank you. Lots.

  • Marty K

    What a fun series. (OK, maybe not so much for Mr. Owl who was trying not to land on the yellow brick road.) They are odd-looking yet endearing little guys with those impossibly long legs and huge eyes. Thank you for sharing your find.

    I followed your oolitic link (oolinkic? 😉 ) and was pleased to find Schadenfreude. If only all arse holes had such a comeuppance. One can dream…

    Hope you don’t have any problems amongst your trees and your roof and the wind.

    • Marty, both my house and my tree survived the wind. This time…

      They use those long legs to great advantage when they’re running. They’re jaw-droppingly fast!

  • Pat

    Ron, thanks so much for these wonderful photos and the story to go with them! I used to see many burrowing owls when I rode my horse in the desert north of downtown Phoenix. We riders would stop and watch them for awhile to see their heads popping up out of their burrows or the broken wing routine to lead us away from the burrow. Those were special moments!

  • Chris Sanborn

    Awww, these images are awesome! Have never seen a pic of a burrowing owl running … usually they’re just lolling around, parallaxing, popping up in the burrow, it seems. What a great series to start the weekend! I hope for owls’ and other birds’ (and your own) sake, the wind dies down. Kind of surprised that guy could withstand 40mph!

    • Chris, thankfully the wind has now quit.

      And these might be my first shots of a running Burrowing Owl. Usually they’re just too darned quick for me.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photos. Such amazing little birds. You just never know what the day will be like when you head out. On Monday I took a long loop around Box Elder and it was them most incredible bird day I have ever had. 10 Short Eared Owl, 8 Burrowing Owl nests, 5 with actively moving birds. The other 3 just the top of the head showing. A Red tail mi-air battle over a rodent catch. Male Ring Neck Pheasant fighting over territory. 18 Sandhill Cranes in the same spot doing mating dances. 2 of the cranes painting themselves with red mud. An Eagle on a power pole, yes I clipped the wings when it took off when a truck drove by. A marsh wren weaving its hanging nest and a co-operative Bittern. I left at 6am and intended on being home by 1 or 2 but every turn in the road had more birds! By the time I got to the cranes (4pm) my arm was exhausted from holding my camera and the photos are not as sharp as I like. But I watched and will remember the wonderful sight. I almost filled a 128GB card! I will be culling forever.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Another great set of photos! I never did see these guys in Florida 🙁

  • Elmer Deloso

    My favorite is the 9th photo. Thanks for sharing these!

  • Judy Gusick

    Wonderful series, Ron! 🙂 He really put on a show for you and your shutter speed sure made a difference! Nothing likes the wind for sure. Yes,one does get used to estimating wind speed here in N Central Montana also. When one of my brothers left he opined that now he might be able to keep his hair in place! 🙂

    • I thought of you when I was writing about the wind, Judy. When I lived in Montana I loved almost everything about it. Even the cold and short winter days didn’t bother me much but that damned wind was another story!

  • Patty Chadwick

    Those are the cutest, funniest little guys…images of them ALWAYS make me laugh and brighten my day…they are too cute for their own good!!! I, like you, am amazed at what birds go through–and survive (also know that many of of them don’t)…hunting must be impossible with winds that strong…combined with their high metabolisms, that kind of weather must really weaken them…

    • Couldn’t agree more about their cuteness, Patty.

      Thankfully the wind has now stopped so hopefully they’re getting plenty to eat this morning.

  • Robyn Kemp

    What a delightful series! It’s hard to believe this tenacious little guy wasn’t just picked up and tossed in such strong winds – I’d look grumpy, too.

    • “It’s hard to believe this tenacious little guy wasn’t just picked up and tossed in such strong winds”

      That’s exactly right, Robyn. My lens (without attached camera and teleconverter) weighs over 7 lbs and it was being buffeted and thrown around by the wind. This little guy only weighs 5 oz. My lens weighs over 23x more than the owl!

  • Kris Eberhard

    Good for you—braving the howling wind, and bringing us these delightful images; as you point out, the birds and other wildlife have no other choice than to cope as best they can–
    you, on the other hand, made that choice and were rewarded with this unusual series !

    • Kris, to be honest I went to the island despite the forecast for wind in hopes that it wouldn’t come up for a while. When I left the house there wasn’t even a breeze but at dawn 50 minutes later it was already blowing. And it just got worse as the morning went on.

      I was ready to leave the island but at the last minute decided to check on the owls once more. I’m glad I did…

  • Marina schultz

    Envious of your burrow owls .. I’ve taken a step away from bird photography for the last month .. too frustrated with camera… I still drive around and veiw them just not camera wise looking at your Awsome pictures discouraged me even more .. so have been staying away. Not everyone can be the photographer you are … I wanted to be as good as you … lol. Not happening.. plus after 8 months of communications with DOW they aren’t going to help me with osprey platform . The power company just tore down the live osprey nest by my house I was livid!!!!!!! But the had permission those ospreys were soooo upset if I geuss if anything is going to happen I’m on my own .. im hoping the Local Audubon will help .. sorry for all this doom and gloom

    • Marina, I hope you’ll keep plugging away. For a long time I had some of the same camera/lens problems as you – many images not as sharp as they should be and some extremely soft when they shouldn’t be. But somehow things seem to be going much better now and I’m not really sure why. Yesterday for example nearly all of my 400+ owl images were sharp as a tack, even in the wind. Not sure how long it will last but for the time being everything seems fine.

      Yes, power companies have the legal right to remove bird nests from power poles as long as there are no eggs or chicks in them.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Marvelous series Ron!
    charlotte

  • Brilliant series, Ron. Congratulations!

  • Dick Harlow

    Beautiful images even with the nasty wind. However, remove the wind from the equation and it is a romp for spring amongst the spring tell-tale flowers.
    I agree it is a tough life out there, thus a reason for the term “Survival of the fittest”.
    Thanks for sharing!!

    • Dick, I kept thinking about the birds in that wind yesterday. I watched long-legged waders like Willets and curlews really struggle with it because they’re so high profile. They could BARELY stand up, even facing into the wind.

  • Christine

    Fun and lovely series Ron (except for the damaging winds part)–thank you! For those of us who don’t get to see Burrowing Owls–images of their “pluckiness” and beauty are a welcome sight 😉