Juvenile Burrowing Owl Acting A Little Silly

This morning I needed a little Burrowing Owl silliness.


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1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this juvenile (and its siblings) this past July in a remote area of Box Elder County. Like most youngsters of the species they were amusing to watch. They experimented with their environment, their siblings and themselves as they learned about the world they found themselves in. They could sometimes look pretty serious but it never lasted long.



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1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I never knew what might happen when they tried to stretch on an elevated perch because they were so awkward and clumsy. They would often lose their balance and then have to use their wings to recover so I had to be prepared with enough shutter speed and depth of field to capture unpredictable poses as well as I could.

This time the bird didn’t lose its balance but I got a nice wing stretch in my direction and I also enjoy the stretching foot in front of the wing. This youngster did unusually well because it was obviously balanced on one foot during the stretch and never did begin to fall.



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1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Then it turned on the post and began to preen. These kinds of activities on an elevated perch are difficult for young owls for reasons of stability but it’s how they learn and develop. Those talons almost look like they have a death-grip on the perch in order to prevent the bird from losing its balance. It’s a silly pose but I like silliness from Burrowing Owls, especially juveniles.



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1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Then the bird really turned on the goofy-juice. This is a pose I’ve seen often from raptors (I don’t know why I never see it in other birds) but I’m really not sure what’s happening – perhaps it’s a foot clenching exercise. The pose is often held for some time and with its eyes closed it looks like this youngster is enjoying the moment.



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A huge crop (only 5% of the original image) of the previous photo gives us a better look at those eyelids and amazing “eyelashes”. Owls lower their upper eyelids when blinking but raise their lower eyelids when asleep.

I’ve often wondered if the long eyelashes and bushy eyebrows of Burrowing Owls might be adaptations designed to help keep dirt out of their eyes while they’re in their burrows.

For the past few weeks I’ve been seeing Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island which is quite unusual in the dead of winter. I hope that’s an encouraging sign because in much of the west these birds are really struggling.




How The Kindness Of A Stranger Kept Me From Giving Up Photography

This post is going to need an extended introduction. Please bear with me as I bring you up to date on a story that I first reported on over two years ago.

Roughly eight years ago I was a highly frustrated wannabe bird photographer. I had invested in very expensive gear and joined Nature Photographer’s Network (NPN), a nature photography critique forum, in an effort to become a really good bird photographer. One of the first things I learned on NPN was that I needed to switch over from shooting jpeg to shooting RAW, which I did. But RAW files are inherently soft out of camera (jpegs are generally sharpened in camera but virtually all RAW files need sharpening) so I needed to learn how to skillfully process images and that included sharpening. So I purchased Photoshop and immediately hit a thick brick wall.

Photoshop is complicated and intimidating and I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually I thought I had figured out a basic work flow that was acceptable and began submitting images to NPN for critique that had been shot in RAW. I knew that some of those images had a lot of potential but they weren’t being received by NPN members as well as I hoped and I didn’t really know why. This went on for quite a while and I was very discouraged because I was trying so hard and getting nowhere. I remember seriously considering selling my gear and finding a new hobby.

Then out of the blue I received an email from NPN member Dave Sparks who suggested that my images weren’t living up to potential because they hadn’t been sharpened properly. Dave took a real chance when he sent that email – many photographers are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism of their images, even on a critique forum like NPN. Dave and I didn’t know each other and he had no idea how I’d react but he sent it anyway. During our extended email conversation Dave provided me with a sharpening “recipe” that improved my images dramatically. I’ve been using that recipe, with variations, ever since.

Since 2008 Dave and I have developed a long distance friendship but he lived in Florida so our paths never crossed (regular readers will likely recognize his name because he comments here fairly often). But recently Dave planned a winter photography trip to Yellowstone and he arranged to spend a day in Salt Lake City so that Mia and I could finally meet him. Our plan was to spend the day together and give him a tour of Antelope Island and Farmington Bay WMA as we visited. And three days ago that’s exactly what we did, even though the weather was uncooperative to the extreme. We endured a blizzard for most of the day and much of the time we had near whiteout conditions.


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This is Dave at Farmington three days ago. He had walked over to the edge of the road to photograph something and he didn’t know that I had my camera trained on him when he turned around. I hollered out to him to wave and he obliged. We had heavy snow and fog for most of the day so obviously shooting conditions were terrible but dang we had a good time together.

I often think about what I might have missed if Dave hadn’t sent that email. There was no way I’d continue to have that much money tied up in gear for a hobby that I was no good at so I’d likely have sold it all and developed other interests. I’d have missed all the joy of photography and the time spent in nature and with birds. There would have been no blogging “career” and I’d never have met the many photography friends that mean so much to me now.

So thank you, Dave. Your kind gesture continues to enrich my life.

And I hope you’re having a blast in Yellowstone!




  • Dave is a highly skilled bird and nature photographer. He’s been all over the world for his photography and his portfolio is impressive. Some of his images can be seen here.
  • At the request of several readers I’ve included the “recipe” for my (Dave’s) original sharpening technique in my response to Dick Harlow’s comment below.
  • As an afterthought I decided to include the image below so you can see how my photos turned out that were taken in the whiteout at Farmington. The snow was so thick that my focus points could barely lock on to the kestrel and the fog and “thick air” muted everything. I deleted almost every image taken that day but I kept this one because I like those little vole paws sticking up out of the snow.


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