Burrowing Owl Takeoff (and my first fledglings of the year)

I’ve been watching for Burrowing Owl fledglings in northern Utah for a couple of weeks with no luck until yesterday morning. Don’t expect high quality photos of them (they were too far away and mostly hidden in vegetation) but I was able to document their emergence from a burrow and that alone was an exciting event for me.


burrowing owl 4539b ron dudley

I watched as an adult owl carried a vole to the burrow so I stopped my pickup and scoped it with my lens. Sure enough, for the first time this year I was able to see very young Burrowing Owls. Two of them are clearly visible (though out of focus) here as one of the adults flies off.



burrowing owl 4555 ron dudley

Here’s two more of them – one in plain view and the other difficult to see.

I’ve looked forward with anticipation to the emergence of young Burrowing Owls because they’re so darned much fun to watch and photograph. They’re loaded to the gills with personality and I can hardly wait to experience their antics once again.

Though I was excited to see these young owls yesterday I had significantly more luck getting quality images of the adults.



burrowing owl 4308 ron dudley

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Early in the morning I found this one perched on a leaning corner fence post near the road. In my mind I called this bird “Bloody Bill” for obvious reasons. Apparently this adult owl had recent success in hunting voles for its chicks.



burrowing owl 4319 ron dudley

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

When it eventually took off it did so at an angle that gave me a good profile view of the dynamics of takeoff. In the relatively soft early morning light I had just about the right combination of camera settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) to capture the action as best I could. I was happy to not screw up an opportunity like this one.

All in all it was a great morning – good light, good birds, good company and my first Burrowing Owl chicks of the year. And in a surprise and pleasant conclusion to the morning we had lunch with friends Neil Rossmiller and his wife Connie on our way out of the area.

I wish every day in the field was as successful and enjoyable.




Short-eared Owl Takeoff In My Direction

One of the many variables one must deal with when photographing birds at takeoff is direction of flight. If it’s to our right or left we have the potential of getting some interesting flight shots. If it’s away from us all we get is butt shots. If it’s toward us we face the technical challenges of maintaining focus on the relatively low profile of a fast-approaching subject.

In my experience raptors seldom make that third choice but when they do the results can be images that are quite appealing, partly because you’re very likely to get good eye contact. That’s especially true with big-eyed owls.


short-eared owl 3183 ron dudley1/3200, f/5, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Two days ago I spent quite a while photographing this adult Short-eared Owl as it hunted voles from an old wooden fence post. When it took off after prey it would reliably return to the same post or one right next to it. Usually it took off to my right or my left or away from me but this time it spotted something in the grass across the road from me to my right (I was shooting from my pickup) so it took off almost exactly in my direction. Obviously this is the moment it left the perch. I like that huge wingspan, the extended legs as they push off from the post and the focus of the owl on its quarry.

And that focus was complete. The owl obviously didn’t care that I was there because it flew right over the hood of my pickup, barely above my eye level, as it crossed the road. Seeing the bird so close to my windshield is a sight I won’t soon forget. And I was lucky enough to get quite a few sharp, unclipped shots as it approached me. I’ll likely post that series of images sometime next week.

I suspect that some of my readers may be beginning to grow weary all the Short-eared Owl images I’ve been posting recently and I understand that. But this late spring has been a bonanza for these owls like I can’t remember so I feel like I have to take advantage of the situation while it lasts. I don’t want to look back and wish I’d spent more time with them than I did.

And I can only post what I shoot…