Monday, January 17, 2022

Owls: Hoot and Give a Hoot (Great Horned Owls) & Benny the Barred Owl 01-15-22

Owls: Hoot and Give a Hoot (Great Horned Owls) & Benny the Barred Owl 01-15-22

On Saturday, 01-15-22, I went out to find the owls. Usually, I’ll go see if I can find either the male or female Great Horned Owl. If I don’t find either one of them I’ll go looking for Benny the Barred Owl.

I spotted Hoot, the female, Great Horned Owl from a distance. She was perched high up in a large oak tree. When I put my binoculars on her I saw Give a Hoot, the male, perched next to her.

He’s always more difficult to see without the binoculars because he tends to concealed himself better behind any branches. I’ll also glass Hoot to see where any distracting branches are so I can plan my approach to her. Today she wasn’t positioned where I could get any decent photos, but neither was Give a Hoot. I’ve already decided to get one or two photos of them and move on to look for Benny the Barred Owl.

I stayed where I was at and just watched for several minutes. While I was there Hoot made a territorial call. Give a Hoot, was very alert. I took a photo of them together, but a large branch was blocking Hoot’s head and he was behind some branches. Give a Hoot jumped to another branch while I watched. I thought maybe he was going to fly away, but he didn’t.

I decided to walk slowly to get the best shot I could get of the two together. I was able to focus on Give a Hoot who was now staring at me with his big yellow eyes. Hoot had other things to do like sleep.

Once I got the shot I walked back to my backpack and put my camera away. Give a Hoot was still next to Hoot when I walked away from them.

My plan now was to see if I could find Benny the Barred Owl. While walking to get to his area I came across 7 to 8 deer beds in one area in the snow.

Once I got to the area where I’ve found Benny many times in the past I didn’t see him. Since it was still early in the afternoon I continued to search some other areas for him. The walk was slow going because of the deeper snow and the fact that my backpack weighs around 25 pounds.

Almost 2 hours later at 1607 hrs I was back to the area where I found Benny a few days ago. While standing still I looked to my left and there he was with his back to me. Benny was partially hidden behind some Ironwood leaves.

I walked a line that would parallel him. When I got close I noticed my foot tracks in the snow by the deer beds that I walked by earlier. I don’t know if Benny had been in this area the whole time or not, but if I wasn’t looking down counting deer beds I might of saved myself 2 hours of additional walking.

Benny was actively hunting. I got a couple shots of him with his back to me before he flew closer to me. I was shooting handheld with my 500mm lens with my 1.4x teleconverter and I barely got him in the frame before he flew to his next perch. Let’s say I filled the frame with Benny. He stayed in the area where I got some other shots of him. Just before I left the woods three does were very curious on what I was doing so they walked over to check me out. I was able to get a couple photos of them. too.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Benny the Barred Owl (Tuesday, 01-11-22)

Benny the Barred Owl (Tuesday, 01-11-22)

After a half hour of looking for the Great Horned Owls I was just getting into their main territory when one of the Great Horned Owls flew from a nearby tree. It had to be Give a Hoot, the male, because that’s his typical behavior. Hoot, the female, never flies off.

I watched the general direction he flew. I thought of checking around this area a little more thoroughly thinking Give a Hoot may have been perched close to Hoot. I decided to continue on to the tree where I last saw her a couple days ago. This is the same tree she has been perched in a total of four times recently.

I checked that tree and I didn’t see her in it or anywhere nearby, so I continued  walking my normal route when I walk this part of the woods. There goes Give a Hoot again back in the same general direction from where I saw him fly from earlier. I’m thinking maybe Hoot was in that first area area, but I had a lot more area to search.  After walking through most of this area there was no sign of Her.

It was one and a half hours later and now I was in the general area of the Barred Owls. Actually I’ve found both the Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl in this area, but if I find one then the other owl won’t be around.  I figured I would check this area and afterwards go check one last area for Hoot before calling it a day.

I got to the top of a short incline and stopped to look around. Oh, there’s Benny the Barred Owl looking at me from no more than 10 yards away. Benny the Barred Owl is the most laid back owl I photograph. It’s been one month since we last spent some time together.

I got my gear out of my backpack and set it up. When I’m looking for the owls I already have my 1.4x teleconverter on my 500mm lens because I usually find and photograph the Great Horned Owls from a further distance away. This time I needed to turn my camera in a vertical position to get Benny the Barred Owl in the frame.  I figured I would get a couple shots before taking my teleconverter off to show more his environment.

Benny flew from his perch, but he aborted his mission to grab a rodent under the snow. He swooped back up and missed his landing in a near by tree, but he quickly adjusted and landed on another perch. He was still intent and focused on grabbing the meal in the same area.

He flew to the ground where I was able to get a couple photos of him in the snow before he flew up to yet another perch. He didn’t get a meal this time. Now I won’t need to take off my teleconverter because he’s further away now. I didn’t have to move my tripod, either.

He was still looking down and listening to something directly in front of him under the snow once he got back on the branch.

Benny never flew to the ground again, but he was actively searching for a meal. While watching him he turned around on the branch and it looked like he was going to fly off to grab his meal, but instead he turned back around on the branch and was once again facing me.

Benny was also fascinated watching a Black-capped Chickadee that was overhead of him.

During the one and a half hours I spent with him he did some stretches and expelled a pellet.

Here are several photographs that go follow along with the narrative…

Monday, January 10, 2022

Hoot (female Great Horned Owl) Chitter Calls 01-09-22

 Hoot (female Great Horned Owl) (Chitter Calls)  01-09-22 (Photos & Video)

Updated: More chitter call information

On Sunday, 01-09-22, I was back out in the woods looking for the Great Horned Owls. When I got to their area I spotted an owl perched in a tree about 40 yards away. I used my binoculars and saw it was Hoot, the female Great Horned Owl.  I stayed where I was for a few more minutes looking around to see if I could see Give a Hoot, the male, anywhere near her. Nope, I didn’t see him.

When I looked at Hoot I could see some shadows across her body that were being cast from some branches that were between her and the sun. (I put this clip in the video for show) This was also the fourth time seeing her perched in this same tree and in the same spot on the branch. Since I’ve photographed her three other times in this same spot I know it’s not going to be the best place for photos, either. When I found her I checked the time and it was 1405 hrs. It took me a half hour to locate her. I started walking very slow and stopping as I went looking for Give a Hoot, but he wasn’t around.  

Where Hoot was perched I knew I have only one very small window in which to photograph her, but I’ll still have some unwanted branches in the way. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best I will get today.

She was still sleeping as I set up my tripod twenty minutes later. She never opened her eyes to look my direction while I was walking around and getting set up. I took a couple shots to see how the unwanted branches were placed in the frame, then as I was putting my microphone on the camera she made a call. I’ve mentioned before these calls sound like a territorial call, but without the forward leaning body posture. I believe she is letting Give a Hoot know her location. Then she immediately went back to napping.

Most of the time I was with her she slept. She woke up up a few times and made some more calls like before, but I never heard Give a Hoot return any of them. Again, these calls seem to be more of a contact call letting Give a Hoot know her location.

Today was another very cold day. It felt much colder than when I was out with her two days ago when the windchill was -15F. Even though the temperature was 2 degrees F when I went out today, there was a brisk west wind making for a very cold windchill. I had warmer gloves on today, but not moving around made for another very cold time spent with Hoot waiting for her to wake up. I spent 2 1/2 hours with her today.

Around 1430 hrs Hoot became alert and was looking around. I know she was listening to something which I thought might have been some other person who was crazy enough to be walking around in the woods close to sunset.

I had the video recording while she was listening and looking intently when she suddenly stood up. I ended the video because I thought she was going to do her stretches and I wanted to get some photos of her doing them.

Instead she flew off without doing any stretches.  She flew off while I watched until she landed in another tree maybe 30 yards away. Once she landed I couldn’t see her anymore. While I packing up my gear I didn’t see or hear anyone. It took me a little longer to pack up my gear because of my slightly numb hands inside my thicker gloves.

Hoot flew off in the general direction I would be walking to leave the woods, so once I was all packed up I headed out.  While walking out I spotted an owl in the distance, so I glassed it. It was Give a Hoot, but I didn’t see Hoot. Although, I didn’t spend any time looking for her. It was time to keep walking to get my blood flowing through my body again.  

When I got home I watched the last video clip that I took of her shortly before she flew off because that was the most interesting since she was actually awake. The other clips were of her mostly sleeping.

What I noticed was Hoot making a couple different chitter calls. Both of these chitter calls are very soft and done with her mouth closed. This was the first time I heard the sound from the Clucky Chitter, although I’ve seen her body posture associated with it in the past. Because I was recording her when she did the Clucky Chitter I heard the sound today.

The other chitter call, Conversation Chitter, all I could see were some very small body movements. The sounds are so soft the microphone doesn’t even pick them up.  I’ve seen these fine body movement before, but I would need to be very close to her to hear this chitter. Again she makes these sounds with her mouth closed.

Based upon these calls she was probably communicating with Give a Hoot and not looking around because of someone else in the woods like I first thought.

There isn’t a lot of information from research done about the Great Horned Owl vocalizations and behaviors. However, Karla Blome, with the International Owl Center, is one person who has been documenting the different calls and behaviors. I’ve spoken with her a couple times last winter with some questions on what I was observing / calls with Hoot and her owlets. I also spoke with her today, 01-10-21, with the chitters I heard and saw yesterday. Karla said she needed to update some of the information in the paper. I’m looking forward to that additional information.

Karla wrote a paper in 2009, Great Horned Owl Bubo Virginians vocalizations and associated behaviors which I reference in naming these two chitter calls…Clucky Chitter and Conversation Chitter.  

Here is some of the information Karla document on the Clucky Chitter and Conversational Chitter….  

“Clucky Chitters are given with the bill closed at lower
volume and with the bill open with increasing volume.
They are a series of rapidly repeated, evenly spaced syl-
lables that sound a bit like “hut, hut, hut” at lower
intensities. They may increase in volume and lead into
Territorial Hoots.”

Conversational Chitters… “These vocalizations are very quiet and are produced with the bill closed. Often they are so quiet that
only a slight movement of the upper body or tail is
noticeable. They are delivered in short bursts with
spaces in between and can roughly be transcribed as
“Hmm? Hmm? Hmm? Hmm?” Conversational Chitters
can be given any time of year. They are directed to
another individual at close range.”

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Hoot & Give a Hoot (Great Horned Owls) 01-03-22

On Monday, 01-03-22, I was out again looking for some owls. My plan was if I didn’t find either Hoot or Give a Hoot that I would search another area for Benny the Barred Owl.

It wasn’t too long once I reached Hoot’s main territory before I spotted what I thought were both owls high up in a large oak tree. I could see one owl for sure, but there appeared to be two white patches from two owls. I was still some distance away so I glassed them to be sure it was the both of them. Sure enough there were Hoot and Give a Hoot snuggled up next to each other on the same branch with Hoot up tight against the tree. Where I was standing I had to move slightly to get a better view of Hoot.

Once I found them I just watch for about 10 minutes since there wasn’t any reason to set up my tripod yet. I was still too far away and there were too many branches in front of their bodies. They were both alert and they were looking my direction some of the time. Any attempt to get any closer so soon was probably going to have Give a Hoot flying off before I could find a decent angle to photograph them.The sun was out and it was casting some unwanted shadows on their bodies from where I was standing.

While I watched them I heard a slight noise near me. I looked over and saw a doe slowly walking before she stopped a few yards away. I slowly walked closer to her and took an iPhone picture. There were three does in the is group. They slowly walked off, so back to watching the owls.  

Both owls were at least 25 yards up the tree. There was lots of taller underbrush and downed branches that made it impossible to just walk to a spot and start photographing them.
After 10 minutes I just started walking when I saw Hoot jump to another branch and begin calling. If I heard her correctly she said, Chuck, over here!

I made a wide arc around them while taking some handheld shots. I was surprised that Give a Hoot didn’t fly off right away. I took some shots of Hoot, but there were some distracting branches in front of her. I kept walking in a wide semi-circle to get on the backside of the tree, so I could photograph Give a Hoot. There he was looking down at me with his big yellow eyes. I got one decent shot before backtracking back to Hoot who was already back to sleep.

Give a Hoot flew off before I was able to set up any gear, but now with only Hoot around I don’t have to be too concerned if I made a little more noise. I kept visually looking around to figure out where I could place my tripod. Eventually,  I walked back to where I first saw them and made my way through the underbrush that crossed a small trail. I found a spot without any branches between me and her, but it certainly wasn’t where I really wanted to be. I was closer to the tree than I wanted and she was up high so this made for a very awkward angle for the shots.

She continued to sleep while I was in the process of setting up. Once I was set up I watched her wake up briefly a few times to do some preening, stretching and some calls, then shut her eyes for more snoozing. One of the times while she was preening one of her legs there was a tree that made a very loud crack from the sun warming it up after all the below zero weather we’ve had the last few days. Her head was down when the loud pop happened and her head quickly snapped up looking in the direction of the sound. After a couple seconds she realized there was no danger and back to preening. If you look closely in some of the photos you can see some dried blood on her right foot and most likely some rabbit fur on her left foot.

Also, while Hoot appeared to be sleeping I caught a glimpse of Give a Hoot who had made a complete circle around me and landed maybe 30 yards away. I couldn’t see him, but just the general area. When I looked back up to Hoot after he had landed she was already looking in his direction. She made to call to him. I’m always amazed at the hearing these owls have.

After about a half hour later Hoot started doing some more stretches before turning her head quickly in one direction and listening intently. Soon she turned around and flew off.

It took me a couple minutes to get all my gear to the small trail where I started packing up all my gear. Suddenly, I heard a sound, looked over, and saw an electric fat bike coming toward me from the direction Hoot was looking so intently before flying off.  That would explain the reason she flew off so quickly. There aren’t any bike trails in this area, but having an electric fat bike in this snow sure makes it much easier to get around in the deeper snow. The only thing he said as he passed was, “seeing any deer”. I don’t need to put down what I was saying to myself.

Hoot, the female

Give a Hoot, the male

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Some night photos in Anoka, MN 01-02-22

 Tonight, Sunday, 01-02-22, I went across the Mississippi River to Anoka, the Halloween Capital of the World, to see if I could find something to photograph. Here's what I got tonight... it was around zero degrees while out there and I never had to wait for anyone to get out of my way. The Rum River is in one of the photographs.