At the east end of the property, there is a woodlot of Honey Locust trees that my grandfather planted. He planted this patch of trees to grow fence posts for his dairy farm as Locust is one of the most durable wood species on the planet. I’ve maintained this lot and get several chords of high BTU firewood from it each year.
For as long as I can remember, a pair of Horned Owls has used this lot as their nesting and brooding grounds. I walk by the owls 3 times on my morning walks and as long as I don’t stop or appear to notice them, they will stay put and stoically watch me as I amble along. They will not tolerate binoculars or a massive camera lens being pointed at them. If I ever stop or otherwise give them the impression that I’ve spotted them, they’re off.
This morning, I was surprised by one sitting directly over my path as I approached to within a few feet. Strange thing – It didn’t fly.
It was a baby and my reasoning for why it was just sitting there was that it hadn’t quite yet learned, or mother hadn’t yet taught it, that exposing itself to humans is very dangerous. Actually, after doing a bit of reading about the birds, it’s likely that the baby hasn’t yet learned to fly – or at least, not very well. Research tells me that they hatch in February and take up to 10 weeks to learn to fly – which is about right now.
Excited, I quickened my step and headed directly for the house and my camera. I connected the camera to the 300-mm lens, attached the mono-pod, and was back out of the door in 5 minutes. I made a wide swing around where I’d seen the owl. I searched for several minutes thinking that the owl had flown before finally spotting him in the spring foliage. They really blend in! I took one shot through the dense foliage from a distance. The rest were taken from 25 to 50 feet.
As I approached and got ready for the shot, one of the parents (probably mom) flew from a nearby tree -probably 25 feet away. Apparently, moms are very protective of the young and sometimes even continue to feed them until their first fall season. The Horned Owls – especially the adults – are massive birds and make an impressive sight when they take wing. The mothers are very protective and this one flew back at least twice and landed above the baby. The location of the mother was easy to ascertain as she was always attended by a hoard of Blue Jays & Mockingbirds that seemed intent on agitating the giant bird.
The baby held tight and allowed me to take about 30 frames without as much as blinking it’s eyes. Satisfied, I calmly began my walk back to the house trying my best to quietly disguise my incredible exhilaration at getting these amazing shots.