The creator of the owl was obviously a genius. How many times have you personally run across an owl image, or a YouTube video, that oozes a cuteness like nothing else you’ve ever seen? If you haven’t already taken the time to search for owl videos, here’s a fair warning: All sense of space and time will be lost. You might as well crawl into the hole or tree they’re burrowed or nesting in, and good luck with your transition back into reality…
Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to see owls out in the wild, or have seen them in captivity. If you’ve been blessed with a “natural” owl sighting, then you will relate to this story and understand the pure joy and excitement it brings. If you are like I was (having never seen one in the wild), then I hope you can live vicariously through this experience as if you’d been right along with me.
I’m not a lover of the cold winter. In fact, an inadequate adaptor to the cold as my body never actually adapts – which makes for a verrrrrry long winter, and a husband who encourages his wife to head down to the warmth of Florida. There she will thaw out and be able to do her thing, without ever complaining about her fingers and toes being numb (smart guy, eh?). Ever come home to your partner in the winter and they’re dressed with more outdoor clothing inside than you’re wearing coming in from the outside? I imagine you’re getting the picture…
The intention was to go down to my sister in-law’s for one week to photograph the courting of the Great Blue Herons. Every morning I was up at dawn to set out on a daily bird photography adventure, and one day I overheard two photographers talking about “Burrowing Owls”. Burrowing Owls?? I’m an owl freak, yet had never heard of them. That night a friend of mine posted images of these adorable little creatures on Facebook. Those pictures changed the rest of my “adventure” plans, and the mission began…
I don’t think I slept that night in anticipation of seeing one of these 7 1/2 -10 inch bundles of joy (who, by the way, stand on two legs, have round little bellies, and look up at you as if they’re saying “Are you my mother?”). Never mind being able to photograph them. Would I actually get lucky and happen upon them as I had so often experienced with all other birds and creatures?
Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls nest in open areas with low vegetation, mostly in holes made by other animals such as skunks, squirrels, or prarie dogs. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that they nested in human inhabited parks. Owls hide from humans where I’m from.
I discovered a park that was known to have these owls about an hour away, and headed out first thing in the morning. As gates opened to the park I was off, but there was a problem I hadn’t worked out ahead of time. There were 272 acres of beautiful green rolling hills and meadows, and I am looking for a 7 1/2 inch bird? Hilarious, really… welcome to my life.
This gave new meaning to finding a needle in a haystack… Once I figured out that I needed to look for roped off areas, the challenge became a little less daunting.
After wandering up and down the hills for an hour and 1/2, the party finally began. There in the distance were three dangling ropes, and a little brown head (this photo gives you an idea of how tiny they actually are).
I found a spot where I could sit far enough away and be able to observe while my insides calmed down from the excitement. A three day stint and love affair began with a new breed of bird that just one day before, I didn’t know to exist! How incredible to be able to spend hours just sitting with them, many times laughing out loud…
I am forever thankful for my long lens… and Canon.
Oh, I’m sorry, am I boring you?
As elated I was, the innate protective mother in me was not happy about the number of drones and air toys in the air which, I felt, really scared them. It’s normal for them to look up and watch for predators, but too often this was the case of something man made. Perhaps there need to be enforced rules put into place while these protected species are known to be present in public parks. At one point a drone actually flew in and hovered only a few feet directly over us as I was lying in the grass next to them. Someone playing back the footage must have loved my solo finger wave (thanks for teaching me that one, Mom).
“The greatest threat to burrowing owls is habitat destruction and degradation caused primarily by land development and ground squirrel/prairie dog control measures. Despite their protected status, burrowing owls are often displaced and their burrows destroyed during the development process. The natural life span of the Burrowing Owl is 6-8 years. Burrowing owls are also at risk of predation from coyotes, birds of prey, and feral cats and dogs. Because of an increase in urban and suburban sprawl, hazards are now consisting of automobiles as well.” – http://burrowingowlconservation.org
The best part was observing the pair together. Looks like someone isn’t listening… sound familiar?
“The burrowing owl is federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States, Canada and Mexico. At the state level, Burrowing Owls are listed as Endangered in Minnesota, Threatened in Colorado, and as a Species of Concern in Arizona, California, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, & Wyoming” –http://burrowingowlconservation.org
The day of my final good-bye to my new little friends came too soon. Could this little guy actually be begging me not to leave? Not a chance… sundown is dinner time. Clearly I am being told it is time to say good-bye.
And so it was…
It’s a beautiful day when you’re hanging out with Burrowing Owls!
To learn more about & support Burrowing Owls please visit http://burrowingowlconservation.org