Saturday, July 21, 2007

Yellowstone's Great Horned Owl Babies

It really pays to network at Yellowstone. I got in the habit of chatting with the people around me when we were stopped either viewing or photographing. I would not have seen the two sets of great horned owl babies if kind people had not told me where to look.

One of the nests was too far to photograph, but easy to spot. From the parking lot of Tower Falls, there was a dead, broken tree trunk. WIth either binoculars or a good scope, you could see the two babies sitting at the top of the broken tree in the empty cavity. Each time we stopped at the store for a snack or cold drinks, we would look for them. By the end of our stay, I suspect they had fledged.

The second nest was near Mammoth-easy to find from the information other visitors gave me.

The first day I went to check out the nest and try to photograph the owl family, the sun's angle was working against me. To get the owls properly exposed, the sky was totally blown out. I could tell I was getting memory photos rather than photos I could use.

Since we were staying at Fishing Bridge, the drive to Mammoth is about an hour and a half. I determined to set the alarm and get over there hoping that morning light would help me get some good shots. Poor Henry, I had him out of bed before dawn. While we passed up some interesting things, I just had to make a beeline for those owls.

We got over there between 7:00 and 8:00 and yes, the lighting was better. The first challenge: mother owl was sitting on one branch, the babies below . . . but they all kept looking different directions. Plus mother owl really wanted to sleep, she must have been out hunting all night. The other challenge - depth of field. I'm down on the ground with my big lens pointed up at a pretty steep angle. The three birds are not on the same plane of focus. When the sun is out I can do a higher f/stop to get a deeper depth of field. But mom moved while I was shooting and when the sun was out, she was in the shade. I did have a convenient cloud that gave me the lighting for the photos that seem to have "worked."

The other exciting thing that morning. These owl babies were ready to fledge. I may have gotten to see the first flight from the nesting tree to the tree next to it. Only one of the babies was brave enough to make the leap. But it was fun to watch. And getting to watch the interaction between the siblings when it returned was amazing as well.

Due to the crop factor to get the owls close in the frame, I don't know whether these will be high enough quality for large prints, but it sure was fun getting to see these owl babies.


Anonymous said...

Nice photos, Mary. One thing you might want to consider, however. As you stated, networking while in the park will help folks locate amazing things such as this. The problem with describing locations such as this in detail on the internet is that the crowds get larger and larger very quickly. This has the effect of placing quite a bit of stress on the animals, often causing them to move and no longer use areas that they have used for years. Another possible consequence is that the Park Service may be compelled to close or rope off areas in an effort to prevent that from happening. All of which, in addition to creating stress for the animals, tends to cheat those individuals who are willing to do the work once they are in the park, to locate these kinds of things, out of excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
All considered, wouldn't it be better to simply state that you located another nest "in the Mammoth area" without detail, and allowing folks who are truly motivated to find wildlife opportunities the old fashioned way?

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thanks, I have edited this blog.

During the time frame we were in Yellowstone, the hordes of people had not arrived . . .yet.

None the less, as will be noted with my coyote puppy blog that is coming up, the most popular animal sighting locations get found quickly by both the casual visitor, wildlife fans, and the photographers.

The health and safety of the aimals MUST come first.

Anonymous said...

I was in Yellowstone this past May-June and know the exact nests and chicks described here. I agree on letting people find these places on their own, too many times I was concerned about the stress the crowds were causing the animals. I was especially concerned for a coyote den that hordes of people and photographers were invading. It was so bad that we refused to stop and photograph, we chose not to add to the stress I know the coyote family must have been having. I know, many of you can say that they chose to nest or den there but still, I say when we visit Yellowstone we are in their house, we should show respect. OK I will get off my soapbox.......

Very nice pictures Mary, thank you for sharing

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your taking the time to reply.

I know which coyote den you are describing. And, yes, I did photograph there, most of the time the crowd was respectful, but there were several times when I saw how many people were already there and we just kept driving.

I totally agree that we are in their home and need to be respectful.

I wonder how those coyote pups fared - they will certainly not be too afraid of humans after spending their youngest time so near them.

We were so lucky to get to see and appreciate so many baby animals there this year.