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Monday, February 7, 2011

Nerdy Birdy: The Barn Owl Surprise

Mom had a surprise for me at the campground. Most people would think that their mother went out and got them something special at the store... however my mom is a little devious and good at hiding surprises... you never know quite what you are going to get. It could be a lump of coal or as easily be a beautiful seashell she found that reminded of you. Today my surprise was the best, it was a ton of Barn Owls. Seems that the park they are staying at right now is Barn Owl command center. At night you can hear them, and when I say them I mean a crazy amount.

Everything I have ever read about Barn Owls says they are a solitary species and that they are aggressive. Typically a breeding pair likes at least a ½ mile range from another pair however that was not what my mother and I saw and heard tonight. But let me start at the beginning.

When we arrived at the nest my mom and dad had found in a palm tree it was nearly dark. I could see a little head poking out and another’s wing, from our count there were three babies out there. Usually the mother barn owl hangs out nearby on one of the fronds but she was nowhere in sight.

020711_barnOwl01
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 400mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/50 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 3200 – WITH FLASH
THE BARN OWL NEST


Once the dark completely took over a few minutes later the chirping started. I say chirping but it was more like a machine clicking noise that the owls were making. At one point my mother and I guessed there were about 15 birds calling out.

We had a single flashlight and we started walking toward the closest calls. If we found a bird perched one of us would not so patiently hold the light on the bird while the other frantically attempted to take a photo that would come out more than a messed up blur. After a few clicks the one holding the light would get impatient and the one clicking away at the camera was still frustrated that the photos were not coming out that great. We would switch and the mad cycle would begin again. If we were lucky the bird would sit still for a few swaps, however we were often not that lucky.

020711_barnOwl02
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/800 – APERTURE 10 – ISO 1000
YES THAT BLURRY MESS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A BARN OWL


It got a bit comical when we both tried to photo at the same time. We were attempting to hold the flashlight between our knees, keep it pointed on the bird and photo at the same time. It was NO EASY FEAT! I saw the light waver and thinking my light hadn’t moved I yelled at my mom to keep her light on the bird. Needless to say it was MY light wavering all over the place so my mom yelled squeeze your legs tighter, not sure if the night guard nearby heard those statements but they could be misleading if he did!

020711_barnOwl03
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/13 – APERTURE 4 – ISO 6400 - FLASH
YES BETTER BUT IT STILL BLURRY


As the night wore on my mother and I were running from tree to tree stumbling around in the dark and mostly searching in vain for the bird perched in the nearby trees. When one group would click we would run toward it. Just as we were about to reach them they would stop and another group would start up. It was a vicious cycle. And after two hours both of us had had it. When yet ANOTHER mad dash ended in not finding the bird we decided to call it a night. As we were walking away the clicking would start again but now more experienced we just kept walking.

020711_barnOwl04
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/1250 – APERTURE 4 – ISO 6400
YES BETTER, AT LEAST IT ISN’T AS BLURRY BUT NOW IT’S WAY TOO DARK


That clicking however, maybe because we had been so attuned to running toward it, was a hard sirens call to ignore. You always think well maybe just a little longer, maybe the next one will be the one, at some point you need to just take control of the situation and stop. One of us would waver, look at the other with a hopeful expression and the other would scowl, stay strong and shatter the thought. In the end we walked away chanting a matra similar to “screw you barn owls” over and over again as we marched away so we could stick to going back home.

We did manage to find a few birds during those two hours however since neither of us had any real experience taking night photography it was the blind leading the blind. After much trial and error, I took over 500 photos, only a small few that night came out with any success.

020711_barnOwl05
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/60 – APERTURE 4 – ISO 400 – WITH FLASH
MUCH MUCH BETTER, IT IS STILL A LITTLE BLURRY BUT AT LEAST YOU CAN RECOGNIZE ITS A BARN OWL


The next evening my mom stayed in the nice warm trailer and I ventured out with my father to once again attempt to get a great photo of the barn owls. It was night and day the strategy that my dad adopted from my previous nights excursion with my mother. My dad dictated that we were going to come out before the sun sank, we were going to sit down by the tree where we knew the owls were nesting and we were going to wait for the owls to come to us.

Although it was painful we just sat there and waited. I am not the world’s most patient person; in fact I may be one of the world’s most impatient people, so it was difficult to just wait. I started playing around with the light we had left and took some photos of the things around me.

020711_bunny
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 400mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/320 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 3200
THERE WERE MANY RABBITS IN THE AREA, THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVIOURITES THAT I MADE THAT NIGHT


020711_plane
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 400mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/500 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 1250
THERE WAS A PLANE THAT FLEW DIRECTLY OVERHEAD, I LOVED HOW THE SUNSET COLORS WERE REFLECTING OFF THE METAL


It got darker and darker but the owls still hadn’t showed up yet. I played around with taking photos of the moon. It makes me incredibly happy and a little awestruck that I can see the craters on the moon with this lens.

020711_moon
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 400mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/320 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 3200 – WITH A -2 EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
THIS LENS NOT ONLY ALLOWS ME TO GET GREAT WILDLIFE PHOTOS BUT IT ALSO CAN SHOOT CRATERS ON THE MOON


Finally the owls showed up and we spent a good hour trying to get a good photo of them. I used some of the things I learned yesterday, some tips we looked up online and some of my dad’s suggestions. Did I mention that I am attempting to do all this night photography without a tripod... yes I like a dummy left mine at home and had to make do with trying to keep the lens as steady as possible. I really need to get to a location with owls and make sure I have a tripod. I am sure the results would be better. Tonight’s shots came out slightly better but I still think that there is more room to improve.

020711_barnOwl06
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/40 – APERTURE 4 – ISO 6400 – WITH FLASH
STILL A LITTLE BLURRY – DANG CAN’T A GIRL GET A BREAK


Thankfully my last batch of photos with my dad were slightly successful. Although still not as clear as I would like these two were the best that I was able to get.

020711_barnOwl07
CAMERA 7D – LENS 500mm f/4 IS USM – SHUTTER SPEED 1/50 – APERTURE 4 – ISO 6400 – WITH FLASH
MUCH MUCH BETTER, NOT AS GOOD OF AN ANGEL BUT AT LEAST THIS PHOTO IS CLEARER


020711_barnOwl08
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 400mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/60 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 400 – WITH A – WITH FLASH
AND THE BEST SHOT OF THE NIGHT WAS THIS LAST SHOT, IT’S CLEAR AND CRISP


Its strange how the longer you photo the more critical you get of your own photography, or at least the more critical I get about mine. For reference I wanted to look up the only other time I attempted to do night wildlife photography April of last year. I had found a great horned owl and I remember being pretty proud of this shot.

041510_babyGreatHornedOwl
GREAT HORNED OWL SHOT APRIL 2010

Now comparing this photo to the one I have of the barn owl, the barn owl is far superior. Still not good enough in my opinion but it does make me happy that it is much better. Becoming a master is hard work... wax on – wax off.

Once my dad and I gave up and headed slowly back to the car chatting about comparing shots and camera settings we spotted the moth my mom was telling me about. A little larger than the size of your hand this large Cecropia moth, which is about 6 inches across and the largest moth in North America, would barely sit still for its close-up.

020711_moth
CAMERA 7D – LENS 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM – FOCAL LENGTH 300mm – SHUTTER SPEED 1/250 – APERTURE 5.6 – ISO 6400 – WITH FLASH
CECROPIA IS A FAN-FRIGGING-TASTIC MOTH

2 comments:

lilmansworld said...

what a great horned owl! this experience reminds me of steve irwin a little bit

paul peggy zeus said...

OMG you should have been there! Watching us fall all over ourselves out there in a dark field surrounded by the calls of the Barn Owls, on uneven terrain, trying to grope our way through the darkness, just to bring you this delicious post.

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