Sunday, March 3, 2013

Great Gray Owl

OK, call us a little crazy, but we did it again..... Tender Heart and I took a three hour trip all the way to Mauston (That's about where Toad lives) to see another owl. This time, a Great Gray Owl. A lifer for me!

The largest of all of the North American owls, this Phantom of the North is about 33 inches long with a wingspan that could exceed 60 inches. That is a big bird! But really, it is just a ball of feathers. They weigh less than their counterparts, the Great Horned and the Snowy Owls. Easily identified by its round head, large gray facial discs and the white bow tie on its chin. It's underparts are light with dark streaks while its wings and back are gray with pale bars.

The Great Grey Owl is extremely rare in Wisconsin. In fact, there is only ONE confirmed Great Gray in the state! And that's the one near Mauston. They usually stay and breed in the timber forests of Canada and Alaska, with a few in northern Minnesota.

Great Grays feed exclusively on small rodents, utilizing their huge parabolic facial discs to pick up sound in locating their prey. These birds will wait, listen and then swoop down on their quarry, sometimes plunging into the snow. Funny as it may sound, these seemingly powerful birds don't have the strength to take down a duck or a cat. They are basically nocturnal, but they will sometimes hunt during the day.

These pictures were taken on 3/2/2013 on 21st Ave near Mauston, WI. When Tender Heart and I arrived on the site there were about 30 cars parked along side of the road and about 40 people surrounding a tree along the road, therefore we had no problems in tracking the bird. My hands started to shake and my heart pounded as my eyes laid upon this gorgeous bird! I took a few snaps from the roadside and chatted with a few familiar faces in the crowd. It seemed like to be a fun day!

  Then the controversy began.....Great Gray Owls by nature are inquisitive and tame. They are very tolerant towards humans and show little fear. This created several issues.... As more and more people poured in to see the see the owl, it become more and more like a circus! There were a couple of guys from Illinois that had big and expensive cameras that were baiting the owl with mice and sticks (which is legal by law) for their extreme close up shots! Personally, I think this is unethical and harassment for the owl. This puts the bird in danger of being hit by a car or worse, a humans' bad intentions! The shots I took were no closer than its comfort zone which I believe, was about 50 feet, using my dinky camera. Which, I got good enough pictures. From the reports I have read, the Mauston police and the sheriff could not do anything. A warden did have a talk with these guys, but I'm not sure that helped much.... Below is a video taken of the same owl being harnessed by one of the alleged "photographers" a couple of days prior to Tender Heart and mine's arrival to the site.

 I do not condone nor support the baiting, the harassment of wildlife, nor knowingly trespassing on private property (without permission) to take pictures. So, let's be legal about this and enjoy wildlife in their natural state. It's better this way.....


lizardmom said...

very nice pictures!! love the one with the blue especially!

Tender Heart Bear said...

Yes we did it again another once in a lifetime owl to go and see. I will let you know one thing these trips are really worth it when you see them. Also to see the look on Drew's face is priceless when he sees them. This time it was like he froze at first with his mouth dropping to the ground. I took the camera from him and I started to take some pictures then my hands got really cold and I handed the camera back to him and went to the car to warm up. We stayed there for about an hour and a half. This was so awesome to go and see. The only thing I didn't like was the guy baiting and harassing the owl especially when he tried to get the owl to go across the street. That is really dangerous for the owl, he could have been hit by a car.

Toad said...

Drew, Your photo's are amazing. Mine are not even worthy of posting. The light was not good enough. The people that were there, while I was were being very carefull not to scare the Owl. It took off, for the broken tree, and flew right over my head, and I didn't even know It. I was looking down at my camera at the time. My wife who was sitting In the car (a real lively one) said I "looked like a complete idiot, with the bird flying over my head, and I'm looking at the camera" Oh well, I'll go alone next time.

legal stranger said...

Great shots and video.
Baiting is often used by many photographers to get the great shot.
I do not believe baiting is good for the animals and your video clearly shows a bird as a possible road kill in the future.
Thanks for sharing.

OrbsCorbs said...

Good photos. I didn't watch the video. I can't stand anyone messing with animals or children. Thanks for the information, drew.

drewzepmeister said...

Toad, I think it's great that you had a chance to see such a rare bird! Too bad, we missed ya. Maybe next time!

Unfortunately legal, baiting does happen in professional photography. It makes you kind of wonder in what happens behind the scenes in those National Geographic episodes.

I know Orbs, it's hard watching the video. It's even worse seeing it happening in person. Makes you sick to your stomach.

kkdither said...

Very nice pictures, drew.