Yellowstone has continuously delivered my favourite wildlife sightings and last summer was no exception.
For several weeks, Jill and I had the honour and opportunity to document a great grey owl nest.
Admittedly, neither of us are big birders, but after seeing our first great grey owl the previous summer while hiking in Grand Teton National Park, we both fell in love with the majestic bird. And when word came that a pair of great greys had taken up residence in Yellowstone, we became determined to find the nest.
It wasn’t easy.
But after stumbling around in the forest for far too long, we eventually located the owls.
Watching the owlets grow and take their first flight was something we’ll never forget, nor will we soon forget sitting very still for 10 hours straight, covered in flies and mosquitoes, with our necks strained upwards, attempting (and failing) to capture an owl in flight.
Of all the wonderful photos and stories to come out of this shoot, the most humorous has to be The Rumble in the (Yellowstone) Jungle: Great Grey Owl vs The Mighty Robin.
Don King could have made millions promoting the fight.
With the owlets beginning to fly, the great grey female took to watching over her young from different trees to the north of the nest.
The further north she flew, the closer she came to a robin’s nest.
Finally, her proximity to the nest became too close for the comfort of the robins and the fight was on.
The first shot across the bow came as a shock to both the owl and to me, neither of us processing what flew just above the head of the great grey.
Though startled, the owl – somewhat confused – resumed sleeping. And I resumed snapping my 1786th shot of the owl sleeping.
Then came another warning shot, but this time there was no mistaking the robin attempting to drive the owl further afield.
The owl, clearly upset by the unplanned wake-up call, again looked around to find the culprit and, failing to find it, closed its eyes.
For the robin, miffed that the warning shots failed to have the necessary effect, it was time to step up its assault.
The dive bombing became more frequent.
Instead of waiting five minutes between attacks, the robin hurled itself at the owl every minute.
And then every thirty seconds.
The owl, all the while, was becoming increasingly perturbed, but insisted on maintaing an I-don’t-care-what-you-do, I’m-not-going-to-move, I’m-better-than-you vibe.
The facade was cracking, however, as both robin parents got into the act and started trying to rope-a-dope the owl, with shots coming closer and closer to the owl’s head.
The attacks started to come from both directions. And they came, sometimes, simultaneously.
The owl ducked and weaved during the fast and furious action, but was unable to avoid a few full-throttle robin punches to the head.
The owl couldn’t believe the gumption of these tiny birds – and it couldn’t believe they were winning.
But in stubborn insistence that the bigger bird would prevail, the owl started stretching and doubled down on its act that it really couldn’t care less about the robins. This owl was going nowhere.
Apparently I was the only sports fan to buy what the owl was selling.
With robins whirling by the owl’s head – and now increasingly by my camera’s lens – I assumed, wrongly, that this fight would go at least a few more rounds. No way the robins were going to win quite yet.
And with that thought dancing in my mind, I paused my shooting to double check my settings, and, like so many times at the owl’s nest last summer, the bird chose that exact moment to throw in the towel.
With one last brilliant manoeuvre – the old send-one-robin-to-fake-hit-the-head, while-the-other-robin-takes-the-clean-unobstructed-body-shot – the great grey took off.
At my camera.
And just over my head.
It ended a remarkable fight, capped off by a stunning win by the underdog (underbird?), and left the audience, me, looking like a fool for betting on the owl, missing the perfectly set-up flight shot.