Once a month, we’ll chronicle an elusive photographic goal. This month: Long-Eared Owls.
You know what’s a cool bird?
During the long slog of the spirit bear campaign, there would be many days where I felt like giving up. I couldn’t, obviously, so I tried to give myself a few minutes of escape everyday.
While some might find escape-ism in fantasy (I’m looking at you and your Star Wars loving ways, Jill!), mine is Yellowstone.net.
Please hold your laughter. And stay with me.
Y-Net, as it is lovingly referred to, is an online forum for people who, like me, love, obviously, Yellowstone.
Like any online forum, it has its quirks, but the passion of its members – and the time they take to post photos and stories from the park – provide the exact escape I need. A little dose of Yellowstone.
One spring, while I was slogging away on a 100-stop speaking tour (you read that right and, yes, it was an insane idea), I was reading the patented Y-Net trip reports when this image caught my eye.
What in owl world is that?
A long-eared owl!
I’d never heard of this strange, yet striking owl before (keep in mind I spent a great deal of my life avoiding any knowledge of birds…it’s a long story). It looks like it is in a perpetual state of shock.
I knew from that moment that the long-eared owl would become an obsession.
We looked around in Yellowstone that summer, but that particular individual had moved on and finding another lead was impossible. Not the right time, not the right place.
Back in Toronto, I started my research and, low and behold, they can be found in our fair city. Or close, at least. Hamilton.
Finally hearing word of long-eared owls taking up residence in the city’s 50 Point Conservation Area, we made the trek and started the search.
Apparently photographers had been harassing the owls in the weeks prior to our visit, furthering the needless and hypocritical (on both sides) divide between birders and shooters.
Thankfully a few owls remained in the conservation area and the local ranger-expert was kind enough to point us in the right direction after assurances we’d behave.
The directions couldn’t have been more specific. Go to this one certain tree. Look hard.
And we looked at every bloody tree in the park. No owls.
We said our goodbyes to the kind conservation officer, but she wouldn’t let us leave. She insisted the long-eared owls were indeed in that tree.
Back we went.
Still no luck.
But again, as we went to leave, she turned us around and said we had to get into the tree – and look-up – if we’re to have any luck.
Seriously? That’s not harassing the owls? What in the world could a photographer have done to be more intrusive?
Anyway, with the conservation officers orders, we went back again. And went into the tree.
Nope. No owls.
As I walked out dejectedly, I noticed I was getting the stink eye from a passerby. She inquired if I was photographing the owls.
Having brought her up to speed on our marching orders from the ranger and our lack of luck, she stopped her car, got out, took me by the hand and back under the tree we went.
Well, I’ll be damned.
There were two owls in the tree. How I missed them, I’ll never know.
Stunning – but much smaller than I imagined – I took this one photo for the memory bank and left them in peace, feeling, despite the kind encouragement to look, that I was bothering the owls.
So, you see, like the wolverine and the fox den, I have seen a long-eared owl or two, but I long for a setting where I can photograph them, without causing a disturbance.
The chase is on.