The Barn Owls are still hunting sporadically during daylight in northern Utah. I’ve seen them doing so in a variety of areas and heard reports of it happening elsewhere.
Some areas near the Great Salt Lake are literally “magical wonderlands” in the early mornings due to the thick layer of hoarfrost that covers nearly everything. The frost falls off the vegetation during the day, then reforms during the night. The hoarfrost produces a setting for my images that appeals to me.
The camera settings for the images in this post were: 1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4. The owl was not baited, set up or called in.
Yesterday morning this owl was hunting along the upper edge of a steep-sided hill as it came in my general direction and then rounded the hill to my right. In the first four shots you can see that its attention is riveted to the side of the hill where the snow cover is much less deep than it is everywhere else, which would increase the chances of spotting a vole.
I chose to compose these images a little differently so that the frost-covered hunting ground becomes almost as important to the image as the bird. If you have any thoughts on this composition I’d be interested in hearing them.
As the bird rounded the hilltop and got closer to me the frosted vegetation became more dominant in the images.
You can see that the snow on the hillside is patchy (most of the white is frost) so I believe that is why this bird was hunting there.
This is the last shot I got before losing focus on the owl.
I’m including this next image (using that term loosely…) simply for the fun of it.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how difficult it becomes to maintain focus on a bird in flight when the background is relatively close to the subject and has a lot of texture/contrast. That’s what happened here. It was easier to keep the owl in focus when the background was blue sky or white frost but when the bird moved in front of the bare ground my focus point almost immediately locked on to the background and the bird became very soft.
And what a surprise it was to find the female Ring-necked Pheasant in the upper right hand corner of the photo. I didn’t know she was in the shot until I reviewed my images at home (this photo is full frame).
By the time I locked focus on the owl again it had rounded the hill and was too far past me to see the eyes well without a head turn in my direction (which simply wasn’t going to happen since the owl was more interested in hunting than posing for me…)
I liked the first four images because of the hunting behavior and the frosty setting but I just can’t help but feel a twinge of angst for the welfare of these owls when they’re forced to hunt during daytime.