Friday, January 27, 2012

A Long-eared Owl in his winter roost...

Yesterday at 4:00 p.m. I headed up to the Caesar Creek area with my birding and turtling friend, Paul Krusling, to look for a Long-eared Owl that is wintering in our area. Paul had seen the owl with his family the previous weekend and offered to go up and help me find what would become my next life bird...

A Long-eared Owl roosts in a tangle of cedar branches near Caesar Creek State Park.

If you pick up a book and read anything about Long-eared Owls, you'll probably come across the word "secretive." I've seen the word in almost every description of the bird I've ever read, and I often wondered about that. What owl isn't secretive? Well...after seeing the bird in person, I now understand. He was nestled so deep in a tangle of cedar branches if I wasn't looking in a specific place, I would never have seen him. To photograph him I had to shoot through several trees and many branches. I'm surprised he's visible at all. Thank goodness for telephoto lenses and the crop tool!

Warm caramels, rich browns, deep blacks, and pale buffs all come together to create a stunning bird, and even though a Long-eared Owl is a formidable raptor that kills its prey by biting the back of their skulls, "pretty" is the word that kept coming to mind as I watched at him through the camera lens. His colors and patterns are beautiful...and pretty...

When nervous or wary, a Long-eared Owl will pull in and compress his feathers to make his body look taller and thinner. When you combine the thinner cylindrical shape with the cryptic colors of his feathers, he looks like a limb! The very large tufts of feathers on his head add to the illusion by making him look like a broken-off limb.

Not just Long-eared Owls compress their feathers when nervous, but this was the first owl I've ever seen do it. Because he appeared so thin, we immediately left the area by his roost and climbed higher on the hill so we could look down on him from a distance. Through the binocs and the camera lens, we could watch him relax, and it didn't take long for him to puff back out to a plump, little owl!

...he's already getting a little puffier here. Right after I took this photo he regurgitated a pellet. I wish I had been videoing him. It was effortless the way he coughed it up...nothing like a cat hacking up a hairball!

...and finally within minutes he became a puffball with sleepy eyes. We left, going wide so he would not be disturbed.

Even though Long-eared Owls often roost communally in winter, ours was a solo-owl. If others were about, they were really camouflaged! What an incredible experience. This was a life bird for me, and one I probably won't see again any time soon...

Beak Bit
Every now and then I post "Beak Bits," which are tiny bite-sized bits of bird science. I started doing these a couple of years ago when my cousin's little girl started reading my blog. Anna has become quite the birder and recently did a science project on backyard birds! Yeah! We've added another bird-lover to our ranks. Hi Anna! This Beak Bit is for you...
The long "ears" on a Long-eared Owl are not ears at all. They are feather tufts that have nothing to do with hearing. The long tufts help provide camouflage for the owl by breaking up its shape and helping it imitate a broken branch. The Long-eared Owl's "real" ears are hidden under feathers and are located inside its facial disk. Since Long-eared Owls are strictly nocturnal and do their hunting in the dark, they have to hear very well. The owl's facial disk funnels sound to the owls ears, which are located behind the eyes and are asymmetrical. The left ear opening is higher than the right, which helps the owl narrow in on mice running in a field.

36 comments:

Fleetwood Birder said...

Some nice pictures of a very secretive hard to photograph brilliant bird Kelly.

Elaine said...

Fantastic, Kelly! That first shot really grabs your attention. Congrats on seeing and photographing this guy!

Sue said...

Fascinating! Congrats on adding another lifer. He's beautiful and quite unique. What a find!

Alan Pavey said...

Always great to get a lifer and some lovely shots to go with it excellent.

Roy said...

Great shots, Kelly!

KaHolly said...

Ow, wow, I'm in awe!

Mary said...

wow....how great to see an owl of any kind! I would love to find some owls. These are wonderful photos of a hard to find bird.

TexWisGirl said...

how great that you got to see and photograph this guy! :)

Elizabeth Seaver said...

What amazing photos. I so enjoyed your post. Lucky you to get to see the long-eared owl. I moved the page so I couldn't see the owl's head on one photo, and the rest of its body absolutely looked like a limb. So lovely.

Elizabeth Smith said...

These are beautiful shots! And the information is fascinating! I would love to go out with you on your birding adventures - I would always learn so much...I'll be content for now to browse your blog. Congratulations on your sighting!

KAT said...

He looks a little surprised in that first photo. How close did you manage to get to him ? I love this post..owls are so cool looking and amazing. the beak bits is a great idea. I have a whole mantle of wooden owls right now. my winter decor ! LOL

-KAT-

holdingmoments said...

Excellent post Kelly.
What a great beauty you found, and excellent shots of him too.

Kelly said...

KAT....I really wasn't that close to him at all. I was using a 200mm lens with a 2x extender, which brought me up to 400mm. On top of that, all the images are cropped down in Aperture so they appear as close-ups. If we had gone close to the bird, he probably would have bolted because they are very wary. We didn't want to disturb him so we hung back...

Betsy from Tennessee said...

How interesting, Kelly. I've never even heard of a Long-eared Owl... You got some great photos... AND then to find out that the ears are not ears at all... Great information... Loved this post.
Hugs,
Betsy

Warren Baker said...

Fantastic bird to find Kelly, and fantastic images of it! Well done!

Robert Mortensen said...

Awesome bird! one of my favorites!

Janice K said...

Cool ears, but oh, those eyes!

Laure Ferlita said...

Amazing! Love the cool things you see and share with us! That last shot where he's staring straight into the camera looks like he's considering you for lunch.

Caitlin said...

That is one surprised-looking Owl :) Great shots!

Montanagirl said...

Fabulous shots of the Owl, Kelly. I have only seen one of these in the 10 years we've been back here. I managed some decent photos of it...maybe I'll post them one of these days! (They're not as good as yours though!)

Jeremy Medina said...

So jealous! I've yet to see one. Cool photos and info!

Lois Evensen said...

You get such fantastic images! You are so talented at not only shooting them, but preparing them. Gorgeous!

forgetmenot said...

Absolutely amazing shots! What find to find him just waiting to "have his picture taken". Mickie ;)

Andrea said...

Wonderful serie!
Thank you for sharing.

Dan Huber said...

How fantastic Kelly. super post and love the owl shots.

Gillian Olson said...

Thank you for these wonderful images of this secretive owl. He is a beauty. Very interesting behavior of making itself thinner to blend into the tree branches. Great post Kelly.

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

What a beauty!!

Kelly said...

Thanks, everyone!!! What a day... I'm so glad I saw this owl--a life bird! When I would see photos of this owl, I always thought he was a tall bird. I was so surprised when I saw him sitting in the tree....he's not tall at all. He's actually little...but what a punch he packs! He's gorgeous...his colors are even more beautiful in person. thanks again! :-)

Elva Paulson said...

Oh you lucky, lucky person. Long-eared owls are so difficult to see .....

Julie Hargreaves said...

What an amazing photo of the Long-eared owl your blog is fantasticl

Roy said...

Really special shots Kelly.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Your shots of the Long Eared Owl are great, the colours are just wonderful and I am amazed you managed to shot thru so many twigs.

Guy

Banjo52 said...

I didn't know of this guy at all. GREAT info and photos once again. Thank you.

Chris said...

Wow you got one too! Beautiful gzae you captured. Funny to see that mine have really more-orange looking eyes than this one ;-) Well done Kelly!

Tammy@Simple Southern Happiness said...

How did I miss this post, I adore owls! This is truly outstanding photography!

Arija said...

You have a beautiful blog and with great photos and charming paintings. I am so glad I found it on Montanagirl.