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Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl, Whitefish Point, Michigan

Whitefish Point in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is a great birding site in the spring and fall for migrating birds.  When I arrived I checked the log book for sightings and found a recent entry for a Great Gray Owl.  Wow!  That would be a great site to see, even if I couldn't get close enough to photograph it.  I checked to see where most of the photographers were and headed in the opposite direction.  I searched the trees along the beach with no success. 

I occupied myself photographing chickadees flying back and forth and stopping among the evergreens near the beach.  I also took some uninspired photos of some hawks passing overhead.  I'd been out quite a while when I finally spotted the owl.

I worked my way ever so slowly towards the owl with a non-direct approach.  I avoided eye contact as much as possible.  I took my first photo at a distance of about 60-70 feet.

After an hour and a half of a careful approach, I was finally only 10 feet away when I took the above photo.  Unfortunately, I was near the end of the roll.  Fortunately, the owl was unconcerned as I finished the roll and reached into my backpack to change film.

I did ambient light shots, fill flash shots, horizontal and vertical shots.  I bracketed exposures and tried everything I could think of to insure a good shot. The owl seemed quite disinterested as I continued to take photos.  At one point two motorcyles roared into the parking lot, easily visible from where I was.  The owl became nervous and began to fluff its wings.  When the bikers killed the motorcyle engines, the owl calmed down.

In no time at all, that roll was gone and I was out of film (NOTE:  Put more film in the backpack than you think you will need).  I carefully eased away, went back to my car and got more film, and slowly worked my way back to the owl, which seemed totally unconcerned.

I worked my way back to my original spot, more quickly than the first time.  After taking a few more photos in which I had to wait each time for the unconcerned owl to look my direction, a birder came quickly down the path and stopped about 50-60 feet from the owl.  The owl immediately became nervous.  The birder didn't spot the owl at first and tried to see what my camera lens was pointing at.

When he spotted the owl he grabbed quickly for his binoculars - too quickly.  The owl was gone in a flash.  It was an interesting lesson in the right and wrong way to approach wary wildlife.  The owl was unconcerned with my presence only 10 feet away, and concerned enough to take off at the rapid movements of a birder much farther away than me.

The birder was clueless that he was the reason the owl flew away.  I may need to get camouflage, not for the wildlife, but for other people.

June 26, 2000
Revised Nov 29, 2000

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