Sunday, December 26, 2021

Post #210 - An incredible encounter with Barred Owl

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere! Sonia and I are eighteen days into our Chile vacation, and I’ll use our flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas (Patagonia) as an opportunity to crank out a final blog entry for 2021. Though I’ll write about this trip when I’m back in the US, I’ll summon previous inspiration for this abbreviated installment.

I last saw my Philadelphia-based family in November of 2019, the pandemic and other commitments denying me contact for nearly two years, so Sonia and I headed east for two weeks at the end of October. We spent five days at my parents’ house and used another nine to road trip through New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. While Sonia reunited with a long-time friend in Boston, I headed north for a day of birding on the New Hampshire Coast, an area I hadn’t visited since January 1, 2014 (the first day of my bicycle Big Year). Here’s my ‘Biking for Birds’ blog entry from that kick-off. Damn it was cold!

Besides nostalgia, my recent New Hampshire brush gave me an wonderful window to Barred Owl, a species I hadn’t seen since Sonia and I moved to California in 2015. My bladder pushed to its limit while I was birding in Rockingham County, I ducked into wooded patch to relieve myself. I'd barely entered the trees when a large bird took unexpected flight from ten feet above my head. The commotion scared the hell out of me, but I fought-off premature evacuation as the startled owl fled. I took care of bathroom business, walked deeper into the woods, found the owl perched on an exposed branch, and raced back to the car to grab my camera.

The bird was incredibly trusting as I crept closer, and I was able to capture a bunch of frames as the arboreal noble watched curiously. The blur at the top and bottom of the frame in the first shot is deliberate; it was created by shooting through a thin veil of leaves which separated me from the subject. I think it lends a sense of secrecy, like I’m spying on the bird in its forested surrounds. 

Barred Owl - Strix varia

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS R5

1/200 at f/4, ISO 3200

I don’t think I’m a particularly creative bird photographer, my work being mostly technical/editorial, so it was fun to try something different with this cooperative subject. How cooperative? Just check out this second shot. While Image Stabilization reduced motion blur, I also braced myself against a tree to further ensure a sharp result with the slow shutter.

Barred Owl - Strix varia

Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS R5

1/80 at f/4, ISO 1600

I left the owl snoozing after twenty minutes, the photos an enduring memorial of an amazing intersection. Take a leak; find an owl. Doesn’t get much better. 

Interestingly, the New England leaves changed color very late this year; some to whom I spoke suggested that the delay was caused heavy summer rains. Regardless, you can see this patch of New Hampshire woods was still completely — and unusually — green at this late-October juncture.

Cheers for now!


  1. That is one bad-a$$'d BADO my friend! glad to hear you're doing well. if you post any new birds in your Gallery, do let us know. enjoy the summer down there. Falklands?

    1. Thanks for the kind words! And no - no Falklands on this trip. We're spending the entire month in Chile, so we'll get to see a huge chunk of the country. Summer is great, but it's windy as hell down here in Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego!

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Hugh - I'm still getting the hang of it, particularly as I've customized some dials and buttons I didn't have on my 1DX2. The R5 delivers incredible IQ when it hits, but I've had some focusing issues which are described here. It's short and very worth reading. There's nothing wrong with me or the camera; it's just taking some time get adapt to mirrorless (versus DSLR).