A Great, Gray Adventure

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This is weird... I finally have a second of free time on my hands. The last month and more has been incredibly busy here at school. I can't say I'm not loving it, but I would like just a little more time to get out and shoot. The camera has been in the bag for almost two weeks now, and looking at the weather forecast ahead, I'm not so sure that's going to change anytime soon. But bear with me! There are some awesome things on the way, and more than a few blog posts to catch up on. Here goes the first...

Two weeks ago, fellow friend and photographer Ryan von Linden and I made the trek up to Newport, New Hampshire to catch up with the great gray owl that had been hanging around. All I can say is, I'm so glad we did it! We left Ryan's house in Schoharie around 7am that Sunday morning, and made it up to Newport a little after 10. Thanks to a few cues from friends that were already there, we knew exactly where to go and had a line of probably 25 cars waiting to greet us. The owl was present, roosting in a small pasture off the road. For anyone who doesn't know about great gray owls; other than being the largest owl in North America, they're also the most social. At least, that's what many would tell you. Myself included. The line of observers was a solid thirty yards away from the bird, that sat on a branch at the base of a large tree. The location wasn't the best for photo opportunities, despite how close we were. Not to mention, the light was starting to become a little harsh by the time we had arrived. We hung around, took our pictures and socialized with a bunch of people, from all over the place. Normally I don't dig the crowds but for some reason, this one was rather enjoyable for me. I met a ton of really nice people. We talked birds, cameras and great grays almost the whole morning. Once Ryan and I realized the bird wasn't planning on doing anything exciting, we took a break for lunch to escape the cold. Oh yeah, the cold... hands down the coldest wind I've ever felt in my entire life. Luckily, we were well prepared.

We returned to the location at about 2pm, and still the bird sat in the original location. Once again, we stood and waited. At this point I was done photographing the bird where it was. The light was completely in the wrong spot, leaving the bird entirely in shadow. Instead, Ryan and I waited towards the other end of the pasture for when the bird decided to change locations. Right around 3:30, we got our chance.

The bird took a direct line from its original perch, straight past Ryan and I, and landed on the end of the fence behind us. Not twenty minutes earlier, we were talking about how great of a spot that post would be. Sure enough...

Now we were pretty close. In a situation like this, it's okay to be close. The bird chose to sit here, with total disregard to us. As I mentioned before, great gray owls are very social birds. We took hundreds of shots for the next ten or fifteen minutes as the bird looked around. At one point, it jumped down almost at our feet, and attempted to grab a vole.  

After about a minute or so of digging around in the grass, it was clear the bird had missed. Back to the fence it went. Over the next two hours, we photographed the owl in various locations, as it worked just about every corner of the field. The light kept improving and improving as the day grew older, and so did the photos. 

This picture above was from a series where the owl decided to fly back across to our side of the fence. This next shot was from the same set. It is about a 50% crop. Side note: the 400 f/5.6 continues to impress me.

The next two shots are cropped pretty heavily, but I had to include them. This was one of the sequences where we watched the bird consume prey. The word vole was being thrown around by photographers and birders, but this looks like a field mouse to me! 

As it got later in the day, naturally, the light got better. It was incredible, actually. AND the bird was once again hunting right in front of us.

I managed to come away with one flight shot that I really liked. This was taken as the bird left the ground from the shot above, and flew straight at the fence I was standing next to. Sure enough, it perched right next to my head...

And closer...

To put it into perspective, both of those last two shots are full frame. As a matter of fact, the first one is more than full frame (I think?); I actually had to add canvas! 

After the bird landed, I took a few steps back. Then I could focus! 

As far as I know, this bird has moved on from it's stop here in the lower 48, and headed back north to its breeding grounds. Hopefully others will get to see it along the way! It was an incredible day, and surely one I will never forget. This is undoubtedly the best life bird I've had in a long time, and very possibly the best ever. I can't wait for the next time I run into a great gray. Hopefully sooner rather than later! If you ever get the chance to go see one, do not hesitate. They're one of a kind.

If you have any favorites from this post, please drop me a comment and let me know! I have to start singling out the best shots, so I can add them to my site gallery. I have a few in mind, but I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks! 

Thank you again to everyone who follows along. It's been an incredible journey from the beginning to now. I can't wait to see what lies ahead! More posts coming soon.