Saturday, October 22, 2011

Great Horned Owl, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve

A rare sight of a Great Horned Owl in broad daylight, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 10/1/2011
I have seen and heard Great Horned Owls all my life, but since I have taken up bird photography as a hobby, they have eluded me with all their efforts. I have never seen one close enough, unobstructed enough, nor in the daylight as I did earlier this month while hiking in the Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve (Above).  I was patiently waiting for a Ruby-crowned Kinglet to show itself in a nearby briarberry bush (I think - I am not very good at identifying plants) when a large shadow crossed over me. I expected to see a crow, but as I caught a glimpse of the bird creating the shadow, it was far too large to be a crow. Its wing beats were too slow and flying too high to be a wild turkey, so I figured it was a turkey vulture. As luck would have it, it alit on an exposed branch only about 100 feet from me, midway up a tree. As soon as it landed and I had a clear view of it, I knew it was an owl, and I was excited for two reasons. One, I have never seen an owl this close in the daylight while I had a camera, and two, I do not have any good photos of owls in my collection of bird photographs. My heart beat a little faster as I moved into a position to get a good line on it, hoping it would not fly away before I could focus. It stayed put and eyed me warily, as I snapped off a few photos, and inched closer with each new click. Eventually it turned its head away from me, but stayed on the branch.

The same Great Horned Owl, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 10/1/2011
Great Horned Owls are very widespread, and can be found in virtually every corner of North America year round, from Mexico to Alaska, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, except for perhaps parts of the Arctic Circle. As widespread as they are, they are still an uncommon sight, especially during daylight hours, as they are basically nocturnal and like secluded spots. They are one of our larger owl species as they grow to 22" in length with a wingspan of 44". Indeed this one (Above) was probably at its optimum size; the shadow it threw as it flew overhead was enormous. I felt very fortunate to see and photograph it and I counted it as my 330th identified bird on my Life List and the 194th different bird I identified this year.

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