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Nature Photography - Done Naturally

Long-eared Owl

Asio otus

I could probably populate my entire "favorites" page with owls. Perhaps that's because for several years after I started birding, I had a hard time seeing, much less photographing, ANY species of owl. After that initial dry streak, however, I've had some truly incredible opportunities to observe and photograph owls of many species. One characteristic of nearly all my owl sightings,'s always a surprise!  I rarely go out LOOKING for owls, and most of my observations have come through sheer serendipity. That was definitely the case with a roost of nearly two dozen Long-eared Owls my son and I found in November of 2007.  The two of us were taking a walk in the Big Sioux Recreation Area, the State Park across the street from our house.  As we walked along the road in the campground, we caught a glimpse of a large bird that flushed from a old cedar tree along the road. We took a few more steps, and several more birds flushed, flying down the road a few dozen yards before resettling in other cedar trees along the road.  Long-eared Owls!  A BIG roost of them!  Up until that point in my birding life, I'd only once seen a Long-eared Owl, and that was just a brief glimpse through heavy cover.

But here, through sheer serendipity, we had come across a large roost of Long-eared Owls, within a few hundred yards from our house! Not only were there a large number of them (at least 18-20), but they were often uncharacteristically tame, allowing close approach, and providing MANY opportunities for photos.  Over the next 2 months, the large group of owls stayed in the same general area. We let other birders in the area know of their presence, and many birders got to enjoy the owls over that fall. As the dead of winter came, the owls slowly filtered away, and by January, there were only one or two left.  Soon, they too were gone.

I took SO many photos of the owls that fall, that it's hard to choose a favorite, but this is one of my favorites, largely because it's so unique. One evening that fall we encountered a lone Long-eared Owl sitting out in the relative open (not common for this species!). From a photographic standpoint though, it was a challenge.  The only view of him was pointing the camera towards the west...right into the sun setting behind the owl. A technical challenge to get a photo of a strongly back-lit bird, but a bit of fill-flash did the trick, lighting up the foreground and the owl itself, while still giving some view of the sunset behind the bird. Unique lighting on this shot, but...I like it!  One of the photos I often look at to re-live that wonderful fall.

Long-eared Owl - Asio otus

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