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Nature Photography - Done Naturally

Northern Hawk Owl

Surnia ulula

"The" trip to the bog. Sax-Zim Bog, that is, a place I've been to several times now.  However, it all started with the magical trip in December of 2004. I was still relatively new as a birder and photographer, having started about 4 years earlier.  Word was trickling in by late November, 2004 that a rather incredible number of boreal owls were showing up in the Sax-Zim Bog area of northern Minnesota. Unpredictable "irruption" years of boreal owls moving southward occur occasionally, but this was an event of a magnitude never seen before.  Northern Hawk Owls and Great Grey Owls were being seen in very large numbers.  The words "once-in-a-lifetime" were being used by many birders who had been up to the bog. I had never seen either of those owl species before, so I took off for the bog.  My birding time is often limited, so to maximize my time in the field, I left at 2:00 A.M., hoping to arrive at the bog near dawn.  My timing was good, as I did indeed enter the bog a little after 8:00 A.M.  It took literally less than 5 minutes to find my first owl...a gorgeous, massive, Great Grey Owl perched in a tree right next to the road.  Owl #2 came about 5 minutes later.  Owl #3 a few minutes later.

On that December day, I ended finding over 30 Great Grey Owls and 30 Northern Hawk Owls. The highlight of the trip was this encounter with a incredibly tame and photogenic Northern Hawk Owl.  He was along Stone Lake Road on the northern part of the bog, sitting in a low bush RIGHT next to the road.  I'd already had a few encounters with Northern Hawk Owls earlier in the day, with some photos, but nothing "spectacular".  Given this guy was at eye level, right next to the road, I slowly approached in my car, creeping up 5 or 10 yards at a time in an effort to get as close as I could for photographs before he inevitably flew off.  To my surprise...he NEVER flew off!  He stayed on his perch, casually looking around, even occasionally seemingly falling asleep, as I took photo after photo. Eventually I simply put the camera down, and sat there and enjoyed the moment (with the "moment" last another hour after I stopped taking photos).  This wasn't just a highlight of the was a highlight of my entire  lifetime of birding.

I've returned to the Bog since 2004, and have on occasion seen more Northern Hawk Owls.  Curiously, although Great Gray Owls are generally the more common of the two species in the bog (although typically neither is "common), that day in December 2004 remains the only time in my life I've ever seen a Great Gray.

Northern Hawk Owl - Surnia ulula

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