Wednesday, February 05, 2014


Winter Close-Ups: A Great Horned Owl, Great Blue Herons, Mergansers and Tiny Downy Woodpeckers

January 31, 2014

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As the last few days of January, 2014, filtered away, I gathered images of the usual suspects along Mill Creek, at Bennington Lake, at a thicket of locust trees between the two and .
It began this way on a foggy weekday afternoon as Nora and I approached a wooded area a short stroll south of Bennington Lake.
The faint silhouette in the gnarly, bare-limbed trees -- with two twisted trunks, at least -- caught my attention.
Could be an owl.
I approached slowly, with stealth.
A pair of great horned owls visited that spot the previous spring. They lingered in the football-field-sized thicket for weeks.
I captured close-up images of them, as well as some of a Cooper’s hawk.
Maybe I would get lucky again.
Maybe nor. A dark low-hanging fog replaced the brightness of spring.
Heck, maybe owls liked dull, dreary days instead of sunshine. Easier on their eyes.
Considering the dark and the tangle of shadowy limbs, I paused to increase my camera’s ISO to 3200. Better have a noisy image than none. I set the shutter speed to 1000th of a second and the aperture at f/6.3 for the 500mm lens.
I didn’t expect the owl to fly, but I wanted a sharp image of its face.
Nora continued to lead the way.
Then, as I looked down to check my footing in the tall grass, I sensed the outline of pointed ears on an owl’s head.
I froze. Looked up to search for the image.
I spotted the owl,
“Yes,” I hissed softly.
Nora sniffed beneath the tree.
I aimed the camera and searched among the dark tangle of branches. They foiled the automatic focus.
I adjusted to “spot meter” and located the owl behind in a cage of branches.
I moved closer, searching for a clear view. Nora sniffed at the tree trunk and marked a spot.
When I had a clear view I snapped away and slowly moved closer and closer.

When the owl flew softly to a tree 20 yards away, I followed, snapped a few shots and headed back to Mill Creek.


On the way, five or six downy woodpeckers flitted and pecked out larvae from the wild rose bushes.
I’ve heard they dig out tiny larvae from the red berries as well as fuzzy seed pods on the briar stems.
I managed several images among the berries.

Then one perched on a small tree less than 15 feet away. I snapped images of it for a good 10 minutes, while it combined cleaning its chest and wing feathers with examining the bark for snacks.

Finally, as we ambled downstream along Mill Creek in a sun break, we passed several common mergansers.
Some flew.
With wings flapping they raced on orange-webbed feet across the water’s surface, kicking up plumes of spray, to gain flight speed.

Then, near the project office, as the fog settled in again a great blue heron stood stock still on a rock, posing for photo a long as I wanted to take them

It’s not every day that a Great Horned Owl and a Great Blue Heron will pose so close for photos.

And downy woodpeckers seldom sit still long before flitting away quickly.

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