I went for a hike in the foothills west of Calgary on October 2, 2023, hoping to see and photograph the fall colors. But a snowstorm had knocked down most of the pretty yellow leaves off the aspens a few days before. I had missed peak colors.
But – it didn’t matter. It was a crisp fall day with a touch of frost in the morning. I was glad to be outside, hiking around in the woods. I had brought along my big birding lens hoping to photograph ruffed grouse and boreal chickadees, which I’ve spotted in this area before. As I was walking along I heard a magpie squawking angrily in a tree up above. I stopped to see what the ruckus was about, and then I saw it: the magpie was mobbing a great gray owl. Wow!
I dropped my pack and hiking poles, and got my camera ready. The owl let out a screech, and then I heard a screech in reply from a nearby tree. I looked up and spotted a second owl. Wow, wow, wow!
For the next 45 minutes I photographed these magnificent creatures. They were very patient with me. They seemed to go about their daily business without paying too much attention to the human down below. After the 45 minutes was up they looked at me with some disdain and flew off. I got the feeling like I’d worn out my welcome, and decided not to follow them further away from the trail.
It was a powerful, moving experience for me. Having lost my father and father-in-law to cancer over the past year, it was easy to interpret this as a sign. I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to these things and will view such things as coincidence, but that didn’t make the experience any less powerful. I will forever remember this encounter.
While I was watching them, the owls sat on their perches and scanned their environment. Every often they would look at me directly, rocking their heads back and forth. As soon as I had direct eye contact I’d fire off a series of shots with my camera.
At one point one of the owls flew off, landed in the grass, and casually found another perch. It then showed off its prize to me: a rodent, probably a vole.
Let’s zoom in on that a bit to get a closer look.
It was only when I developed my photos on my computer when I noticed the other owl was clutching a snack in its talon.
Zooming in on the head.
One final photo.