Short eared owls are one of my favorite species of owls, and this weekend I was lucky enough to find a very cooperative one close to Frank Lake, just east of High River. A number of people on the Alberta Birds group on Facebook had seen him over the past week or so, so I was pretty confident I would find him as well.
I decided to take an indirect route to Frank Lake, on the look out for Snowy Owls and whatever else I might find. I was only 5 km east of Calgary, or so, when I spotted my first Female Snowy on the side of the highway. I decided not to stop because the road was busy, but smiled and waved as I drove by. Shortly after, I found another female snowy on top of a silo.
I went just a bit past Namaka and decided to start winding my way South-west back to Frank Lake. On the way, I was treated to a flock of Gray Patridge – the sun was in the exact wrong position but I snapped a shot anyway as they squawked and waddled away.
I found the Short-eared owl right on highway 23, just a little north-east of where they had been reported earlier in the week. I’m so glad I decided to take the indirect route, or I would not have come to Frank Lake from the east and would have missed him completely.
I pulled over rather abruptly, and scrambled to get my window down and camera ready, chanting my usual ‘please don’t move, please don’t move’ mantra. I needn’t have worried. He looked at me curiously, but continued scanning the ground and sky, watching the vehicles whip by. I watched him for several minutes. At one point he did a fly around and landed a few posts down, so I pulled the car around and this time approached more calmly. After a hundred or so shots, I decided to leave him alone and complete my drive to Frank Lake.
Elated from my find, I decided to do a quick walk to the shoreline to see if the lake had attracted any interesting water fowl – there were quite a few Canadian Geese and a flock of Common Golden Eye. At one point, this beautiful Husky came bounding up to me. Initially thinking it was a coyote, I had my camera ready and pointed. When I realized it was a dog, I took a few shots anyway. I saw the figure of what I assume was his owner in the distance so wasn’t too worried.
>>My little rant: I love dogs, but I really wish people would not let them run off leash freely at Frank Lake. It is an environmentally sensitive area, and dogs can do a lot of damage to the nesting areas in the spring.
I left Frank Lake and drove back the way I came, only to find the Short Eared Owl still on his perch. I couldn’t resist – I had to stop and take about a hundred more shots. I just love this little owl with the heart-shaped face. I had only seen ‘Shorties’ in the wild once before, and that was again thanks to members of the Facebook Alberta Birds group, just before Christmas. It was in a similar area but about 15km East or so. I got a couple of keepers that time, but those owls were much more skiddish.
I drove home just as the sun was setting, and to top of the day, found a pure white Male Snowy. The lighting was perfect and it was a great end to a fantastic drive.