Thursday, March 21, 2013

Middleton Great Gray Owl!

"In the fields and woods more than anywhere else all things come to those who wait, because all things are on the move, and are sure sooner or later to come your way."

~ John Burroughs

What!? A Great Gray Owl just a mile away? Now I wasn't expecting that! Around 4:00 p.m. today at Eagle Optics, Nina Cheney announced, "There's a Great Gray Owl at Capital Brewery. It's on their Facebook page!" Skeptical and curious, I checked it out and there it was – a photograph of the owl perched atop a tall post I actually recognized as being on brewery property. (Not that I spend an inordinate amount of time there or anything.) I made a phone call to the brewery and it was all perfectly true. Astounding!

The employee I spoke to informed me that the owl hadn't been seen for almost two hours. My shift wasn't over until 5:30 p.m., so I relayed the sighting to a couple of people who could start looking for it right away. Unfortunately, I unintentionally sent them on a bit of a wild owl chase thinking it probably made for the nearby fields at Esser Pond or Pheasant Branch Conservancy. After leaving work, I first went home to gather my digiscoping gear and then headed straight to the brewery. To my surprise, the owl was perched in some trees just half a block to the east and hadn't moved far at all.

The owl took on more of a brown tone in the sunlight, but after it caught and consumed a rodent, it perched behind a house in the shade, which made it look more grayish in color. By this time there were a dozen or more onlookers present (both birders and non-birders) and we were getting great views of the bird from the sidewalk. As the sun set, the light began to grow increasingly dim and I was not properly prepared for the cold weather. After I was satisfied with the photographs I got, several of us went to the brewery to warm up and celebrate.

There's much to ponder about a close encounter with this boreal hunter that seems very out of place in downtown Middleton. It's a first-year bird and appears to be in good health, but these things are difficult to gauge from casual appearances. Many northern owls that come this far south during winter irruptions are often starving. When found deceased, most of them are emaciated. For better or worse, this young owl chose this particular location and will have to make the best of it. Maybe it will stick around for a while, but this late in the season it ought to be returning north fairly soon.

Set V1's white balance to 'shade'

All images © 2013 Mike McDowell


  1. These are nothing short of AMAZING!! Mind blowing captures!!

  2. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

  3. What a beautiful bird and the photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Very impressive shots of such a species. Must have been quite an experiance.