A New Year For The Burrowing Owls

Most everybody who knows me, is keenly aware that bears of all species are my favorite thing to photograph and spend time with.  Bears though, while not impossible to find in Florida, are not everyday subjects.  Lucky for me, owls are my next favorite subject and in Florida we’re fortunate to have several different species including the eastern screech,  great horned, barred, barn, and one of my personal favorites … the burrowing owl.  As in years past, I have been spending a lot of time with them, so if you like them like I do, get ready for several blog posts featuring these entertaining, expressive creatures.  🙂DSC_5965-EditIn Florida, the mating season begins sometime around February.  While full time residents of Florida, the fun with them usually begins at that time … and when their owlets first emerge from the safety of the burrow at about 2 weeks of age.  For the purpose of this first blog, these images are all adult owls, mostly just prior to mating for the season.  DSC_6332The burrowing owl is one of the smallest owls in Florida, standing about 9 inches tall with a wingspan of about 21 inches.  They lack ear tufts that some owls possess and as their name suggests, they live in established burrows in the ground.  Those burrows can be quite intricate too … with burrow tunnels reaching lengths of several feet.  They normally have bright yellow eyes, though in Florida it’s not unusual to have dark brown, light brown, or even olive green eyes.  As you can see in the image below, this couple illustrates the varied eye color.DSC_5858Their scientific name, Athene cunicularia, translates to mean “little digger” and it’s easy to see why … they are effective diggers and are often seen digging out the sand in the burrows.  Often the owls become unknown recipients of all of that sand and dirt.  LOLDSC_6184Burrowing owls in Florida are listed as a State Threatened species by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, thus are under much protection.  Therefore “taking, possessing, or selling burrowing owls, their nests (i.e., burrows), or eggs is prohibited without a permit (68A-27 F.A.C.)”.  Burrowing owls, eggs, and young are also protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Usually in the winter, they begin to pair up at various burrows.  Sometimes I know that it’s the same owls at the same burrow … sometimes a new partner will show up … sometimes it’s an entirely new couple.DSC_2858Either way, the behavior is the same.  Burrowing owls keep keen eyes on the skies above for potential predators or threats.  It’s amazing to me how they can perceive things long before I ever get the tiniest glimpse.DSC_2845The couples are actually quite affectionate together and offer food to one another …DSC_2884… and often nuzzle together as they pass the time together. DSC_2897Solitary and mutual grooming is part of the ritual too.  🙂DSC_2895Then there’s more of what seems to be an endless chore of housekeeping, and all of that flying dirt.  LOLDSC_2939I hope that you enjoyed the blog and will be back soon when the blog carries on with images and stories of the real stars … the new installment of this years baby owlets … with their downy fur, “hair plugs”, and clumsy ways.  They are the perfect way for me to pass the day … and they’re never short on expressions, attitudes, and fun!DSC_2955

Next Up:  My next favorite subject …. hmmm … what could it be?  Check in to find out!

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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Revisiting Friends … Burrowing Owls, that is

The burrowing owl is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered & Threatened Species Rule.  They are “highly vulnerable” to becoming a threatened species by loss of habitat and thus in Florida, it’s illegal to harass or harm them, their nests, or their eggs.  I’ve been told that over the past few years, the public, including some photographers, reportedly have taken perhaps a bit too much liberty with them, which resulted in these signs being displayed at most of the burrows, which happen to be in heavily used county parks.  While I applaud the attempt to educate those who might not know better, I think that these signs (which are quite small) might actually encourage people to get close … in order to read these tiny notices. In addition, they tend to flap around in the wind, which also disturbs the owls.   Is it just me or what?DSC_5728So that being said … let’s all enjoy them from afar and know that when an owl bobs its head up and down at you or lets out an alert call when you’re present, you’re obviously disturbing them and need to give them their space.  Again, whether observing or photographing the owls, the goal should be to get them acting naturally.  Enough said.  🙂

Speaking of acting naturally, please note that this owl hasn’t been fed by humans, but rather has retrieved its prey from its hunting (usually at night or before dawn or after dusk) earlier.  They kill and cache it, like other predators do, and as you can see, this frog is covered in sand._DSC9194This owl is quite the hunter too.  It tries to offer the frog to its mate, who shows no sign of interest in taking it._DSC9201So the owl begins to consume it himself._DSC9172_DSC9192Once partially torn into and consumed, the owl tries again to offer it to its mate, but again she’s not interested._DSC9198What’s an owl to do?_DSC9212Is she just playing hard to get?_DSC9205Well, let’s try a lizard … maybe that will do it.  But no, she didn’t want that either!_DSC9218Eventually, after several visits to the burrow, this years baby owls start to appear.  Usually when I first see them, they still are in that “hair plug” stage, but these guys seem to be a few weeks out of that stage.DSC_5699Even at a young age, they learn to watch the skies overhead.DSC_5725At first, I just saw one young owl, which made me flash back to that hawk Tom & I had seen a few weeks ago.  But then a second appeared.DSC_5730There’s always one that’s more curious and brave than the other.  LOLDSC_5734Eventually, they both begin to feel comfortable with my presence and the animation begins.  🙂DSC_5769I just adore the young owlets and their fluffy belly feathers and those downy looking “petticoats” are priceless.DSC_5821The sun highlights their eyes, which are so big and focused on their surroundings.  DSC_5944DSC_6012At one point, 3 owlets appeared, which makes it more fun due to the interaction between them.  This owlet decided to strike a submissive pose when playing with the others.  So darned cute!DSC_6134More overhead scanning … a never-ending activity … for those owls and owlets that want to increase their odds of survival.DSC_6154More playing … a favorite part of their day I’m sure … as well as for the observers.DSC_6316Well, go to go today, but not before I say goodbye to these 3 cuties.  As you can tell, they all have their personalities, appearances, and unique traits.  However, they are all precious.  I wish them well.  As Arnold says … “I’ll be back”.  DSC_5973

Next up:  Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

All Eyes on the Burrowing Owls

For many years now, I’ve been heading out to hang out with the burrowing owls and of course, take a few images along the way.  🙂  In all honesty though, often I would just go and sit nearby them and observe them being owls … and laugh at their silly antics and expressions.  In 2016, it was no different.  Well, except for one thing.  When I arrived, I expected to see perhaps a few very young owlets.  However I was greeted by this ….

_DSC1267So the owl on the right was as full grown as the one on the left, though still had some of those “juvenile or sub-adult” feathers.  What?  This couldn’t possibly be a 2016 baby … it was too big already.  Then I remembered a very small owlet last year who possessed these lighter brown eyes.  It was the last born of his siblings and hence was quite tiny compared to the others.  Could this still be him (or her)?  Am I witnessing a “failure to launch” owlet?  The 2 parents at that burrow were definitely the same ones from last year.  One with yellow eyes, the other with brown eyes._DSC1264I was so intrigued by this finding, that I could barely pick up the camera to capture images!_DSC1289Its size was about the same as the parents, but its behavior was still playful.  As hard as I tried to get them to explain what was going on … they just stared._DSC1314_DSC1394Other owls were paired up in their burrows, as they kept a watchful eye out for overhead predators.  _DSC1474Over the first few weeks that I visited, I would find new burrows springing up that hadn’t been there in years past._DSC3186Obviously, by the look of things, “groundbreaking” and “renovating” was still quite actively going on._DSC3192This poor owl looks like it has had enough already of the flying sand being tossed about them._DSC3204_DSC3235As i mentioned earlier, these owls spend a lot of time scouting out the skies above.  They are totally fascinated by flying insects, resident parrots, flying planes, helicopters, blimps, and even balloons hold their attention for quite some time.  So cute to watch as they track the action.  Of course, they spend most of their time on the lookout for predators.  Not too far away is a family of red-tailed hawks and of course, red-shouldered hawks are always a threat.  One particular morning, Tom & I were at one of the burrows and a hawk flew right into the tree closest to the burrow we were at.  I was fearful that we would watch carnage, though once the hawks are anywhere near, those owls get into their burrows faster than you can imagine!  _DSC3139These adorable burrowing owls are predators themselves though and no frog, lizard, caterpillar or other delicacy is safe from being served up on their buffet line._DSC4927While these owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, they often recover their cache and dine during the daytime.  As you can see, this unfortunate frog is quite covered in sand after being retrieved from nearby._DSC4929It’s amazing to watch the dexterity the owls possess in handling their catch._DSC4934Sometimes they tore into them right away, other times they seemed to just toy with them a bit.  Especially now, during breeding season, they are an important part of the daily routine.  This one seems quite pleased with its catch, don’t you think?_DSC4942After posing so nicely for the camera, he took it over to the female at the burrow and offered it up to her.  In this case, she gladly accepted.  _DSC4945She then paraded around quite a bit with it, finally stashing it into the burrow for later consumption._DSC4950_DSC5001I always love it when they fly into the nearby trees for a shady break from the hot sandy burrows.  _DSC5020Getting back to my possible “Failure to launch” owl, a few weeks after my first visit, I noticed that it was no longer at its original burrow.  Oh no, I hoped that nothing had happened to it.  I waited patiently for it to emerge, but to no avail.  Then as I scanned the landscape from a low perspective, I caught a glimpse of yet another freshly dug burrow, not far away.  I went over to investigate and sure enough, there it was, with another owl.  Did it finally launch?  I mean … 3 was definitely a crowd, as they say.  I noticed that it also had tufts of feathers missing on front of its neck and a would under its eye.  Maybe the parents had to make it leave or maybe it had a close call with a predator.  Unfortunately, I will never know.  However, I was happy to see it._DSC5118Such a darn cutie with those unusual browner eyes.  This year, I noticed just a few of them with brown eyes, while last year there were several.  One even had one yellow eye and a brown eye!  Now that I mention it, I haven’t seen that one this year, but I do know that other owls have taken over that particular burrow._DSC5173I just love it when they look up a bit from the burrow and the light catches their eyes perfectly and really lights them up.  So, do you wonder why this one is looking so bright eyed and wide-eyed?_DSC5234Incoming burrowing owl! … OK, maybe not the reason for that hypnotic stare.  This owl was hysterical though in the way that its behavior was so erratic and quick.  It literally ran out from the burrow about 30 feet or so, surveyed the area left and right, turned abruptly around, and jumped!  Then it proceeded to land and run frantically the rest of the way back to the burrow.  _DSC5274Such silly owls they are … always displaying silly antics and even more silly expressions … which leave me in stitches on more than one occasion … each visit that is.  🙂_DSC5222

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the burrowing owls so far.  Rest assured, there will be more coming up in a few weeks.

Next up:  More images and stories from the rookeries.  Stay tuned.

© 2016  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

A Burrowing Owl Encore!

It’s been some time since the last burrowing owl post and there’s so many images from 2015, so I though that I would share a few more and give some final thoughts on them as well.

I just love it when they are perched on something which offers me an interesting background, especially when I can produce a bokeh which adds to the shot.  The blue sky is perfect when filtered through the leaves of a nearby tree.

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Though these are siblings, they have very different eye colors.  Both are quite beautiful.  the yellow ones are piercing when the sunlight casts itself on them just so, but the brownish yellow are so different that I find it hard to look away.  Either way, I love them both!

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Yes, they sure love to launch themselves into flight, as well as jumping around quite a bit.  I just LOVE when they focus on their landings … eyes on the prize and talons out ready for the grab.

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They run from burrow to burrow when they have more than one entrance to home.

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To me, the main thing that I want the owls to do while I’m photographing them is to act natural and do the things that owls do.  I don’t want them to be preoccupied by my presence.  I prefer to see the eyes, even if just caught through the feathers of its wings.

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A favorite activity for these owls was the “attack” and wrestling of each other … reminded me of a worldwide wrestling event.  LOL

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These burrowing owls are very social with each other and they “kiss”, groom, and “canoodle” each other quite often.  Looks so sweet.  🙂

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Of course, they shed their feathers on occasion, which totally becomes a favorite “toy” to play with.

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So is flying around the burrow, landing on perches, etc.  This year was unusual because in years past, I had seen the owls hunting a bit and feeding, but I saw none of that this year.  Of course, they were well fed and would expel their pellets (remnants of their undigested material) quite frequently.  🙂

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In this particular burrow, sometimes the perch became quite crowded!

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These owls are pretty much busy all day, and they get tired just like we do.  Like some people, some could almost fall asleep anywhere!  LOL

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Can’t wait to see what 2016 holds in regards to photographing the owls of south Florida!  I hope that you enjoyed them as much as I did.  🙂

Next Up:  Let’s go back to ALASKA!!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Guaranteed to Make You Smile!

Yes, it’s time for more burrowing owls!  Being that I spend so much time with them … and they never fail to bring a smile to my face … I had to get in another blog post with them as the stars.  🙂

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These little ones are simply the most expressive owls that you can imagine.  Those piercing yellow eyes and that stare that goes on and on.  As far as a staring contest, they always win hands down.

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Very curious about the world around them, they cautiously make their way on occasions outside the confines of their roped off boundary to their burrow.  Being a protected species, it’s easy to find these burrows, as generally they are roped off for identification.  These particular ones are in a very active county park, so it’s important to know where they are … especially when the grounds keeper begins to mow their area!

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This is how they look when they hear the sound of the mower coming their way … LOL … of course, I’m just kidding about that.

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So social is their nature that they often try to perch on the same stake, rope, perch, or branch.

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My favorite feature of the young ones is all of that wispy downy feathers around their “petticoat” area.  LOL.  That, and the color of their bellies … reminds me of Kahlua!

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This one was stalking something, but from our vantage point, we couldn’t see what it was at first.

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Then we saw it trying to right itself – one of its burrow mates had been in that submissive position near the entrance of the burrow.

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Learning new things all of the time, like how to navigate a new branch.  I can’t help but think of tightrope walkers when I see them do this.

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Old Twinkle Toes this one is as it flaps its wings and begins to fly off of its perch.  As you can see, the entire time it’s so concentrating on the task at hand.  Like our own little babies, always learning something new and processing that information.

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Up …. and … down

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It also enjoys a good game of Limbo too.

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When all else fails, there’s always the old biting on one of its brothers or sisters.

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As I think back at all of the good times I’ve shared while observing the owls I can’t help but smile all over again.  🙂

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Next up:  Continuing on to Salt Lake City and Park City for the cycling adventure!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photogaphy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Owls of the Burrow

Hello again … returning to the burrowing owls … my feathered friends of the spring season which I always look forward to capturing images of each year.

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Exploration of the world around them is always fascinating to watch when I visit them.  They encounter flowers, small crawling insects, many flying bees and dragonflies, a bit of trash that found its way towards the burrow, and the attention of onlookers.

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Their curiosity is just through the roof … much like our own young, they find everything and anything, and MUST pick it up to investigate it further.  🙂

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Not all burrowing owls have those bright yellow eyes that they are so famous for.  This particular burrow last year, with the same parents, produced several with yellow eyes and several with very dark eyes.  Those parents this year had primarily lighter eyed owlets, with the color below being one of the darker ones.

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Life around the burrow is quite an active one, especially when the young ones are still learning to navigate themselves in flight.  When they’re not flying overhead or low to the grasses, they often hop around in short burst jumps.

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They are so beautiful in flight, though most times it’s hard to get their faces not shrouded by their beautiful wings in flight.

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Oops, looks like this one has just spotted something flying overhead.

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How about a game of peekaboo?  They just have endless things to do and an endless array of expressions.  🙂

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Of course, there’s always time for a little bit of mutual grooming and “kissing”.  They really seem to enjoy it.

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Before long, they’re flying about again.  I absolutely adore the way that they land with those talons ready for the grab.  Look at that concentration on its face as well.

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This one must have been studying some magic, as it seems to be levitating above the branch while perched with it sibling.  LOL

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A topside view of the owl in flight shows off its beautiful markings in its feathers, wingspan, and beautiful face.  Gosh, I love those birds!

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Then it’s back to those inquisitive stares.

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All fluffed up are you?  Well, if you haven’t spent some time with burrowing owls yet, be sure to make it a plan to do so.  You’ll be glad that you did!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

It’s That Time Again …. !

One of the things that I love most living in south Florida is our availability of burrowing owls to photograph.  They are year-round residents, but my favorite time of year is in the spring of course.  That’s when the baby owlets begin to emerge out of their burrows for the first time.  🙂

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They are hysterical to observe as they very timidly peek outside at the world around them. They are so curious at just about everything going on “above ground”, for the first few weeks they were nurtured within the protection of the underground burrow … safe from the predators and the elements.  When first introduced to their new life outside, they tend to stay huddled together.

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Just how cute are they?  This is the stage that I affectionately refer to as the “hair plug stage”  (sorry guys).  LOL

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While the babies remain close to the burrow, the dad usually ventures out to hunt for food in the early morning or late evening.  You can tell the adult by the speckled pattern on the underside, while the babies possess that mocha colored downy look.

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While the young ones stand vigil at the entrance to the burrow, already with a keen eye for what’s going on in their surroundings.  But as with anything else, there’s always one that gets easily distracted.

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The adults are extremely protective of their young and will observe the overhead skies for any signs of a potential threat or predator.  One quick bark from either mom or dad and those owlets retreat in almost a blink of an eye.  Very early on too, they learn to begin to scan the skies themselves.

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In south Florida, the majority of the threats come from red-shouldered hawks, though a handful of red-tailed hawks also circle overhead looking for a meal.

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These owls are also quite expressive and have a never-ending array of “looks”.                   There’s the surprised look ….

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The caught in the act look ….

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Everyone’s favorite though is always the curiosity look, with the head cocked over to one side, sometimes even almost totally upside down.  LOL

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After not too much time they learn to fly, which is absolutely by far my favorite time.  You can just see their minds at work, trying to calculate that perfect plan for flight.  Usually they start off perfecting the lowest perch-able item around, most often the stake that usually is present to identify the burrow.

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Sometimes there’s a nearby perch which can be used as their next step.  I just love how they always stop and size up their next step.  On a side note, look at those wonderful downy under feathers, or what I call, the “petticoat”.  So adorable.

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No test though is more fun to watch as the rope landing.  Of course, that rope is not the most secured nor stable landing, so when they land and begin to pull in their wings, they wobble … back & forth, over and over.  Eventually they perfect that balancing act.

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Then there’s playtime … so entertaining.  Again, you can watch the “attack scheming” in action play out.  Usually one plays a more dominant role, while the other performs a more submissive behavior.

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Eventually they break it up, but not before the fun watching the one on its back squirm around trying to right itself again.

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Yes, the burrowing owls are a real “hoot” to photograph.  So take a bow for your audience young owl, but don’t think that this is the end of my time with you.  The season is young and lots more visits loom ahead.

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Next up:  More burrowing owls

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography