torsdag 12 april 2012

Snowy Owl / Snøugle

Seeing a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) once in life is a dream for many people, and as a keen biologist, I have always shared that dream. When I moved to the high north of Scandinavia, I knew that I at least had the theoretical chance of seeing the species, but despite a historical good breeding year in 2011, I never managed to see the owl. (I do, however, have a pretty good overview of most of the white stones and owl-shaped lumps of snow in the surroundings... : - )

A fairly stationary young female owl in Lapland offered my first meeting with the great white owl, and even though I had hoped to discover one in the mountains close to where I live, I was not disappointed. What a beauty!

During the first day with the owl, she was sitting motionless during pretty much the entire day and showed no signs of hunting, neither in the morning, nor in the evening. The only activity was some occasional cleaning of her plumage or some yawning and stretching. Some locals that we met talked about seeing her feeding on a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) the day before, so maybe she was content and well-fed and was enjoying some rest in the sun.

In the evening, the owl started to get more active. However, the weather during the last days (with really warm days and bitter cold nights), had created an almost impenetrable crust of ice (skare) on top of the snow, making it very difficult for the owl to reach through, and the first hunting attempt was unsuccessful.

Stretching the wings in the evening light

In the afternoon of the second day, the owl successfully caught two voles, both within 40 minutes. With the hard snow cover, I was impressed by this, and it really made me wonder how on earth she could possibly locate and catch the food. Not until I started to look at the pictures during post-processing did I get a more clear idea of the special hunting strategy. The owl saw something I didn`t - which is hardly surprising, but it almost slipped my eyes even when I had it in front of me.

The first successful hunt I saw, happened at quite some distance and the sequence below is composed of 5 hand-held shots with a 300mm lens, showing the owl coming in from the right and chasing a vole that is running on top of the snow to the left, and finally grabbing it in the claws. Why did the vole go up on the snow in the first place? I thought that maybe they simply come up every now and then if the tunnels under the snow are not good enough, and didn`t think much more abount it.

In the sequence below, the reason why the vole had come up on the snow became evident (even though it is hard to see from the pictures taken at such big distance). The little pole/stick to the right in the photos (that I used to center the individual frames) suddenly dissapeared when I was centering the last frame, and that`s when I discovered that it was a weasel (Mustela nivalis) or a stoat/ermine (Mustela erminea).

Probably the weasel had been hunting the vole under the snow, and the vole, trying to escape, came up on the snow, only to find another predator - a hunting owl. Life is hard when you`re a vole! In the last shot of the sequence the weasel returns back in the tunnel under the snow.

The photo must be viewed in large size so see this - the photo below is a 3000x2345 pixels version.

Snowy Owl hunting sequence:
A vole is being scared up to the surface of the snow by a weasel. The vole is then
elegantly caught by the owl while the weasel had to start hunting for another prey.

Snowy Owl - White-Out

As the evening came once again, it was time to say goodbye to the owl, and after a day with much overcast weather, the clouds started to slowly drift apart and the waxing moon came out. As the moon shone over the snow-covered landscape, the owl was once again sitting in a nearby tree searching for any signs of food - a very difficult view to leave, but a meeting full of memories.


Late evening

4 kommentarer:

  1. Flott å se bilder av snøugla, denne har jeg ikke sett enda. Fine bilder av denne vakre fuglen.


  2. FANTASTICIO! The snowy owl/weasel/least weasel(?) is AMAZING! :o)


  3. Beautiful photos. In particular, the picture from the late evening is *really* awesome!

  4. Gratulerer med snøuglebilder til deg også :-) Kjedelig med den harde skaren, men jeg erfarte selv at en stor andel av musene ble fanget mens de løp på snøen. De ble nok skremt opp i de fleste tilfeller, noe som bildene dine også viser. Enkelte ganger bommet snøugla og satte seg til å vente der musa forsvant. Da kunne det hende at den hørte noe og klarte å slå kloa i musa under snøen. Spennende er det i alle fall, selv om det kan være lenge mellom actionbildene. Siste bildet med månen var veldig flott.
    Mvh Kim Abel