Well hidden in the dark shadows of the Cypress Swamp, undisturbed by onlookers on a distant boardwalk, the Barred Owl seemed to sleep. Bird watchers gathered, whispered and pointed toward the quiet owl. It would take a long lens (600mm), steady hands, perfect focus and the right camera settings (ISO 2000, 1/1000th) to capture a good photograph. Since our owl stayed in place and turned in our direction eventually, I got the shot.
This little owl and I have one thing in common: we both like to sleep in. He lives in a hollow of a tree trunk in a south Florida swamp. When beach goers walk by on a nearby boardwalk and make lots of noise saying, “Is the owl there? I don’t see him. OH THERE HE IS!” he just sleeps right through it.
This little screech owl didn’t utter a peep (or a screech) while I set up my tripod to photograph him. He just went to sleep. Luckily, I got a shot of him with his eyes open before he drifted off to dreamland. Other people who stopped to admire him, sitting in the hollow of a dead tree suggested that the owl must be female, as it was sitting on a nest. I did some reading and learned that the males tend to establish a nest in the late winter (now) — in the hollow of a tree — a rich environment for prey of insects, reptiles and small mammals. The female owls then “marry for money,” choosing the mate based on the quality of the cavity and the food supply. Who knew?
Evening light was low, and I used my 200mm Nikon lens on my Nikon D800 camera body. I used a wide 3.5 f/stop in order to blur the background and put visual emphasis on the owl. For low noise and a crisp image even after cropping, I used ISO 200, and my shutter speed was 1/13 second, making a tripod essential.
Screech owls have acute hearing, but this one was extremely tolerant of people walking by, and the occasional loud quote, “Oh, I SEE IT!” His coloring and texture makes him well camouflaged. He ignored all of us, and saved his trill for the hunt, when he uses it to scare off another raptor that might also want to catch the same mouse.
It is always a privilege to observe wildlife in its habitat and to photograph it without disturbing it. I’m so grateful that he knew we came in peace to admire him. Take a look at those claws!