Go Ahead, Take a Picture!

Have you ever been to an Owl Festival? And I don’t mean any festivals for night owls you may have frequented in your youth. I mean real Owls. I hadn’t either, until recently. The annual Burrowing Owl Festival took place last Saturday in Cape Coral on South Florida’s Gulf coast. It’s the home town for many colonies of these pint-sized owls, and I wanted to see these expressive, tiny birds in person for the first time.

Burrowed Owl UD152If I wanted to go on the “Photographer’s Tour”, I had to be at the festival grounds at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. So I drove south in the congested traffic on Friday afternoon for over three hours and spent the night at a hotel. But only after filling my ‘tank’ at a great Mexican establishment. Fajitas (enough) for two enjoyed by me and myself.

Fajitas for two UD152_edited-1Appropriately fortified by a rare 6 a.m. breakfast, I arrived at our meet-up-location on time. And boarded a Parks and Recreation bus with The Photographers. Most with their massive 600mm lenses and tripods, weighing over 10 lbs/5 kg. I tried to carry one of these combinations. Ouch. To tell you the truth, I’d need to go to the gym just to be able to lift that kind of equipment to eye level. So there I was with a ‘tiny’ 70-300 mm lens on my Canon and my “jogging camera”, a light-weight compact superzoom. Feeling a bit intimidated, but hopeful the owls would treat me well. And they did. Relatively speaking.

burrowing owl 3 UD152_edited-1We arrived at a sports field. There was an active burrow with both parents preparing for the nesting season. Only one greeted us when we arrived, but soon the other parent (I believe the female) also came out and they posed for us together. Too cute.

burrowing owl couple ud152Soon one of them, I believe the mom-to-be, decided it was time to continue to make their home ready for the little ones…

two owls at the burrow UD152_edited-1…and disappeared down in the burrow. The dad-to-be stayed above ground to keep an eye on us.

burrowing owl male UD152Although we were well-behaved, I could see he was on his guard. We soon discovered there were Monk Parakeets on the sports field. Among them a sweet courting couple.

a MOnk Parakeet couple ud152I was delighted to be able to observe this couple as we do not have this species in our area. Beautiful love birds.

monk parakeets ud152From there our journey continued to another site known to host much larger owls, namely Great-horned Owls. We discovered they already had fledglings. One ‘baby’ was sleeping high up in a pine tree.

great-horned owl baby is sleeping UD152 His mother was nearby, well camouflaged behind branches in the same tree.

Mother Great-horned Owl UD152_edited-1Perhaps we made some unintended noise because the ‘baby’ woke up. And seemed to nail his big yellow eyes right on me. Howdy!

young Great-horned Owl UD152Just for the record, we saw the other ‘baby’ in a close-by tree, but papa Great-horned Owl was nowhere to be found. We believed he might be sleeping in a another tree away from the mom and the babies. Perhaps seeking some privacy after a night of hunting.

We continued our journey to a field close to the owl nest in an effort to locate a family of the rare and threathened Florida Scrub Jays. We were lucky! There was a family of four residing in the scrubs on a grassy field. They are beautiful birds, a bit like the more common Blue Jay.

Florida scrub jay nat env UD152After a while they became curious. And before we knew it, two of them came to greet us! They sat on heads of photographers who wore hats…

…and one of them even wanted to specialize in photography, thoroughly examining the equipment of a fellow photographer. What a treat!

Florida Scrub Jay on Camera UD152On that field I also captured more familiar birds, a couple of Mourning Doves on a wire in the distance.

twp mourning doves ud152But I missed the Eastern Meadow Lark’s brief appearance while trying to zoom in on an approaching young Bald Eagle. And didn’t get good pictures of several other smaller birds. You just can’t have everything.

Juvenile Bald Eagle UD152We continued our journey trying to locate a Bald Eagle nest. We found both Papa and Mama Bald Eagle. With mixed feelings.

bald eagle couple UD152A note on the road side told us that this couple had lost all three of their hatchlings for unknown reasons about two weeks earlier.Β  The note further speculated thatΒ  the reason the parents hadn’t left the nest might be that a second clutch of eggs was forthcoming. I hope the author was right as Mama Eagle stayed firmly in the nest…

mama eagle UD152And Papa was guarding their home just a branch or two higher up.

papa bald eagle UD152I wished them the best and took a portrait of them both.

Our last stop was another active burrow, where we found a rare Burrowing Owl with black eyes. Based on the apparent division of labor I concluded he was the male.

Black-eyed burrowing owl UD152_edited-2After he trusted us a bit more, he flew closer to the burrow and soon we saw his ‘better half’ for a brief moment.

second burrowing owl couple UD152After posing for us, she went down again and started working on their burrow. Fine sand flew out in waves right on the face of her hubby.

sand blast UD152She demonstrated an ability which is unique to Florida Burrowing Owls, namely that they dig their own burrows. At first her hubby closed his eyes and took the intense sand blast, but soon realized that the remodeling effort had just started, and flew up on a perch nearby.

burrowing owl at his burrow UD152I truly enjoyed this tour with our fantastic guides, Tammy and David McQuade. And needless to say, these tiny owls captured my heart. I hope I can go back to see them next year. And if I do, I will be a little better equipped. My new 3.62 pound ‘baby’ arrived a couple of days ago.

new lens ud152The good thing is that I will not need to go to the gym to be able to hold it. I just need to be a good parent and teach it to do exactly what I ask for πŸ™‚ Wish me luck.

I hope you enjoyed the short visit to the owls. Thanks for coming along.



107 thoughts on “Go Ahead, Take a Picture!”

  1. What a wonderful trip! Sounds like you had a fabulous time. I shoot with a micro 4/3 camera so my setup weighs much less than those monsters some people use. You got some fabulous photos with your current set up. Can’t wait to see your new baby perform! That dark eyed owl was fascinating.

    1. It was a great trip, indeed. I just wanted to see the Burrowing Owls, but saw so much more. My Canon 80D is also not a heavy full frame, hence the new baby (100-400mm) gives me an equivalent focal length of 160-640mm compared to a full frame…and much easier/lighter to handle πŸ™‚ Now just need to experiment with it.

  2. Loved the record of your visit to the owls, thank you for going to all that trouble to share it with us. Good luck with the new camera, it looks formidable!

    1. I am glad you enjoyed my little outing among the owls and other birds. The camera is already over one year old, but the lens is brand new to me…and I will need good luck in learning to operate it properly.

  3. You don’t need no stinking 600mm lens! You got fantastic photos with your 70-300. I used to see a lot of burrowing owls out on the west mesa when I was a kid. They were curious and playful, and would let us get pretty close to them before they would duck into there holes. I have seen one in years.

    1. I agree on the 600mm lens! Not worth carrying around. My new one is 100-400mm and I hope to get little better shots of wildlife…once it obeys my commands πŸ™‚ Great to hear you had the pleasure to make acquaintance with these little owls when you were a kid! They are so cute and expressive.

      1. Are you using full frame or crop frame camera? If you have a crop frame camera your 400 will be just about equivalent to 600 in a handleable lens.

        1. My Canon 80D is a crop camera. You are right and that’s exactly why I got the lens. Can’t carry any heavier than that πŸ™‚

  4. Thanks for the lovely tour Helen. I enjoy watching birds but can rarely capture a good photo with my cellphone. πŸ™‚ Your passion for birding and photography shines through. Enjoy your new toy! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Brad! A few times I’ve tried to take pictures of the birds with my iPhone…once I saw the Mayor (GBH) catch a huge fish and snapped a picture. The Mayor was the size of the fish would have been on my “real” camera and the fish was the size of a pea πŸ™‚ I’m hoping my new “toy” turns out to be a good tool in the future.

  5. Wow! You captured some really spectacular images! I think it must be more about your heart and perception when you click. I’ll take your images and stories any time.

    1. Happy you liked my “catch” from Cape Coral, Cyndi! I loved everything about trip and decided to do more of these outings whenever I have a chance. I hope you are enjoying the spring weather we have in FL now.

    1. Thanks Jackie! It was a totally cool trip, loved everything about it. My new ‘baby’ is quite well behaved, let’s me sleep at night. But he ‘sits’ right behind my back here in my office and demands to be taken out for walks πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Tish, for your wonderful comment. So many beautiful ‘models’ posing for me on this outing. I finally concluded, after pondering for many weeks, that I now deserved a new lens. I hope I was right πŸ™‚

  6. Such fabulous pictures of such lovely birds, dear Helen! I enjoyed this very much! The fajitas and the new camera are added treats! Thank you for a wonderful and uplifting visit! πŸ’•β€‹

    1. Happy you enjoyed the report from my little outing, Carrie. All the birds I encountered were wonderful to observe. That Mexican restaurant had not gotten the memo of my intentions to reduce my portion size πŸ™‚ And the ‘lens baby’ came home after long-time ponderings whether or not I was worthy of it.

  7. What a great post! I would love to go on this trip. Your photos are wonderful and I really enjoyed your write up of the tour. I had a good laugh at the owl being sprayed with sand, what a great capture, and you managed to see some amazing birds, including those curious jays, what a special treat that was. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

    1. Thank you Sue. You would love this trip! The tiny owls were so expressive and the male at the second burrow took several blast of flying sand before he decided to move away …to supervise from a distance πŸ™‚

  8. How wonderful that your efforts to join the photographer’s tour paid off so handsomely. Love the scrub jay on the camera, the monk parakeets, the owls, the eagles, and your dinner! πŸ˜€

    1. The encounter with the rare scrub jays was a great treat! They are a threatened species – and one reason, in addition to the fact that humans are taking over their habitat, is that they are so trusting and curious. This time they met a group of bird lovers – and all had a great time πŸ™‚

  9. What a wonderful opportunity Tiny! How interesting to see an owl that burrows! We hardly see our owls in the daylight, most Australian creatures are purely nocturnal except for most other birds. The owls tend to rest in seclusion. Love seeing the rare scrub jay and the owl baby. What is your new lens? Have a great week, we are back from our island holiday, will be blogging it soon.😊

    1. I had wanted to see the Burrowing Owls for a long time and it was wonderful to finally be able to observe them. They hunt both day (insects) and night (mice and other small mammals), while most other owls only hunt at night. We found the Great-horned owl family mainly because the owlets were in the process of fledging and still stayed close to the nest. My new lens is the latest version of the Canon 100-400mm telephoto lens. I hope I’ll learn to use it well with time. I look forward to your next post!

      1. Thanks Tiny, I have the earlier version of your lens, they are good birding lens , but heavy. I recently bought a sling for mine as my hands were suffering from carrying it.

  10. Fantastic gallery Tiny, I can see that you’re coming back with force! Seems like you found a new place where to find more beauties. I’m happy for you! πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, my friend πŸ™‚ I am trying to find new places…and organized birding outings like this one. I enjoyed this trip tremendously and hope I can go also next year.

  11. Wonderful to have joined you, Helen. πŸ™‚
    The little owls are just that; so little! What cuties they are.
    The Parakeets are gorgeous. We have many types here in Oz; beautifully coloured and wonderful to see flitting amongst the trees. You captured so much; it must have been a wonderful day for you.
    Do have fun with your new camera. I’ll look forward to the results in your next post… πŸ˜‰

    1. Thank you for coming along on this little “owl outing”, Carolyn πŸ™‚ I so enjoyed seeing all these birds, in particular those tiny owls. They are so expressive and cute! This was a wonderful trip and I look forward to other like this. My new lens is calling me to take it out, but it is not compatible with walks around the marsh with Dylan…so it will take a while for us two to get familiar with each other πŸ™‚ XOXO

  12. Thank you for sharing your beautiful trip with us! I really enjoyed seeing these small burrowing owls, the bright little parakeets, Blue Jays and eagles,… What a treat!

    1. Happy you enjoyed the birds I encountered on my trip south, Kathy! I had so much fun and will look for more opportunities for small outings like this in our great state…and perhaps beyond.

    1. You would enjoy this festival, Kathy! And I’ll keep in mind your offer to babysit πŸ˜€ Just to let you know, he’s quite well-behaved and lets me sleep at night.

  13. Wow!! This is a fabulous post and I’m in awe of all the photographs and yeah, so glad they came out brilliantly!! I never knew owls burrowed in the ground to have their young, fascinating. The blue jays are astonishing in their colours and the Eagles are magnificent. What a memorable outing for you…and thankfully for us too! Enjoy your new ‘baby’ camera – that is quite a lens!!

    1. Glad you came along on this outing to see the cute, little Burrowing Owls, Annika! And all the other birds encountered as a bonus πŸ™‚ The Florida Scrub Jays gave us a real treat by saying good morning in person! It was, indeed a memorable outing and I hope to go also next year. My new ‘lens baby’ is well-behaved, but wants me to take him to walks outside…I keep telling him that Dylan won’t approve. We have to make special arrangements for that baby to get his exercise πŸ˜€

  14. Tiny – I’ve been away from WordPress for awhile, but glad to read your lively post today. Love the expression on the owl’s faces – the eyes are fabulous. I know we shouldn’t read human emotions into their poses, but it’s fun anyway! What a great tour. Cheers- Susan

    1. Glad to see you, Susan! The expressions on the faces of these tiny owls were priceless! Unfortunately some photographers (not any on our trip because we were all birders) go too close to their burrows trying to make them to “bob” their heads from side to side, which is super cute but a sign of irritation and disturbance. I was happy to see so many other birds as a “bonus” πŸ™‚

      1. OOOps – I know you posted a comment on my blog, Tiny, but I have scrambled my brains and my fingers, and now it is gone. But thanks for your daily walks in companionship – coast to coast!

    1. Happy you came along on this little trip to Cape Coral, Silvia. I too hope that all the babies will be okay…and that the Bald Eagle couple will get another clutch of eggs. That would be great! XXX

  15. Some Cape Coral residents have trouble with the freedom the burrowing owls have to nest anywhere they want. However, most are ok with the idea and welcome them.
    Great photos and story Helen. have a fabulous week

    1. I understand if some residents are bothered by them, but I was happy to learn that many also help them by making “starter burrows” in their backyards. Thank you for coming along to see all these birds I was fortunate to encounter in Cape Coral, Eddie.

  16. So glad the ride down and the early morning rise was worth it Helen. I love how you have captured the characters in this part of Florida.
    I hope your week is going well ❣️

  17. The annual Burrowing Owl Festival , that is so cool! These owl photos are incredible. I love, love the portraits of the Bald Eagles. Hope the babies will be okay. All were beautifully captured. Thank you for sharing, Helen. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Amy! This little trip offered a wonderful opportunity to “meet” so many different birds, but the tiny owls really stole my heart πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Donna. It was a great trip! My new baby is crying to get out to see birds πŸ™‚ I hope to take her on an outing soon.

  18. Oh I know that feeling only too well about the “size” of both camera and lenses. When I went to Niagara Falls I was shocked at these huge and I am talking huge cameras all around me and I have this wee small one in comparison. But just like you that did not stop me from getting the shots I wanted. The images of the Bald Eagles I LOVED and just stared at for a long time. You outdid yourself on these images, Helen. Brava! I’ve actually been looking at a whole different brand, both camera and lens (up to 400mm) with a 2x converter lens as well. The price tag is UP there so in the meantime, I put those aside and use what I have instead. There is always bigger and better out there. LOVE your new lens!! Which one is it? I’m familiar with Canon’s line. Much Love to you! πŸ’žπŸ¦…πŸ’ž

    1. Happy you came along on my little birding trip, Amy ❀ Like you, I was amazed by the large and heavy combinations many people were carrying, but I trusted the creative connection with the birds would be enough πŸ™‚ My new lens is a Canon100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and I struggled for a long time with the question whether or not I "deserved" it, but finally decided for it. It is light weight in comparison with the 500-600 ones, but still heavy enough not to allow me to handle Dylan when I am shooting…so it will be used for "photo trips" only for now. Have a wonderful week, dear friend.

      1. Nice on that lens, Helen! I have a 70-300mm (Canon) and have been looking at a 100-400mm (Sony) with a 2x Converter which means that will increase the maximum mm to 800mm. Wow! Right now I’m still not sure to go this way because it means buying a second camera (Sony). I must weight the pros and cons very carefully because as you well know the price tag with something like this is hefty.

        Yes you DO deserve a lens like this one!! These lens are heavy and that lock does come in handy as well. At least I have a lock on my 70-300mm. One day I dream of traveling and really getting my photographs out there, but …. we’ll see. For now, I have my blog and that is just fine with me for now. Make sure you have the settings on your lens set right for IS and there are 2 more, one for handheld and one for tripod. (That is seen as 1/2.) I look forward in seeing what you can get with this new baby!!! πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌ

  19. So unusual a festival with the birds of wisdom!I so much enjoyed your delightful outing and all your fantastic photos,dear Helen!Stunned by the beauty of all our feathered friends and the stories of their lives in the sanctuary.The lovely Jay on the hat of the photographer and the one on camera are beyond fascinating!What a treat for you and for us following your experiences in such a place!I feel so sorry that the beautiful Eagle couple lost their hatchlings.Poor parents.Thank you so much for sharing with us the incredibly beautiful moments you’ve had on this very special outing.As for your baby tool,I think it’s in very good hands,you’ll easily tame it.Happy clicks,my friend πŸ™‚ xxx

    1. Thank you for coming along on my birding trip in the wild, dear Doda! I was so fortunate they arranged this photo trip in connection with the festival as I spotted so many birds difficult to find on my own. I felt to sorry for the eagle couple as well, and I hope they will have another clutch of eggs as it is not too late. As to my new “lens baby”, it will take some time to tame her πŸ™‚

      1. I know,you cannot tame it overnight;let’s hope that the lovely couple will manage to have “babies” again,and you then,you’ll be able to photograph them with your brand-new tool πŸ™‚

  20. Thanks for taking us along on the owl journey, Helen. I think it was courageous of you to go on this trip, as I know how intimidating the photography scenes can be. And what success you had! It is rare to get the opportunity to see burrowing owls, and your species in Florida are unique in their burrowing activity. Usually the b. owls just use the holes of ground squirrels, interesting to know they don’t all do this. And the Florida scrubjay is a rare endemic, the only one Florida has, so in terms of bird species, this is a Florida jackpot! Your photos are fantastic, and I am so glad you were rewarded with great looks at the great-horned owls and bald eagles, as well as all the others too. Great post, and always inspiring.

  21. Thank you, Jet, for coming along on my birding trip! I was so happy to see the Burrowing Owls…and had to smile at the sand blast mother B. O. gave to her mate. The Florida Scrub Jays were a real treat too. They are so curious, which is great when they meet dedicated birders, but dangerous with some other humans. This was a first trip of its kind for me, and having done it gives me courage to do more πŸ™‚

  22. Two birds with one stone or one lens in this case. Photography and a workout. That is one amazing lens!
    Loved going on the tour with you. The jay made me chuckle with his interest in photography. πŸ™‚

  23. I have not ever heard about Owl Festival. When I was schoolboy living in Varkaus, our teacher brought to our classroom Great grey owl.

    I enjoyed very much Your photos – they are great.

    1. That owl festival was great, in particular the tour they arranged for photographers! I hope I will have an opportunity to go there also next year. Thank you, Matti.

  24. What a lovely field trip! Even if you missed the Eastern Meadow Lark you got so many delightful pictures of the owls and the other birds that you must be pleased with the results. πŸ™‚ Loved the Florida Scrub Jays, the baby owl and the magnificent Bald Eagles! Thank you for sharing…

    1. Thank you for comin along to see these little owls, Barbara! I just loved them. If I can go next year, I’ll try to ‘catch’ more smaller birds as well πŸ™‚

  25. I was brought up thinking that owls were witches/wizards and was scared of them until I realized in my twenties that they are not. In fact, you would not want an owl nesting on your roof because your neighbors would think that you are a witch. It is nice, therefore, seeing owls being celebrated at the Owl Festival. Long live owls!

    1. I grew up thinking that the owls were very wise…until I realized they were just as wise as any other bird πŸ™‚ That owl festival was great, a celebration of nature and the environment. Thank you for coming along!

  26. Wow, what fantastic pictures of some gorgeous birds sweet Tiny. I love owls and I sure enjoyed your pictures. Your header picture gave me a giggle…love it. Those love birds are beautiful. Your food looked and sounded yummy. Hugs

    1. This was a beautiful outing, thank you for coming along, Mags! The endangered and rare Florida Scrub Jays gave us photographers a wonderful treat by coming to us from their home in the scrubs πŸ™‚ I hope to bring back some pictures also next year. Have a beautiful weekend, I hope it will not be too rainy. Hugs!

    1. Those rare and endangered FL Scrub Jays gave us a pleasant surprise! maybe they sensed we were friends πŸ™‚ If you come to South Florida in February, Cape Coral is a great place to visit. CCFW (Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife) are on Facebook and announce the festival there every year.

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