Owling is a specialized type of birding (I just made this up), in which one walks through dense forest in search of owls during the early hours of dusk. The light is terrible, and the branches although bare of leaves are so intertwined and dark, you can hardly make out the shapes of objects within them.
But Great Horned Owls are big birds, and their dark, ovoid shapes do tend to be quite noticeable.
Owls have great hearing, so it’s pretty hard to sneak up on them. This one kept turning its head as I approached and eventually flew off. This photo was shot at an ISO of 1600, and is still very dark. Drastic photo manipulation measures were called for.
With a little luck and some quiet sneaking, I managed to get close to two of the three Great Horned Owls I found in the way backyard forest during my walk.
This owl, sitting near the trunk of the tree, was actually easier to photograph than the next one, which was more out in the open. The light was more uniform, so the bird actually shows a little color. Upping the ISO to 3200 and overexposing by one f-stop seemed to help.
This bird, sitting out in the open was simply black against the pale gray sky without some serious photo manipulation. He or she kept up a steady stream of “harnk” calls, soft muted honks every few seconds or so. I have no idea what those calls mean. None of the owls were hooting.
Really overexposing the image (+2 f-stops) finally reveals some of the owl’s features but the whitened sky is distracting. Great Horned Owls are big birds, the larger females weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb). And those big feet are great for catching squirrels, rabbits, (small dogs and cats?) with 300 psi of crushing power applied by those opposable talons!
Although I have often heard owls hooting in the backyard, I have never been able to find them before (in semi-light conditions). I assume they are gearing up for the breeding season now, and they should be hooting to establish their territories. Three owls probably means there are at least two breeding pairs, so the next step is to start looking for nests.
Note: “owling” is defined by Wikipedia as the habit of crouching like an owl in unusual places, which was definitely the case while I was photographing these birds.