Owl See You at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

Female Short-eared Owl and chick at nestFemale Short-eared Owl and chick at nest

I’ve said before that owls fascinate me; probably more times than I can count, and Short-eared Owls are always a delight. Although I see and photograph Short-eared Owls here in Utah I have had some very special photography sessions with them at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in the Centennial Valley of Montana. Two summers ago I spotted a mated pair of them not too far from a road with the nest at the base of a Sagebrush. The nest was far enough away from the road that we could photograph them without disturbing the adults or the chicks.

Male Short-eared Owl with Centennial Mountains in the backgroundMale Short-eared Owl with Centennial Mountains in the background

The male hunted for his young from the air and when he found prey he would swoop down from the sky and then deliver the prey to the female. He did this many times while observing the Short-eared Owl family. The light was difficult to photograph in which meant I bumped my ISO up higher than I would have liked to get sufficient shutter speed, that left a bit of noise in the background and I applied some noise reduction to it. The Centennial Mountains make for a lovely background.

Male Short-eared Owl with prey for his youngMale Short-eared Owl with prey for his young

This image shows the male bringing in a vole to his family with the Centennial Mountains in the background, part of the Lower Lake and the grasses below. This male Short-eared Owl seem to be a proficient hunter.

Female Short-eared Owl in a fogFemale Short-eared Owl in a fog

This beautiful female Short-eared Owl who posed in a lake fog was very cooperative and I could have easily filled my CF cards several times in the 13 minutes I had to photograph her. She was close to the edge of the road perched on a fence post in the fog as the sun rose and began to warm the day. It felt magical to be in her presence!

Short-eared Owl with tufts showingShort-eared Owl with tufts showing

Last year the vole population of the Centennial Valley had crashed and it appeared that many of the Short-eared Owls had moved to more fertile hunting ground. This Short-eared Owl was among the few I saw on the refuge last summer but she sure was a beauty.

Will they be there this year? I don’t know for sure but I certainly hope so.


Please take a moment to view the proposal for the creation of a Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp which could  provide a robust, parallel revenue stream for National Wildlife Refuges, preserving habitat and wildlife, while giving non-extractive users a funding tool and a stronger voice in habitat and wildlife decisions on our shared, public lands. If you agree it is time for this proposal to come to fruition, please consider backing the effort by joining our “About Us” page as a supporter.

This is a great read about Who Owns the Wildlife? written by John W. Laundré, Cougar Biologist State University of New York at Oswego

Additional posts you might enjoy:

About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Pingback: The Centennial Valley of Montana beckons to me

  2. Pingback: Mia McPherson Loves Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge | Support a Federal Wildlife Conservation Stamp

  3. Thanks everyone for your comments on this Shirt-eared Owl post, I am looking forward to photographing these beauties again.

  4. I love owls too, and am grateful to be able to see them through your lens.

  5. I’m with you on owls! I’ve been really wanting to make a trip up to Utah this summer. I’d especially love to see these birds. We’ll see as the money may be an issue, but I really am fascinated by all the birds that go through your areas! Wowsa! Great captures!

  6. I’ve always been fascinated by owls as well. Stunning captures!

  7. Oh wow, these are just adorable. The first one is one of my favorite, Mia! Well done!

  8. Wonderful collection, Mia. I enjoyed them all but the mother with chick and male in flight with a vole were my favorites. Thanks!

  9. nice serie mia, i like a lot the 3rd with wings open, wonderfull ☺
    have a nice day ☼

  10. Wow. Stunning shots, Mia.

  11. Merrill Ann Gonzales

    Thank you, Mia for sharing the “magic” of your owls. Each photo a treasure. I was surprised that #1) they nested on the ground…. and #2 that the male was so white! Every time I stop by your site I learn so very much. These are just gorgeous… I always leave filled with the wonder of wildlife…

    I certainly hope we get a National Wildlife Stamp. I can’t imagine anything anyone could disagree with such a vital and productive proposal.

  12. Jane Chesebrough

    Nice play on words, there Mia and great photos.

  13. Bryce Robinson

    I hope they are there as well Mia. I love that you were able to sit with an owl for some time. It truly is a magical feeling. Wonderful photos as always. I hope to see your success soon enough!

  14. Bryce Robinson

    I hope there are there as well Mia. I love that you were able to sit with an owl for some time. It truly is a magical feeling. Wonderful photos as always. I hope to see your success soon enough!

  15. I’m with you owls fascinate me although I have yet to have the honor to photograph any so I am totally enjoying your pictures of them. As always you have great captures and wonderful backgrounds!

  16. Beautiful Mia! The female in the fog is gorgeous and the in flight shots spectacular, especially the one with the male carrying the vole. I rarely see Short-eared Owls and consider it a treat whenever I do. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the owlet in the first photo, precious!

  17. Wow! Exceptional series, Mia!

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