Young Burrowing Owls

Juvenile Burrowing Owl looking high in the skyJuvenile Burrowing Owl looking high in the sky – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The past few years I have missed seeing and photographing young Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island State Park for numerous reasons. During the breeding season of 2011 some photographers people trampled over a burrow that had been productive for years that was close to the road and that burrow has not been active since.

These owls are so appealing, cute and funny that they can be “loved to death“. Care must be taken around their burrows as their burrows can extend way beyond the openings to the burrows and people walking on them can crush the burrows possibly trapping the owls inside.

Funny Burrowing OwlFunny Burrowing Owl – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Last year there was a banding program of the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island to study their migration patterns, mortality and to help understand why these “Clowns of the Desert” are in decline throughout the western United States. I am completely for the research but even the disturbance caused by banding seemed to have an affect on the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island last year.

It seemed that all of the owls from the burrows close to the roads on Antelope Island dispersed much sooner than they had in years past which limited the time I (and others) had to see and photograph them.

Young Burrowing Owl with an eye on the skyYoung Burrowing Owl with an eye on the sky – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

There are various reasons for the decline of Burrowing Owls in the western U.S. including habitat destruction which is no surprise since many of the species that are threatened or endangered throughout the U.S. are in decline because we are encroaching on and destroying their habitat.  Rangeland being converted to irrigated farmland is another reason as is widespread elimination of prairie dogs and ground squirrels.

These beautiful owls do need our protection and what they don’t need is people tromping over their burrows, getting too close or bothering them for too long.


Here is a neat Burrowing Owl cam out of Florida to view.

For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks: the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association. Also NANPA’s Ethical Practices (pdf)

Don’t tick the Bison off

Bison Bull on Antelope IslandBison Bull on Antelope Island

This Bison bull weighs in at about 1,500 pounds, he is wild and you don’t want to tick him off like one man did on Antelope Island last weekend. These behemoths can move fast when they need to which is why when they are running you can hear their thunderous hooves. They aren’t domesticated cows and they aren’t tame.

I’m on Antelope Island a lot and I’ve seen incidents where I thought someone might get trampled a few times. Once it was some women that walked within 20 to 25 feet of grazing Bison. I was very glad the Bison didn’t charge them. Later that same day from a long distance away I saw a man walk too close to a bull and the Bison made a mock charge at him. I was glad the guy didn’t end up flattened like a pancake. Last fall I saw a guy in red pants, his bicycle laying down on the shoulder of the road walk up to it with a tiny point and shoot camera and the Bison charged him but stopped, the guy didn’t even have a vehicle to jump into for protection. That wasn’t smart because before he could have gotten on that bike the Bison would have run over him. Believe it or not the guy walked closer one more time to get more images.

Last weekend a guy  from Colorado got too close to a Bison bull and in return the bull slammed him into a chain link fence. You can read about it here: Man walks away from bison attack unharmed

There was a photographer taking pictures of the bull and the man and his image in the article shows the man being slammed into the fence and stated that the man might have provoked the Bison along with other witnesses.

The guy is lucky that he isn’t dead. The article said he was embarrassed.

He ought to be. You don’t tick off a wild Bison dude. interviewed the “A Bison Slammed Me into a Fence” guy and he claimed he was trying to protect some runners in Antelope Island Buffalo Run.  You can read what he said here: Man pinned by bison says he worried for racers’ safety

I’m glad the guy is alive.

But I think he should have been cited for harassing that Bison.


Bison bull grazing on winter grasses

This Bison bull still has his thick winter coat but it won’t be long before he will shed it and his haunches will appear much sleeker.

Bison bull grazing in winter grasses

 Bison bull grazing in winter grasses –  Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 640, -1.0 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

It tickles me to be able to photograph wild Bison. Bison were hunted heavily in the 19th and 20th centuries and by 1884 they were in danger of becoming extinct after the population plummeted to a few hundred head.

In 1899 James “Scotty” Phillip purchased five head (including one female) in an effort to preserve these majestic animals from extinction. At the time of Phillip’s death in 1911 the herd number was estimated at between 1000 to 2000 animals.

Around the same time period two Montana ranchers, Michel Pablo and Charles Allard, spent 20 years finding and raising purebred Bison. That herd numbered 300 when Allard died in 1896. ¹

Had it not been for men and early conservationist like Pablo, Allard and Phillip and their efforts in preventing Bison from becoming extinct we might not see them freely roaming in State and National Parks throughout the western United States.


¹ Wikipedia

Ride, ride, ride…Hitching a ride

As a bird and nature photographer there are always images that I dream of getting, sometimes it is of a certain species or a specific setting. Some of those images I have been fortunate enough to create, others; not yet.

European Starling hitching a ride on a Bison

 European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) hitching a ride on a Bison –  Nikon d200, f8, 1/1000, ISO 400, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 170mm, natural light

Since moving to Utah in the summer of 2009 I have wanted to get some images of a Bison standing with the Great Salt Lake in the background. I had gotten them grazing on the hillsides, rolling around in a wallow, with calves, near the rocks and laying down but I hadn’t gotten the images I wanted with the lake clearly visible in the background.

Patience does pay off because two days ago I was able to get a series of images of this Bison with the Great Salt Lake clearly in view plus I had the added bonuses of having the snow topped Wasatch Mountain Range in the distance and a European Starling hitching a ride.

So, on to my next “dream” shot, I wonder when it will happen.


* It isn’t uncommon to see Brown-headed Cowbirds or European Starlings perched on the backs of Bison.