Friday, 30 November 2012

Dinner time in the park

Africa is not called the ‘Dark Continent’ for nothing.� Life is cheap in Africa and nowhere is that more evident than in a game reserve.� Spend a couple of days driving through any one of our reserves and you will see death at every turn.� It may be a bird eating a lizard or a [...]


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photography techniques

Endemic Birds of Brazil

My first birding trip outside Ecuador was fantastic and added nearly 200 new birds to my list.� My wife and I spent two weeks in Brazil birding the Atlantic Forest and The Pantanal.


wedding photography pricing

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Last weekend we hiked to Point Bonita Lighthouse, an operational lighthouse perched on an eroded finger of land stretching out into the Pacific on the northwest corner of the Golden Gate.

The current lighthouse became operational in 1877, but according to the Lighthouse Friends web site much of the tower is from the original 1855 lighthouse. The original lighthouse was situated higher on the point and was often shrouded in fog.

About a mile round trip, the adventurous hike to the lighthouse includes steep cliffs, airy view points, a claustrophobic tunnel, suspension bridge and great views of the coastline and Golden Gate. The lighthouse was reopened to the public earlier this year, following the replacement of the bridge that spans crumbling cliffs to reach the exposed point.

The tunnel -- about halfway to the lighthouse -- is only open during visiting hours, currently Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. See the National Park Service web site and this NPS Point Bonita brochure (PDF) for additional information. Copyright 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.


fine art photography

Using Image Watermarks In Lightroom

The Watermarking feature in Lightroom was significantly overhauled in Lightroom 3. As a result you can now add sophisticated watermarks to your images on export either to disk or via the Print and other modules. Not only can you add a text watermark to an image but you can also add an image watermark ? [...]

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Using Image Watermarks In Lightroom


photography gifts

'Make it memorable' - looking for the Sony World Photography Awards' winning image

Entering any type of competition, from a photography contest to a tennis match, can be nerve-wracking: you're making yourself vulnerable by subjecting yourself to judgement, which can leave you feeling incredibly proud or terribly humiliated at the end of the process. If you overcome that frisson of tension or the butterflies in your tummy, though, you're in with a shout of winning a fabulous prize and having your name up in lights (sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically) for a bit. That's rather awesome. Not to mention that there is usually something that can be learned from entering a competition, whether that's the betterment of your skills or personal experience.

All of this is true for the annual Sony World Photography Awards, which is one of the most prestigious, and valuable, photography competitions around. It's top prize in the Professional category, L'Iris d'Or, is worth $25,000 to the winner; the Open category winner gets $5,000, a trip to London to the awards ceremony, and a bundle of equipment from Sony. I don't think any of that can be sniffed at, so maybe you'd like to enter? It's open to both amateur and professional photographers and there is sure to be a division that suits you, from architecture to low light to contemporary issues to portraiture.

Of course, getting a feel for the competition and knowing what the judges might be looking for can be helpful in over-coming the nerves and feeling a smidge of confidence in the work that you're submitting.

I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick the brains of three of the Sony World Photography Awards' Honorary Judges–Caroline Metcalfe, Macduff Everton, and Tim Paton–and ask them precisely what they're looking for in a competition-winning image.

Caroline Metcalfe is the Director of Photography at Condé Nast Traveller (UK) and is responsible for commissioning and overseeing all of the publication's photographic content, with the exception of its fashion stories. She'll be lending her judging expertise to the Professional Travel, Landscape, and Nature & Wildlife categories.

Macduff Everton is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler and has works included in the collections at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the British Museum in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He'll be on the panels judging the Professional Travel, Landscape, and Nature & Wildlife categories.

Tim Paton started the photo agency Balcony Jump in 1995, which is now regarded as one of the best and most-respected agencies in London, but if you've ever picked up a copy of the NME, you're likely to have seen his work there. Tim will help to judge the Professional Sport, Campaign, Fashion & Beauty, and Lifestyle categories.

Unsurprisingly, all of them have brought their individual experiences and preferences to the panel and as Tim Paton puts it: 'A picture that I love, the judge next to me might hate.' But to start with, they are all united in one sentiment: it's all about the content.

Whatever the picture or series of pictures that you submit, the story in the image and the connection that it evokes with the audience is the driving feature. For Macduff Everton, the key difference between a snapshot and an award winning image is the narrative and the emotion that it conveys. 'The caption can't read: "Well, you should have been there."' The image has to speak clearly. Caroline Metcalfe points out that great images are ones that viewers will want to linger over, to absorb, and to return to over and over again; they fascinate and they intrigue.

All of the judges return to the same point: a photo needs to be memorable and surprising. You might be photographing something that has been captured a million times before, but if you can do it in a way that is unusual, that demonstrates your vision and your talent, that capitalises on the conditions–for example light or weather–and sticks in the viewers' minds, then you are on to a winner. 

It doesn't matter if you're in the most stunning location imaginable for your travel photography or photographing a well-known landmark, whatever the image, it needs to be original. That can arise from a visual twist or a new interpretation, and it relies on your own endeavours. You have to create the shot. Everton probably puts this best: 'We've all seen [a picture of] an elephant. Create an image so that when we next think of an elephant, we think of your image.'

Both Metcalfe and Paton are clear that it isn't about the kit: 'I don't care what lens, filter, or camera you used. I am only interested in the content of the image,' says Paton. Metcalfe is maybe a little more subtle: '… it is not technical expertise or sophisticated hardware, it is always about the individual creative eye, skill, and talent.'

Metcalfe has some practical advice, too. She reminds people entering a series of images to ensure that each image is as strong as the others. 'I often see entries where one image in a series lets the whole portfolio down,' they need to work together, as a coherent story. And of course, check the rules and make sure that you submit by the deadline!

Everton suggests that you look to the techniques of other creative disciplines to ensure that you nail your images. For example, the corners of a picture are just as important to a painter as the centre of the image is, so do not forget about those. They shouldn't be dead space and they shouldn't be overlooked. And if you're photographing a building, think about how the architect envisaged it and bring some drama to your image. Finally, there's the key to photography: light. You need to understand light to get a good photograph.

Every year, Paton is sent thousands of images for his consideration; only about two of those will stop him in his tracks, but that's precisely what he wants when he's judging the WPO. He wants to be able to see that a photographer has gone the extra mile and made a real effort.

If this has inspired you, or maybe given you the insight you need to submit an entry, remember that it's free to enter both the Professional and Open divisions of the Sony World Photography Awards 2013, and the deadline for entries, which must have been shot or first published in 2012, is Wednesday 9 January at 23:59:59. There are of course terms and conditions governing what you must submit and where you are permitted to submit entries. These are all available on the WPO website.

Good luck!

Headline image: Copyright Tobias Brauning, Germany, Split Second, Open Winner, Sony World Photography Awards 2012

More recent news...

  1. Triggertrap Mobile's free! Whee! (26 November 2012)
  2. The weekly round-up (26 November 2012)
  3. Gift-giving to photographers (23 November 2012)
  4. Seasonal gifts and goodies (21 November 2012)
  5. The weekly round-up (19 November 2012)

© Daniela Bowker. This article has been licensed for use on Pixiq only. Please do not reproduce wholly or in part without a licence.


photographer jobs

Cyber Monday: Strobist DVD sets on Sale for $49.99 each

UPDATE: The Cyber Monday special for Lighting in Layers and Lighting Seminar ended at midnight EST. The Flash Bus Video deal is still live until DVD stock is gone. Thank you!

You snooze, you lose: All Strobist DVDs are on sale today for $49.99. (Depending on the version you choose, that's from 50% to 68% off!)

Deets inside. Read more �


cityscape photographers

Grand Canyon

I thought this was a fitting photo as we have been working on plans for an extended trip to the Grand Canyon this upcoming May, and possibly another one next September / October.� Although, it sounds like getting back country permits can be a bit tough for the popular areas during those popular months, so [...]


photography training

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Periyar Tiger Reserve


wildlife photography competition

As tough as ?. a Honey badger

I thought I would lighten up a bit after blogging twice about the killing and culling that takes place in nature in Africa.� Time for a change and something different.� We traveled extensively in Botswana in August/September and spent a few days in the Central Kalahari revisiting Passarge Valley for a couple of days.� When [...]


professional photography courses

Bird of the Week ? Week 136 ? Tawny-flanked prinia

The Tawny-flanked prinia is a fairly common bird within the wetter eastern part of the southern African region, where it is often seen in pairs or small groups in its favoured habitat ? the grass and low shrubs alongside watercourses ? where it may be quite conspicuous. It also frequents gardens and parks where the [...]


professional photographers

Birds in the Garden---Regular Visitors

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The Red Whiskered Bulbuls are not the only birds that enjoy being around my garden. Like the bulbuls, a pair of Blue Magpies (Red-billed Magpie) have been around for a while too.


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2012-10-21 20:50:44

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Grey Sky Hares Its been an quiet year for hares but then again it has been a very strange year for weather.I have certainly struggled to get any photographs of them in sunlight but then when it shines soinfrequently it is not particularly surprising that its unlikely to coincide with my visits.


photography job

Back to Anahuac

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Birds! I took some photos of 'em, again, finally. I spent the last ten days near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (nice!). I was working (no camera with me) most of the time, but managed to find a little free time in between and I spent a day when I was done working running around with the camera.


free photography competitions

Morning Bear

  A brown bear feeding on grass sedges in the first light of the morning this past August, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Image was with a Canon 5D Mark II, and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens at f/5.6, 1/30 of a second at ISO 600.


family photography

Double Your Passion by Shooting Railroad Photography

Photography: Steve Barry The car might have beaten the train as America?s vehicle of choice but when it comes to photography, it?s hard to beat the allure of an old locomotive. Whether it?s the appeal of giant pistons and wheels, a fascination with engineering, the experience worn into the hands and faces of railroad workers [...]


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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Standing Bear

Seeing bears stand on their hind legs is another human like behavior that never gets old!� Lake Clark National Park, Alaska.


sports photography

Osprey update June 30, 2011

I haven't been to visit "my" nest in a couple weeks. Last I checked the 3 chicks were doing well.


I visited tonight and was met with a sad sight. One of the 3 osprey died, and is still in the nest.


The chick in the background was really bothered by the situation, just looking at its sibling that wouldn't move any more. And it bothered me too.

I couldn't tell what the cause was for sure until I got home and reviewed the images closely, but I had a suspicion. I thought maybe a hook from a snagged fishing line had managed to be eaten by the osprey. But it appears that the osprey chick got tangled in the line and died from that.

There wasn't much to do, but I reported it to someone that can hopefully get a visit from someone that can remove the dead bird.

And to be expected, mom was still mom, and yipped a couple times. And dad came by with a fish, circled a few times, and then delivered a fish. And then mom fed the (2) chicks.

Life goes on. / Jon


black and white photography

M4: Like the Carbine, But With More Power

About this time last Friday I was in head-scratching mode, trying to figure out my light. Here was the challenge:

Teeny-tiny stage. Twenty three insane performers. No room to change shooting positions. Complex, low-level and fast-changing ambient.

I had been looking forward to it for weeks. Because I was getting to photograph MarchFourth, my absolute favorite band in the world. Lighting, pics and video, inside? Read more �


wildlife photography uk

Red Squirrels at the BWC

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Visiting with the squirrels at the British Wildlife Centre. Photographing a squirrel running at full tilt along the top of the fencing is much harder then photographing a cat jumping over a log, and I never quite managed to get it right.


jobs in photography

Travel Photo Contest 2012

The final competition in our 2012 photo contest series is now open for entries! The theme is ?Travel?. We are looking for striking, original and beautiful travel photographs that reveal the wonders of our planet. You are not limited to any subject matter in particular; travel photography can portray many things including an area?s people, [...]


cityscape photographers

On Assignment: Gone in 86 Seconds

Two of my favorite admonitions from The Princess Bride are: "Never enter into a land war in southeast Asia," and, "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line."

To that I can now add, "Never try to schedule a bunch of CEOs for photo shoots in August."

Because that's exactly what I was doing this past August. Which, in turn, led to this portrait being done in a grand total of 86 seconds. Read more �


sport photography

Winter Reads: Winters Reads

What's better than a new book from Dan Winters? Try two new books from Dan Winters.

Both are gorgeous; both are limited press runs. So if you delayed getting your copy of his Periodicals book before it went out of print, don't miss out this time.

Short version: Last Launch is a love letter to the recently closed space shuttle program; Dan Winters's America is like having a one-man exhibition on your coffee table.

More, and pics, inside. Read more �


photography blogs

Morning Bear

  A brown bear feeding on grass sedges in the first light of the morning this past August, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. Image was with a Canon 5D Mark II, and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens at f/5.6, 1/30 of a second at ISO 600.


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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Photo Edit - Black and White Red Fox


I've meant to do more posts like this one. A quick take on the edit techniques used to process an image. Doing this for a straightforward image with little edits doesn't offer much. But for many images that I make there's a decent distance between what the camera captured, and how I've interpreted it, edited it, and then produced the final image.

Here's a composite with the final image on top. The bottom two images are from the raw file and are the basic images, reset to defaults in Lightroom and then color (default) and grayscale.
for blog

One of the main problems with the source image was it wasn't that sharp. It was the sharpest of the bunch from the encounter, but at 1/30th of a second at f/4, and a mix of handheld and resting on my car window/beanbag - it was hard to get a sharp shot.

red fox edits

The sharpest part is his nose, and the DoF falls off pretty quickly. As a straight color image his eyes and attention are gripping but the image itself isn't refined enough in my opinion. The above is overly flat due to no processing, but shows signs of animal behavior and intent and that'x what drew me to the photo/moment.

red fox edits

Switching to grayscale removes color and distraction, and elements that might make the mind wander. Color is a strong element on its own but for this image I really wanted to narrow the scope of it to just the fox. Converting to black and white, even though I have black and white on the brain lately, was probably a very justified move.

OK - so that's the setup. That's what I had to work with. I had seen the fox and due to the low light was shooting at pretty slow shutter speeds and wide open. My personal preference is to shoot wide open at ISO 400 and SLOW shutter speeds and let the cards fall where they may on sharpness. I don't always stick to this rule, but I try to avoid shooting at any ISO above 400. There's something about my D300 and D300s that ISO500 or beyond, just make me concerned regarding noise.

Anyway... I've been reading a book. I got it probably a year ago and just picked it up again. The book is Vincent Versace's "Welcome to Oz". In it he describes using Photoshop to turn a source image in to an artistic vision, an interpretation, something where the source file is just the starting point.

I highly recommend everyone listen to this podcast with Vinny (as I hear he's called).

Some of the concepts he talks about are how the eye moves through an image - light to dark, high contrast to low contrast, etc, etc..... Things that make sense but not what you might be concerned with when processing an image where you are really trying to (for me anyway) showcase a subject (often an animal) and show to others what you see.

So - here's the final black and white edit. This was done in Lightroom, and I used the adjustment brush a few times with different levels of lightening and darkening.

Bombay Hook NWR, DE

A few key edits I did were to darken the image and edges, and brighten the eyes and his nose. I also darkened the original bright spot on tht right. Having done that edit, I removed some noise in PS with D-fine, and added my logo.

It's fine to want to get it all right in camera and I shoot for that too. Heck I shot jpg for like 3 years! Now that I shoot RAW and manual mode I strive for getting the source file as good as possible. However there's often much more to an image than that.

Let me know what you think. I'm not looking to stir up the purist's who'd capture it in camera and do NO edits ever... What do folks think about editing images to enhance and convey, and make an image become an artist photo?

-Jon / Jon


animal photography

Fabulous find at Flora Quest 2012

When I last left you, I penned a post showcasing a cool find from a trip to Adams County, Ohio. That was almost a month ago, and I just found myself in Adams County again this weekend. This time I was at Flora Quest, which took place in and around Shawnee State Forest. The event, which was started in 2007, draws lovers of not only flora, but also fauna, from all around the state of Ohio and beyond. We spent a full day and a half in the field, looking for all of the wonderful gifts that Shawnee and environs has to offer. Given the incredibly warm spring that we've had, many plants are at least 2 weeks ahead of schedule, and many things that would normally be in bloom right now are well past their prime. The upside of this is that there are plants blooming now that we would not normally expect to see blooming until much later in May.

Honestly, I did not get many flower photos this year, partially because a hugely overcast day in a very wooded area made for miserable photo-taking conditions (especially since the flash on my camera is on the fritz), and partially because I spent a lot of time tuning in to the b-i-r-d-s. Nevertheless, my camera was always with me, and I was able to catch quite an incredible event with it.

First, though, a little bit of back story.

When I visited Adams County back in early April, I saw an Eastern Fence Lizard for the first time ever. Actually, we saw two of them that day: first a female, and then a male. One has to move quickly to catch these lizards, as they will immediately run for a tree the moment something starts coming its way. But we had some fast folks on hand that day who were able to carefully grab a specimen for observation (not to mention some very sharp-eyed folks to be able to spot them in the first place). The males and females are sexually dimorphic, meaning that the sexes can be told apart based on appearance. Below you will see first a female, and then a male. The females are more boldly patterned along the back.

If you turn them over, the difference between the sexes becomes more apparent. The female is plain-colored on the underside, whereas the male has a blue band across the throat, outlined in black, with blue also on either side of the belly.

Female fence lizard, with her plain belly showing

Male fence lizard, with blue throat band and blue on the belly

These lizards hibernate during the winter months, and once they come out of hibernation, territories are set up and mating begins. According to the ODNR species account for Eastern Fence Lizards, incubation lasts from 6-8 weeks, and then a clutch of anywhere from 5 to 12 eggs will be laid. Fast forward from April to May, when our Flora Quest group on Saturday was extremely fortunate, in that we came across a female who was laying eggs.

I've been able to make out 11 eggs in this photo, 6 directly behind the female (who is well-camouflaged among the leaves), and 5 more off to her right, near the right edge of the photo. The eggs are small, about the size of an M&M candy, but more oblong in shape. I'm not sure who in our group made this discovery, but we were all just blown away by it. Obviously she wasn't going to scurry away anywhere, since she was in the middle of some very important business. Given the incubation period of 6-8 weeks, that means that the female I photographed in early April could have very well already been pregnant when we caught her. Who knows, she could have been laying eggs on this very same day. (Saturday's lizard was in a location that is quite a distance from the early-April lizard, though, so it's definitely NOT the same lizard.)

Female Eastern Fence Lizard, laying eggs

Of course I felt very fortunate to have witnessed this in person, as I'm sure it's something I'm not likely to come across again. But I could not help but feel that we violated this process for her, and made it very stressful for her. She was right alongside the trail, and luckily she was off to the side enough that we weren't in danger of stepping on her. It was obvious that we had disturbed her, and I saw her draw in at least one very deep breath while I was taking photos of her. Whether that was part of her labor process, or if it was a stress response, I don't know, but I couldn't help feeling like we needed to leave her be as soon as possible. Luckily our group was small, so there weren't too many of us to cycle through, each taking photos. I just hope our presence and the attention that we paid to her didn't draw too much (or any attention) to her while she was in this very vulnerable state.

As we left her, we all wished her well, and thanked her for the story she enabled us to tell. Hopefully later this summer the eggs will hatch successfully, and the cycle will begin again.


photography camera

Birds in the Garden---Regular Visitors

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The Red Whiskered Bulbuls are not the only birds that enjoy being around my garden. Like the bulbuls, a pair of Blue Magpies (Red-billed Magpie) have been around for a while too.


free photography competitions

Toward Triplet Rocks

Twin Peaks and 'Triplet' ridge from the Mt. Waterman Trail

The prominent ridge extending southeast from Twin Peaks to "Triplet Rocks" can be seen from many points of the Angeles high country. So named because of the triplet of sculpted white granitic monoliths at its summit, the isolated formation is generally considered to be the hardest to reach summit in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Here's a view of "Triplet" ridge from a run up to Pleasant View Ridge a couple of weeks ago. In the photo Triplet Rocks is the rocky peaklet on the left end of the ridge and Twin Peaks (East) is on the far right. Peak 6834 is the prominent square-topped formation a little left of the midpoint of the ridge.

Today's loosely formulated plan was to run/hike to the summit of Twin Peaks (east) and then see how far I could get out on the ridge in a reasonable amount of time. At the start of the run I had no idea what a "reasonable amount of time" would be.

It took me about a hour and fifty minutes to reach the east summit of Twin Peaks. On the way there I realized that I should have taken a couple extra bottles of water to stash on the summit. The roughly 60 oz. of water left in my pack wasn't going to get me very far. I figured I could go about an hour down the ridge and still have enough water to get back and have a little in reserve. The day was windy and dry, but relatively cool. If necessary I could get water at a small spring on the Twin Peaks Trail on the way back.

How far did I make it? In an hour of hiking, scrambling, bouldering, bushwhacking and challenging route-finding I made it to a rocky ledge below peak 7120+ and a little before the notch at peak 6834. I guessed it would have taken another 45 minutes to get to the summit of peak 6834. Next time -- this wasn't a place to push it!

I now have a much better idea of what's going to be required to get to peak 6834 and Triplet Rocks. The north side of the ridge tends to be steep, loose, and at times very eroded. The south side of the ridge tends to be choked with scrub oaks and brush. On the way out I dropped down on the steep north slopes a couple of times; on the way back I tried some improbable lines through brush that (surprisingly) worked out and allowed me to stay more on the crest of the ridge.

It was an unusually busy day on Twin Peaks. On my way down from the peak I encountered several large groups of hikers. When I got back down to the car two tour buses were parked at the trailhead, their drivers patiently waiting for their patrons. Round trip the adventure had taken almost exactly six hours.

Note: In the fall of 2010 an experienced hiker doing this ridge became disoriented in rain, snow and whiteout conditions and was reported overdue. Following an air and ground search he was located on the ridge and airlifted to safety. He had notified a relative of his planned route and must have had most of what he needed to get by for the two nights and three days he was out. According to news reports he was in good enough shape to drive home following the rescue. Copyright 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.


photography classes

A special owl on a special day

Remember a few posts back when I showed you a cute, tiny owl? I said I could have taken it home in my pocket, and estimated that it was smaller in size than my head.

A captive Northern Saw-whet Owl who is part of the educational display for the Back to the Wild wildlife rehabilitation center.

This past Friday, I finally got a chance to meet one of these little cuties up close. But let's back up a little bit.

I had never even heard of Saw-whet Owls until last spring. It was at the ODNR's annual Wildlife Diversity conference that I heard a presentation about Saw-whet Owls given by Kelly Williams-Sieg, an Ohio University grad student and licensed bird bander. The presentation detailed her work with Project Owlnet and how she's been banding and researching Saw-whets (and other birds) since 2004 at Earl H. Barnhart Buzzards Roost Nature Preserve in Chillicothe, Ohio. As her presentation wrapped up, I jotted down some notes and thought, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to attend one of these banding sessions?" I left it at that, thinking it a purely whimsical notion at the time. Fast forward 6 months or so to an event at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, where Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists met for a weekend of pure nature bliss, full of learning about and looking at birds, butterflies, flowers and beetles. It was here that I met Bob Scott Placer, a licensed bird bander, who also happens to live practically down the street from me. Bob has been helping Kelly band owls at Buzzards Roost from day one. After some discussions with Bob, I went out to Buzzards Roost once last year to check out the banding operation, but we struck out. It was early December, and they hadn't seen any Saw-whets for a week or so. Bob advised that we come in early November the next year for better luck.

And so we did just that. There was no pressure to see an owl or anything. It just so happened to be my birthday on the day that I chose for our owling adventure.

A group of folks from the Scioto Valley Bird and Nature Club was already there by the time we arrived around 8:15 pm. Kelly, Bob and Lisa, our banders for the evening, made several checks of the mist nets between 8:30 and 10:15, each time coming up empty-handed. By 10:30 all the bird club folks had headed home, so Dave and I were the only onlookers left. Around 10:45 the nets were checked, and still there was nothing. Bob said that during previous banding sessions so far this season the owls had been showing up pretty late, so we all hung in there for one more net check at 11:15. Lo and behold, Kelly checked a net and said she had an owl. I let out a small squeal of delight and rushed down to see for myself. Kelly deftly but gently untangled the owl from the net. It clacked its beak several times, a sound of warning. We heard plenty more of that as our time with the owl went on.

Kelly Williams-Sieg and Bob Scott Placier prepare to collect data from a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Once the owl was freed from the mist netting, we brought it inside to band it and collect various data, such as wing and tail length, weight, and amount of fat observed.

Kelly blows the owl's feathers out of the way so she can look for fat deposits under its skin. This bird showed no fat deposits, which is typical of a bird that is in the middle of migration. Kelly also showed me how she feels along either side of the breast bone for fat, and let me feel for myself.

Kelly demonstrates how a Saw-whet bite doesn't hurt. That hooked beak looks intimidating, but that's mainly a tool for ripping the flesh of its prey. The real danger on this little predator is its talons, which Kelly experienced first-hand several times over the course of several minutes.

Normally docile and seemingly tame in the hand, this Saw-whet was an exception to the rule. She was feisty right from the start, complete with lots of bill snapping and much kicking and grabbing with those talons. Here Lisa gives the owl a momentary distraction of a pencil to hang on to while Kelly tries to reposition her for more data collection.

Taking the tail measurement. I think the owl has a most displeased expression here.

For those of you wondering how you weigh an owl (or any other small bird), this is how it's done. They go head-first into some kind of tube, which keeps them from wiggling around too much. This Saw-whet weighed in at 98.2 grams, which Kelly said was on the high side for this species. The weight, combined with tail and wing measurements suggests that this owl is a female (typically, female owls are larger than the males).

A black light is used to help age the bird. There is a certain pigment in the owls flight feathers that show up in varying degrees of pink, depending on its age. This photo doesn't do the test justice because the whole bird shows up as pink, which is not what we really saw. Based on the amount of pink we saw, and how bright the pink was, Kelly determined that this owl was born this year. That's called a hatch-year bird. So we had ourselves a fiesty, hatch-year female.

Now that we've got her vitals, let enjoy her cuteness, shall we?

Rock, paper, scissors, owl! Just kidding. Kelly's showing me how to hold my fingers as I prepare to get the best birthday present a birder could ask for...

... A loving gaze from a teeny, tiny owl. Say it with me everyone: Awwwwwwwwww.

Despite all the attitude and the feistyness, this little ball of fluff could not resist the power of a good head rub. I have read about this phenomenon from others, and she did indeed just keep pushing her head back farther and farther as I ran my finger down her head and back. She did show some signs of resistance though, as she simultaneously pushed into the head rub while snapping her bill half-heartedly. The theory behind what seems to be the owl's enjoyment of this action is that it reminds them of mutual grooming and preening that they do in the wild (especially mother with owlet).

One last pose with "my" owl before we took her outside to be released.

It took a few minutes for us to walk down to the spot where we released her, which gave her eyes time to adjust to the dark enough so that she could see to fly off to a nearby perch. Kelly placed her on my arm, and I had a feeling it wouldn't take her too long to fly off, given all the attitude she had given us while in our care. Sure enough, she took off within 5 seconds, wooshing over my head into a tree just behind me. Luckily I was able to turn around fast enough to see her outstretched wings back-lit against a sky brightened by a waning moon just before she landed.

All in all, I'd say that experience was a pretty cool birthday present. Thank you Kelly, Bob and Lisa. And thank you, little owl. I was very honored to meet you.

But wait, don't go away yet! Please be sure to check out THIS ARTICLE from the October 2008 issue of Ohio Magazine that goes into a little more detail about the Saw-whet banding project. And to see the banding process in action, watch THIS VIDEO by ODNR's Division of Wildlife.


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