Posted by: atowhee | February 26, 2015


Click on this link for photos by Chris Hartzell.  He’s a Monterey-based photographer who got to see his Great Gray here in the southern Oregon Cascades.  We met when he came to hear me talk about GGOs at Klamath Basin Audubon’s meeting in January.  Next day he was in the snowy (then) mountains looking for GGOs.  Bingo.

Here are Chris’s words on his finally getting to photograph a Great Gray Owl: If you want the whole story, it goes like this…

For the last decade I have been wanting to see and photograph a Great Gray Owl. I had been to Yosemite twice and missed both times. My mother, who lives in Williams OR, said there were a couple pairs that live near her that she had seen. But after several attempts we were still unsuccessful in finding them for me to see, let alone photograph. On this particular trip we spent two days searching for them in her area. False reports from neighbors had us chasing Great Horned. Finally, I decided to use other resources. I looked up Great Gray Owl sightings on eBird and found a majority in the Howard Prairie Lake area. We had originally planned on only one day to search for them, spending all of the remaining two days afterwards at the Klamath Refuges. We headed out and arrived around 1pm in the area and began an slow and methodical search. At 4:30pm, just before the sun was about to dip behind clouds and then the horizon, I had a feeling to give one last pass. We were anxious to get going so it would be a “fast pass.” I made the U-turn and reached 40mph when I saw the gray clump on the edge of the trees and came to an immediate stop. There in the trees was my first Great Gray Owl. Over the next 30 minutes I was able to make a slow approach, with my wife Ame staying behind. The owl was still rather far and even with flash, shooting was about to be gone for good. Then suddenly it flew right up to me and perched in the tree above me. I crouched down and fired away. I was not fully prepared for when it launched down and landed in the snow 20 feet in front of me on an unknown creature. It sat for a couple minutes not caring about my camera and flash firing away. Finally it flew up and away into the trees. We departed thinking it was a one time deal. Upon arriving at the hotel, the owner saw our gear and asked what we were photographing. When she heard we were into birds, she pulled out a newspaper with an advertisement for a bird talk that night. What a coincidence…it was on Great Gray Owls! We attended a spectacular presentation that night by Harry Fuller, a specialist on Great Grays. The pics were fantastic, but the presentation was also just as good. Keeping it moving well and the perfect mix of facts and stories, the hour and half flew by. After the presentation I spoke with him about finding them. He gave me directions to a couple of them, one of them happened to be the exact owl we had seen. With this new information we changed our itinerary the next two days. Instead of spending two full days at the refuges, we would spend the afternoon of each day at the owls. The next afternoon, after successfully finding the leucistic Bald Eagle, we headed back up into the mountains. We reached the area about 2:30pm and sure enough, the same owl was sitting in the same place. We all took our positions of choice, about 50 feet from him and then just sat and waited. After about an hour, here he came, swooping out of the trees and pouncing on a critter just 30 feet from me. He flew up into the trees where it was eaten before I could see the owl with it. Another hour later, just as the light was fading, he went for one more. Although farther away from us, it was still great to see. It was slightly disappointing only in the type of attack. After hearing the talk about how they go head first into the snow, I was hoping to catch this on film. However, the snow didn’t seem to be deep enough and the owl made a rather typical approach and pounce. But it didn’t underscore the fact that we had now seen three kills! A real treat! The next afternoon we headed back up. After a search for two hours, we could not find any owls and had a snack break. One last pass before heading out to dinner and we spotted a different owl perched just 30 feet off the road. It was in the perfect position, but our assumption that it would be as comfortable as the other was incorrect and seconds after exiting the vehicle, it flew off deep into the woods. It was the end of the day and time to leave. We left the owls to spend the remainder of our time at the refuges. After a decade of searching, I not only had seen a Great Gray, but was lucky enough to photograph it hunt. A rewarding experience thanks to eBird, lucky timing of a great presentation, and hours sitting in the snow.

Here’s one of my nt-so-hot pictures.GGO PEEK2

BTW the book on Great Gray Owls of Oregon-California-Washington will be out later this year, let me know if you want to by a copy.  100 great photos by my co-author, Peter Thiemann.  Original, detailed range maps for the species based on lots of conversation with biologists across the three states.

MTBF COLOR LOGORegistration for Klamath Bird Observatory’s Mountain Bird Festival is moving quickly.  Find info on the KBO website.  The Festival is May 29-31.


  1. Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!

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