great horned owl

Great Horned Owl, New Father of Two

Pancho Villa State Park, Columbus NM

Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

Hoo is That Owl

Hoo and his partner are a pair of Great Horned Owls I met on a visit to Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus NM in February 2013. At the time they were just setting up housekeeping, getting ready to settle in to raise a family (yes, that too {grin} ) in a pine tree right there in the campground.

It was an extraordinary opportunity to try to get to know these beautiful birds. They were quite unconcerned about the comings and goings of the campers and voyeurs below them and I spent a fair bit of time watching them carry on with their lives and trying to figure out a way to get some photos. With limited success unfortunately.

Days they spent quietly roosting in the pine, she on the nest, he on a nearby limb. Both more or less obscured by foliage. A Great Horned Owl perched motionless in the foliage is nearly impossible to spot without knowing it is there.

Nights they went off hunting, generally leaving well after sundown when the light was too dim to photograph them.


When I left in February I was pretty sure there was an egg or two developing in the nest and vowed to return in early April to see how things were going, to see if there were chicks to meet (two it turns out), and to try again to get some pictures.

In the two weeks I spent there in late March and early April I eventually got a couple shots about sunrise, one of the male on a tree limb preparing a fresh White-winged Dove for the family’s breakfast, and this one of the male with a bloody nose perched on his favorite power pole crossarm.

The trick was to get the camera set up on a tripod and ready to shoot at first light. Then to wait for the male to return from his nightly hunt as dawn broke, all the while constantly adjusting shutter speed to match the changing light. My exposures were long, ranging from 30 seconds for the early dawn shots down to maybe 1/10 of a second for the later ones as the sun rose. Owls tend to sit motionless and the wind was very light in the mornings - two factors making these long exposures possible (with some luck). The exposure for this picture, for instance, was 6 seconds at f/11, ISO 800, and 400mm.

Later Still Maybe

The chicks were still quite young and didn’t show themselves much from under Momma’s wing. If I can pull it off I’d like to get back down to Pancho Villa around May 1st for a go at getting some kiddy portraits. Maybe.