Barred Owl Encounter #1. Two years ago.

Barred Owl at Sunset

A recent local hike awarded me the opportunity to find and spend some time observing a Barred Owl. It's been two years since my last encounter with one and it hasn't been from a lack of trying. To say I was thrilled with the experience, as you'll see below, is an understatement. The picture above comes from my first time seeing one.

On October 28th, 2020, I decided to take a hike on a trail I've been to a few times in the past, but haven't been back to in a year. My decision to was largely based on the upcoming synoptic weather outlook for the next few days (windy, rainy and perhaps even some snow (!) in southern Ontario for the end of October). This particular day was sunny and calm, so I wanted to take advantage of it. While I usually have a goal in mind, this day was an exception. Nothing beyond enjoying the afternoon outside was on my mind, with a potential bonus of finding wildlife and, if lucky, an Owl. 

It was relaxing (if you know me well, you'd likely interpret that word as boring) as I followed the trail. It was a great view with the remaining leaves in color, so even if I walked away with nothing, I was content. Save for some squirrels and a crow or two, there was nothing else of note. Around 45 minutes from sunset, I started making my way back to the car.  

On the way back, I scanned the same birch and evergreen trees I had previously; just in case. To my surprise, I found a Barred Owl staring off at something in the distance. I have no idea if I missed it entirely previously or if it had relocated there after I walked by. It was about 30 feet away from the trail when I took the first picture on the left. I pointed the camera and "click click click". When it heard the camera shutter, it turned and faced me (I forgot to put it in silent mode, but quickly corrected that). It must have been surprised that some one was giving it this much attention. There were very few people around, so someone stopping and taking a picture piqued its interest.

Untitled photo

There was a small stump right on the edge of the trail that I used to sit and observe the Owl for about 15-20 minutes. The light was fading quickly, so it offered both stability for photos and, conveniently, a clear view between the branches to observe it. I stayed as quiet as possible and didn't move any closer throughout the rest of the encounter (it actually moved closer to me!). After a few minutes, it quickly realized I wasn't a concern and went back to resting. It didn't seem care at all that I was there.

With the sun now behind the owl, I relocated to a fallen tree a few feet away from the previous one for better light and a better vantage point. After about five minutes of us both relaxing, it jumped to attention. Something below it, and between us, had gotten its full attention.

With no real indication that it was going to take off beyond starting at the ground (no movement of the feet/body), my newfound Barred Owl buddy dive bombed off the branch and landed within 15 feet from me. It cut the distance between us more than half. I almost missed getting the picture once it landed because I was not expecting it to dive so close to me.

At this point, I had no idea if it had caught its prey because of the thick leaf cover it was sitting in. It stood in the place where it landed for about 10 seconds as I took a barrage of pictures, not knowing how long this would go on. It locked eyes with me the entire time, almost looking excited that it was successful and someone witnessed it (though I didn't know that yet). Playing it cautiously, I decided to back away slowly and relocate just in case it perceived me as a threat to its meal. I told it I wasn't hungry, but I don't know if it was correctly interpreted.

Shortly after I relocated, it was revealed to be a successful hunt. I managed to get a few more pictures before the owl decided to relocate to a nearby hollow stump, where I again relocated. At no point in the entire encounter did it seem to care I was there. It barely acknowledged me beyond the first camera shutter sounds earlier.

Once at the stump, the owl took its time inspecting its meal. It held it in its talons and looked it over for a few minutes.The owl looked around, looked to the sky, looked back at its talons, and finally ate it whole after about two full minutes of inspection. 

When it was finished eating, I decided it was time to head back to the car. I repositioned to the trail, and with the last of the sun (and my now 3200 ISO) available, took my last pictures. One with the owl on the stump and the last one as it relocated to the very same tree where this encounter began about 15- 20 minutes prior. I took a picture, said goodbye, and left.

Beyond the great moment and incredible pictures the encounter gave me, what I enjoyed most about this experience was the complete lack of people around, save for the odd hiker that walked by; completely unaware it was there. Some owls become mobbed like celebrities once locations get leaked and I often fear for their safety when seeing or hearing about it. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I was never in crowd type scenarios in the past, but after seeing them first hand, I've taken as active a role as I can to avoid being a part of them.

This time it was just me and the owl. It was an incredibly rewarding experience.