Featured Photographer: Darren Clark – Great Gray Owls!

Nemesis Bird would like to introduce you to this month’s featured photographer, Darren Clark. Darren teaches photography at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. Darren divides his time between teaching, fly-fishing, photographing, birding, and hanging out with his family. To see more of Darren’s photos, check out his page on flickr and his website. We hope your enjoy his story and photographs of his recent encounter with a family of Great Gray Owls! 

[dc]M[/dc]y friend Adam told me about some Great Gray Owls he found in Island Park (a heavily forested and mountainous region off of the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park) near Harriman State Park in Eastern Idaho. I’ve seen a few Great Grays over the years; most of these though have been winter birds in the valley below Island Park. There’s something pretty special about seeing these majestic birds in their habitat. What made this even more intriguing though was his report of two downy young owls with an adult.

The fact that there were young birds peaked my interest for two reasons. First, the adult bird was most likely still in the area because the juvenile birds weren’t flying yet and would still be reliant on the adult for food. Second, I’d never seen juvenile Great Grays.

I got mediocre directions from Adam and drove the 45 minutes north to find the bird. I wandered around in the forest looking and listening and coming up empty handed. It turns out I was looking on the wrong side of the road and about a mile too far east. No worries though, I caught a few trout in the nearby Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and called it a day.

A young Great Gray Owl – Photo by Darren Clark

Adam went out the next day and relocated the birds. This time he left me more detailed directions. The next afternoon my friend Steve and I followed Adam’s directions and split up to search for the bird. In about three minutes I heard Steve whistling and I walked in his directions. He had found an adult and had gone to his truck to get a camera. As he and I walked back towards the bird, owl poop dropped and landed right in front of me. I looked up to discover one of the downy youngbirds right over my head. We got good looks and photographs of that bird; we then located another young bird, and finally the adult.

Adult and young Great Gray Owls – Photo by Darren Clark

Steve had an appointment to get to, so I got to work photographing the birds. After an hour or so of hanging back and observing the Owls, a different adult Owl came in and proceeded to preen one of the owlets. I was pretty excited and proceeded to take a number of photographs before filling my card (I can’t believe I only brought one).

I was pleased with the photographs I made of the owls, but I didn’t feel the photographs were perfect. The light was harsh, and there were often shadows across the owls. I decided I needed one more trip. So on Sunday (6/25) afternoon I drove back up to Island Park to visit the Owls. I thought the birds would be where I left them, but they weren’t there. I spent about an hour searching and just as I was heading back to the car I looked up and spotted an adult. The bird was as startled as I was, but didn’t flush. It was in beautiful light and I backed up and proceeded to photograph. After a bit I heard the clicking of bills and screeching and noticed the two downy owlets not too far away. After photographing the bird for a bit I decided to head out and not disturb the birds any more than I already had.

The Owls were obviously the highlight, but I did see or hear a few other birds in the area, these included: Williamson’s Sapsucker, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker, Western Tanager, Lincoln’s Sparrow, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and the incessant singing of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Adult Great Gray Owl – Photo by Darren Clark