Some days are just magic in Western Wyoming! I am always searching for subjects when I am outdoors, whether it be driving, walking the dog, or out purposefully looking for a subject to bring into my camera’s viewfinder. It was a casual Saturday morning when I headed out for a stroll with my independent dog. As I walked, I tried to watch the trees and brushy areas looking for birds as well as keeping an eye on the wear-abouts of my canine friend. Sure enough 20 feet high in an aspen is a beautiful owl just above the trail. I stood with mouth agape! Not a Great Horned this time but a Great Gray; a seldom seen resident. I watched it for a bit and vowed to return later with my camera in the hopes that it would move to a more scenic and well lit tree.
I found the bird in the evening on the top of an evergreen tree obviously in hunting mode. This time I was prepared with my camera and kept a distance as to not disturb his concentration. He? quietly came off of the top of the tree, hovered momentarily over the snow and dropped to the ground. Tucking his head to his feet, he came up with a rodent which he devoured quickly. Back to the top of the tree to continue hunting; the next drop put him about 50′ in front of me and he mantled over his catch for several minutes before pulling up another rodent; down the hatch in 4 gulps. By this time the light was fading fast and I left him to continue hunting in the dark. I returned for the next several days, watching and photographing this amazing owl.
The Great Gray is known to be our largest owl in size but considering its hefty layering of feathers it is not the heaviest, this honor goes to our Great Horned Owl. The two are easy to distinguish, as the Great Gray has a round, dish shaped face with smallish eyes; the Great Horned has two ear tufts (actually just feathers) which are almost always visible. Great Horned Owls have much larger eyes and a fierce looking face.
Great Grays are known to nest in the coniferous forests of the area but are seldom seen. They eat small rodents with pocket gophers being one of their favorites. Prey can be inaccessible in deeper snows thus some individuals will disperse short distances to lower elevations in the winter. I believe this was “my” bird. He has not shown himself for several weeks now but I will continue to search the trees and brushy areas while walking my dog hoping to catch another glimpse of this beautiful owl.