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NORTHERN HAWK OWL and the Autofocus Camera

Posted  - July 20, 2005

In some winters, significant numbers of northern owls move out of their boreal forest homes and show up in southern Ontario. This is generally caused by a shortage of their staple food item – the Red-Backed Vole and, for birds from more northerly regions, the Lemming.

The winter of 2004-2005 was exceptional as hundreds, if not thousands of Great Gray Owls delighted residents and visiting birders alike who could see as many as 30 or more of these spectacular birds in a day.

Northern Hawk Owls were present as well, but in smaller numbers with a dozen or more reported from across the southern part of the province.This Owl is a daytime hunter, and those that have seen this “half hawk-half owl” know that it flies and hunts with the skill of a falcon and probably not much slower!

I was lucky enough to see and photograph one of these near Bracebridge, Ontario in early February.

To capture flight shots of this missile on the wing requires the advanced mechanics found in today’s computerized cameras. Photos are showing up in 2005 that would never have been possible without the latest in camera technology. The incredible autofocussing ability of these modern cameras allowed me to capture the photos shown here. A diving Hawk Owl is almost a blur, but the autofocus was able to track and capture three sharp images in sequence as the bird dove from the top of an Aspen. Combine this with a shutter firing at 8 frames per second and the impossible becomes a reality.

Canon 1D Mark II
500mm lens
1/4000 second at 6.3
ISO 500

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