Great Gray Owl captured by Z 9 / Z100-400f4.5-5.6 w/Z2x

My first experience with the Forest Phantom was in the Canyon region of Yellowstone nearly forty years ago. The encounter lasted less than five minutes but I will never forget those five minutes. Shooting handheld with a Nikon F3 / 800f5.6, I came back with 3 frames, not one is even close to being in focus. I still have those 3 frames in the slide files. Next, we found ourselves closer to home watching The Phantom in the meadows of Yosemite’s high country. That took us to the Blue Mountains of Oregon to photograph them nesting. This was all in the days of film and while the desire and passion to spend time with The Phantom has never wained, the calendar just didn’t want to cooperate.
For the last three years I’ve ventured to Sax-Zim Bog in part to see The Phantom again, experience the calm and silence it brings to a forest. Last week, I finally was able to experience their presence again. The Great Gray Owl is our largest (but not heavest) owl in North America at thirty inches in height. The huge facial disk permits it to hear little creatures scurrying about under nearly two feet of snow one hundred feet away. It literally does face plants as it falls through the snow to snatch its meal. You can see here it giving the snow its full attention as it listens for its opportunity to eat. Why the title The Phantom? Its plumage allows it to be swallowed up in the hues of its forest home. It makes no sound, not a stitch when flies while easily hiding through the branches of northern forests.
I woke up the other morning to our two resident Great Horned Owls calling, one perched over our water feature. I think they were there for not only the skunks that were drinking but to remind me that owls, including The Phantom, are in my own backyard. Yeah, nesting Phantoms are just across the valley from The Ranch. It’s on to do list. But so is going back to Sax-Zim Bog next year. I can’t wait until my next encounter with the Foreat Phantom!

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