February 1 ~ Cape Coral, FL
Every time I visit the Cape Coral area in Florida I try my best to set aside some time to spend with the local Burrowing Owls. If you have never had the privilege of seeing these tiny, cute, and very expressive birds in person you owe it to yourself. These small ground dwelling owls have some of the biggest personality of any bird you will find in Florida. Cape Coral boasts a rather large population of the owls which make it a wonderful location to visit.
This time around was my second visit to this specific field to see what owls were around. There are a few very popular locations to view the owls in Cape Coral but I generally try to stay away from those spots figuring they will be a bit busier with other people. During the winter of 2015 I found this specific open lot with many burrows and had found a single bird that I spent time photographing. During this visit in 2016 I went back to the same spot and was lucky to find a pair this time around. I picked a spot to photograph them and settled in.
My approach has always been to sit in one spot and let the owls get used to my presence. Usually within 30-60 minutes they will start to come out of their burrow and begin to exhibit normal behavior. Unfortunately while I was sitting in this open field another group of photographers had been driving by and stopped to see what I was looking at. While normally I enjoy the company of other respectful photographers this group of 3 was not that. They walked right up to me standing at full height and asked the classic "what are you looking at", I answered telling them about the pair of owls which at this point had retreated into their burrow. One of the photographers then proceeded to walk right up to the edge of the roped off border, which is there to protect the owls and is honestly not wide enough, and stood there stretching his neck out trying to see into the burrow. I thought to myself "these photographers will not have the patience to stay around here for long" and thankfully I was correct. After about 10 minutes or so they got bored and wandered away. It didn't take long for the owls to come back out and just when the light was starting to get nice.
A big part of why I like this particular spot is that it does get some of the late evening sunlight since it's in a pretty large open field. Some of the other locations I've found the owls at are nestled right in neighborhoods and the houses tend to block the good light. The other thing I like is generally I'm by myself at this spot.
After getting some standard front lit photos of the fun owls I decided to try for some more dramatic side lighting and even direct back-light. It's great when you get an opportunity to spend lots of time with a subject over multiple visits, it really allows a photographer to try different things and experiment. Below is one of the back-lit photos that I really liked. I did admittedly approach too close which is why the owl is showing a lot of white on his face so I immediately backed off and they calmed down. Another benefit of spending a lot of time with a specific subject is you can begin to learn behaviors which help to get better photos and more importantly not disturb the wildlife.
After a while the sun dipped below the tree line but I was still lucky enough to have some quality directional light. The series of photos below were all after the sun had set but the soft glow of dusk let me continue to shoot. I wrapped up another incredible visit with the wonderful Burrowing Owls of Florida.