Photo essay: The burrowing owls of Marco Island

Ken O’Renick
Special to the Eagle

I have been photographing for nearly 65 years, so I have learned to be patient and have honed my observational skills. My wife and I systematically make the rounds of the local burrowing owl nests. The only poses we usually see are the owls on perches with their eyes glaring and heads spinning. However, we were on a quest to capture something else and we did.

Ken O’Renick

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That patience paid off when it came to my hope to record burrowing-owl chicks in flight. Once they emerged from the borrow they completely ignored me and proceeded to hop, jump and conduct simulated bombing runs on their siblings.

Wide wings. The burrowing owls of Marco Island.

I was using a Canon Mark IV and 150-600mm zoom lens. It was nearly constant zoom action for closeup and distance. I was remarkably pleased with my captures in focus. The birds are so fast and the erratic movements were a huge challenge. It required razor sharp concentration. I was completely exhausted after 30 minutes of action.

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When you watch these owls on the ground they appear to be so small and cuddly. When you approach too close to them they hiss and dare you to get closer. Then when they fly, zoom, bank and attack with their claws spread, it is easy to see how formidable they are as a bird of prey. One of my shots caught the attacker heading for its sibling with claws outstretched. The sibling did not appear intimidated and posed in an offensive posture. They were both learning the tools to survive and thrive.

I try to be patient and concentrate totally on the scene, and I have been rewarded with some wonderful shots. I feel very privileged to observe and especially photograph these beautiful, mysterious birds who live underground and survive against all forms of two and four legged predators.

I plan to continue my quest to capture more and more high action and drama from these tenacious little owls.

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