The Magnificent Short-eared Owls of Lincoln County

December 28, 2016

A short-eared owl begins its hunting day at sunset on the prairie of B.K. Leach Conservation Area.

Every winter, a small group of short-eared owls returns to share the prairies and marshes of B.K. Leach Conservation Area with northern harriers, Cooper’s hawks, kestrels and other raptors. Although B.K. Leach has always been one of my favorite photo-hunting spots, I’ve been reluctant to pursue an image of these owls because it typically requires one of my least favorite techniques — simply driving gravel roads, using my vehicle for a blind.

This year, I decided to give it a try. My first step was to quiz some of my friends, including Miguel Acosta and Doug Hommert, who have had some success photographing these “hit and miss” creatures that appear every year on the Mobird Listserve. My second step was as usual — putting in the miles and hours.

Beginning a few days before Christmas and followed by most of this week, I drove four hours round trip each day in search of the owls. Some days I never saw one owl and other days I saw one or two, only for a moment. It was only on the final day that the God of Persistence cut me a break. The owls became active during the best light of the afternoon, and I was in the perfect spot. The featured image was Joyce’s favorite of the keepers as the sun nicely illuminated the owl’s face about 30 minutes before sunset. Short-eared owls, with their black eyeliner and yellow eyes, look like they should be flying around in the HBO series, “Game of Thrones” in the north with the Whitewalkers. They are mysteriously beautiful!



A short-eared owl scans the sky for its arch enemy, the northern harrier. I was so happy to see it perched on a thorn bush.

During the week, I was not only able to watch the owls, but also to listen to their raspy cries as they entered into dogfights with northern harriers. Even though I moaned and groaned about the four-hour round trip each day, the time and effort was well worth it once I made a sighting. As a bonus, during the week, I ran into some photography/birding friends, including Miguel, Ken, Dawn, Lisa, and on the final day, a fellow long-lenser, Butch Lama. The owls were most active when Butch and I were there and we did everything we could to help each other get a shot from the road.

I really wanted to get out of my car and walk around with my tripod, but I learned early in the week that the owls were extremely wary of bipeds and would head for the hills shortly after I opened my door. I had to adjust my style to the simple window bean bag I keep in my car. Let’s just say that I became one with NPR while waiting in my car blind all week.



A final image of one of the owls on the thorn bush. I think this was my favorite of the week.

It is no secret that the St. Louis birding and photography world loves its owls, from Forest Park to Clarence Cannon NWR to places like B.K. Leach C.A. I guess we are lucky that the owls seem to love us as well. At least it seems that way because they always stick around to make us happy.

Thanks for looking,

Danny Brown

Email me at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images/Print Info:



10 comments on “The Magnificent Short-eared Owls of Lincoln County”

  1. One bird that I have seen only once in all my visits to the US. Thank you for the excellent post!

  2. Thanks,  for the outstanding images and the great story. 

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab®4

  3. You take such beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Wow what beautiful pictures. I have never seen theses owls before. I probably won’t after reading his hard it is to find them lol

  5. Wow…. so beautiful ❤ my heart skipped a beat to see the picture, I want to see her in real.. beautiful. thanks for this 🙂

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