Stalking Snowy Owl of McLean County

I have received 4 different reports of people and friends seeing snowy owls in McLean County.  McLean County is one of the larger counties in Illinois.  These are people I trust, so I have been checking them out when time and daylight allows.  Yesterday, I saw high resolution photos of the male owl, so I knew it was on.  Almost a full 3 months earlier than I found them last year.

I blasted off this morning to find a 24-30 inch tall bird with 4 foot wingspan and weighing in around 3.5 pounds.  Sounds like a needle in a hay stack, but yet I was able to find them last year.

Struck out this morning!  Two hours of driving country roads sneaking up on anything white that looked out of place.  I can tell you that McLean County has some serious trash problems.

My first stalk:


Ended up being a half buried ice cream bucket!

I have to believe people driving by must get a real chuckle out of a 240 LBS fat guy in full Carhartts doing the belly / sniper crawl across a muddy field with 15K of camera equipment cradled in his elbows.

Second stalk turned up to be a grocery bag.  These guys flopping in the wind look really good from 1/2 mile!


Once you get close enough to put the lens on it, and find out it is trash, you just stand up, shake your head and walk back to the car.

Finally!  I spotted one with my binocular! Only about 1/3 the way across a 1 mile square.


No stalk, the lady who shared location doesn’t want this bird to feel any pressure as he has been there 5 days now.  We are trying to keep him off since he is a rare male.  I watched him from the car for 20 minutes.  Then he few to a fence row in the middle of the square and landed on a post.  This next shot was crazy long.  I stacked my 1.4 and 2.0 teleconverters together and paired on my trusty 500mm bring effective range of 1400mm and f11 I think.  Manual focus of course.  I could not see this bird with my naked eye at this range.  When I go back I am taking my golf range finder to measure the yardage.  I would guess it to be over 600 yards.  It was longer than most par fives I play.

PBKJ5639-FrameShopI drove the square to see if I could get closer from other side.  When I came back he was gone.  I found him in the next square to the North and a pickup truck was watching him.


The guy got out of his car with his smart phone and started walking straight towards the bird.PBKJ5646-FrameShop

I got one good shot before the guy got too close and forced him to fly.  I had the camera set in full “bird in flight” mode knowing he was going to launch.PBKJ5649-FrameShop

Knew it!  Too much lens and clipped his wings, but you get a good view of feather covered feet and talons.PBKJ5652-FrameShop

He few about 10 telephone post, so after I scolded the guy for getting out of his car, I rolled up to him again and got a couple more full frame shots.  Not much background with the grey sky.  Not a big fan of sitting pole shots, but hey, I found a Snowy Owl.PBKJ5656-FrameShop

Watched him for another 10 minutes, and decided I would head home.  I opened my sun roof and idled right under him.  Needed a shorter lens.  He was keeping a watchful eye on me.  I told him goodbye and headed home.PBKJ5672-FrameShopVery cool birds.  I love their eyes, and their feet!  Hopefully this guy will hang around and I can spend more time with him in better light and maybe get some flight shots of him hunting.

Last years snowy owl post:

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13 thoughts on “Stalking Snowy Owl of McLean County

  1. Kent,

    That was a awesome read. Thanks for sharing. That second to last picture is great. That snowy is certainly keeping a close eye on you.


  2. Pingback: Central Illinois Snowy Owls | Kent Jarrett Photography

  3. People using their “Smart” phones thinking they will get a Great shot aren’t so smart! Glad you scolded him, but in a nice way. Sterling Park District had to put up signs and a fence to keep Dumb people AWAY from the Eagles here! No Common sense!

    • Some people just truly don’t know. I was in the ranger station trying to pry out some bear location information when three ladies came in. The didn’t wait their turn, just busted up to the information counter and asked, “When do they turn on the waterfalls, and let the bears out?” They were serious. SO know I try to me more patience and pay it forward.

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