Wildlife Photographer’s Notebook: Great-Horned Owls 2014

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Patricia Gonzalez is an NYBG Visitor Services Attendant and avid wildlife photographer.

The Great-horned Owl nest of 2009

The Great-horned Owl nest of 2009

I have had the pleasure of taking thousands of photos of wildlife at The New York Botanical Garden since my first treks here in 2008. Among the birds of prey that I enjoy photographing are the Great-horned Owls. My first encounter with these winged hunters was back in March of 2009.

It was a little after 4:00 p.m. as I was walking down Azalea Way that I heard hooting coming from the Forest. I looked through the trees only to be surprised by the outline of an owl. Back then, I was shooting with a small point-and-shoot that had nowhere near the zoom range of my current camera. But it didn’t matter. What was important was that I got to see an amazing member of the animal kingdom for the first time, and I got a photo!

Later that month I spotted the female owl and one of her two hatchlings in the nest, which was located in a snag overlooking a trail near the edge of the Forest. I’ll never forget the day when a fluffy little head popped up and looked right into my camera. It’s still one of my all-time favorite photographs.

The author's first Great-horned Owl photo (March 2009)

The author’s first Great-horned Owl photo (March 2009)

I continued to watch mother owl and her mate in 2010. Mom spent much of her time in the nest tree and I was hoping I would eventually see another fluffy little head peek out into the world, but it wasn’t to be. There were no hatchlings that year.

That all changed in 2011 when three more owls entered the world. It was fun watching them scuffle as they grew, smacking each other around while flapping their wings. The tree got a bit crowded that year, especially with mom standing right behind them. In fact, the snag collapsed soon after the three young owls had fledged.

After a nestless year in 2012, 2013 brought a new nest site that produced two more hatchlings. Mom had to raise them on her own for a bit, as her mate disappeared. One of the young owls remained on a branch near the edge of the Forest for two weeks before moving deeper into the Garden. Hundreds of visitors riding our trams got to see it during this time.

Mother and child in 2014

Mother and child (2014)

In 2014, the Garden became home to yet another Great-horned Owl success story. The drama unfolded when an eagle-eyed member of our amazing Horticulture staff accidentally came across the new nest. He spotted an adult owl in a tree near the day’s assigned work area and immediately notified our Forest Director. This nest produced only one hatchling. I watched my fluffy new friend as she stretched her wings, growing, carefully observing the world around her, fledging, and eventually moving on to bigger and better things. Hopefully baby will become as great a hunter as her parents!

A young Great-horned Owl (2014)The owls are a window to the natural world and remind us that we share the Garden with them—not the other way around. Much to the benefit of those of us who work here, it is their home. How many folks do you know that can say they regularly get to see wildlife at their jobs? I encourage all staff to get out on the grounds with their cameras. Walk around before starting your day, or perhaps during your break, or maybe even visit on the weekends. You never know what you might encounter. And for our visitors, keeping a camera handy during your visit never hurts!

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