Skagit Short-eared Owls
Soaring Short-eared Owl

Skagit Short-eared Owls

I always anticipate the winter return of Short-eared Owls to western Washington. These beautiful birds are one great reason to get outside on a cold wet winter day with a camera.

Hunting Short-eared Owl

There are several places in the Skagit Valley in Northwest Washington where you can often find the owls. One of the biggest challenges of photographing them (assuming you find them) is bad light. Unlike many owls, “shorties” are active during the day, but it’s often late in the winter afternoon when there’s less than optimal sunlight. Fortunately newer cameras do a good job at high ISOs. This makes it possible to shoot at high enough shutter speeds in low light to freeze the flying owls.

These shots were taken at 3:30 PM in early December as it was beginning to get dark. To shoot at a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec–barely fast enough to freeze the action–required an ISO of 5000 on my Nikon D500 camera. Even at this relatively high ISO the camera and some post processing software were able to produce some sharp and not too grainy photos. Modern camera technology is amazing!

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