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Photographer's Note

If you love stunning (and sometimes other-worldly) landscapes, and you love observing wildlife, and you haven't yet visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, then you need to go!! :) I hope to make it back there with my girlfriend in the next year or two. The first and only time I visited the park was in the early fall of 2003. It was a solo, 4-day photo-vacation, and I wish I had extended the visit because there is just so much to see and photograph...I didn't even know where to begin. I envy those that live near the park and can visit often. It seems like a photographer and naturalist could spend a lifetime in the park and not get bored or run out of interesting subject matter. Anyhow, on this particular day, I was driving around on a park road and I noticed a few cars pulled over on the side of the road, which is a good indicator that there was a wildlife viewing opportunity. And since I was there in early fall, which is not far off from winter in Wyoming, there weren't many people in the park compared to the insane summer season. When I pulled over and realized what it was the people were looking at, I can't even explain how excited I was. I love owls!!! Up to this point in my life, I had only seen one or two small owls in the wild. I've always been crazy about birds of prey in general. I can still remember the first time I saw a Bald Eagle in the wild...wow!! I digress. This Great Grey Owl was spectacular, and it was sitting on a dead log about 25 feet off the road. Great Grey Owls, if you haven't seen one before, are huge. Their bodies can be up to 33 inches in length with a wing span of up to 60 inches. I was so nervous that this particular owl was going to get spooked before I got my gear out of the car. I got all setup and the owl hadn't spooked yet. It was staring at the ground hunting for its next meal. All of the roadside observers were being very quiet and still, so the owl didn't seem to mind us there. I took a bunch of test shots to make sure I had the exposure right, but the owl just kept staring at the ground in the opposite direction, so all I saw was the back of it's head. I waited and waited and....bam! It suddenly spun its head around and looked right at my lens. It was awesome!! A couple of the people actually gasped when the owl turned around and looked at us. I guess it's those intense yellow eyes locking in on us. I snapped a bunch of photos quickly before it turned its head back toward the ground. I got it! I knew I focused right on its eyes and had a tack sharp image. I felt like a little kid...very excited! The only problem with the image are the two bits of tree to the left of the owl. I wish the background was all uniformly blurred vegetation off in the distance, but when you stumble upon a creature like this in the wild, and you're trying not to spook it, any clear shot is one I should be greatful for. I really have to make it back to that park someday. BTW, shortly after I got this shot of the owl, it finally spotted a meal and rapidly descended upon some small rodent on the ground. That was a great site as well. The poor little rodent didn't stand a chance. :)

The lens that I used for this shot was a Canon 300mm f/4.0 Image Stablizer lens with a 1.4X teleconverter. The lighting was somewhat dim, and I didn't want to crank the ISO setting up and risk getting a grainy image, so I decided to shoot at 1/180th of a second and rely on the IS system to reduce shaking at such a long focal length. It worked perfectly. You gotta love IS!!!

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