Shooting the Wildife Center of Virginia’s new Barred-Owl
by Scott Turnmeyer,
All photos seen on this page, and more, can be purchased here.
The Wildlife Center of Virginia has many educational ambassador animals at their facility. Everything from screech owls to bald eagles. But they recently brought a new Barred-owl into their educational program. I had the greatest pleasure on photographing this stunning bird a small time back.
Currently this beautiful little girl doesn’t have a name at WCV. Just yesterday they announced a fantastic opportunity for children to take place in a naming contest for the new owl:
“The Wildlife Center of Virginia is enlisting the help of K-12 students in coming up with a name for a Barred Owl – a non-releasable bird that will soon be traveling the state as one of the Center’s education ambassadors.
This female owl was found in Richmond in early September 2012. The owl was exhibiting neurologic symptoms when she was initially rescued; while the symptoms gradually improved, the Wildlife Center veterinarians found that the owl’s eyes were permanently damaged. With permanently compromised vision, the Barred Owl is not able to be released.
The Center’s outreach staff began working with the owl in November 2012 to evaluate the bird’s suitability as an education ambassador. In early January 2013, the staff determined that the owl would be a good fit for the team, based on her temperament and personality. As an ambassador, the owl will accompany Center staff on trips to schools, libraries, county fairs, and other public events.
With training well underway, the next step for any education animal is to acquire a name – and the Wildlife Center is looking for suggestions! All primary and secondary schools are welcome to participate – whether in Virginia or beyond! Simply fill out this form with your class’s name suggestion by February 8, 2013. Once the Wildlife Center has received all of the nominations, the staff will narrow down the list before putting the top names to a public vote. The school with the winning name will receive a one-year Caring for Critters sponsorship of the Barred Owl! [In the case of multiple entries, the first school to suggest a name is the official nominator."
Apparently this unique little girl is quickly becoming part of the family. Here is what Amanda and Raina at WCV had to say about her:
"We’re still getting to know this bird – Raina and I have only had the privilege of working with her for about two months now. She’s a very striking owl (many volunteers/staff members stop to tell her how pretty she is), and I’ve enjoyed seeing her relax a little bit on the glove or perch in the office – she’s particularly funny when she looks down and noticed a mouse on the glove or perch. She’s a picky eater – she likes the crunchy bits. She’s a pretty calm bird overall, though I love to watch her when something in particular gets her attention – and she’ll lean to one side, and crane her head around me to check something (or someone) out. We’ve discovered in the past couple of days that she seems to enjoy the rain – she has a choice of three perches in her enclosure, including one in a box that is sheltered -- but she seems to enjoy sitting out in the rain."
During the photo shoot
When this bird was brought out our jaws dropped at how striking she was. An absolutely beautiful bird, with what seemed to be just as good of a demeanor. She just sat right there and let me go to work, occasionally looking around to see what was going on, but never paid any mind to the flashes or my large lens pointed at her. A very well behaved little girl for sure.
I actually utilized 2 different photo setups for the photo shoot. We were outdoors in bright sun, so I need to find a spot as shady as possible while still keeping a nice woodsy background behind. I always shoot at a wide aperture because I want that shallow depth of field. The goal for having the two different setups was to get two different effects.
Photo setup 1: I used my Canon 7D and Canon 70-200mm IS f2.8 lens. I figured the birds may move slightly or a breeze may come so I want to have a nice high shutter speed to freeze the action. I had plenty of light so I went with 1000 for my shutter. I did want a shallow depth of field, but not so shallow that only an inch of the bird was in focus. Again, with plenty of light I decided to go with an aperture of 6.3. Since I did have plenty of light I went ahead and set my ISO to automatic. I noticed it hung right around the 2000 mark, so I was perfectly fine with that. The goal of this setup was natural light with the brownish woods blurred out behind the subject.
Photo setup 2: This setup was going to use the same equipment, but adding in 2 speedlights on tripods and some pocketwizard remote flash triggers. My goal with this setup was to now make the background as dark as I could and let the flash illuminate the subject. An advanced type of photography known as high speed sync. My flashes were all set to the ETTL setting to talk with my camera (I’ll go more into high speed sync and what it does in a later post), and my 7D was now at the following settings: ISO 400, F3.5, shutter of 4000(blocks out the light). It produced exactly the look and feel that I wanted.
To make things a bit easier for me, I quickly set each photo setup’s camera settings into a custom program so I could switch back and forth throughout the shoot, as I saw fit. It worked like a charm.
All in all, everything about the shoot went great, and we had a blast! I’d like to extend another thank you to both Amanda and Raina at the Wildlife Center of Virginia for being so accommodating and helpful during the session. We got some great photos, some of which you’ll be seeing on their website.
Please make sure you view all of the photos from this shoot at my Wildlife Print site.
Information about Barred Owls
Scientific Name: Strix varia
Identification: The Barred Owl is a medium-sized, dark-eyed owl. Mostly gray-brown in color, Barred Owls have a brown barred pattern on their chest and belly.
Length: 17-24 inches
Weight: 0.7-1.1 pounds
Wingspan: 38-45 inches
Lifespan: 10-15 years in the wild
Vocalizations: The Barred Owl has an easily-recognized hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”
Habitat: Barred Owls are found throughout the eastern half of North America and from Canada south to Honduras. Their preferred habitat is old woods that have a clear understory. The wooded area is usually near a lake, stream, swamp, or marsh area.
Diet: Like most raptors, Barred Owls mainly prey upon small mammals such as mice and rats. They also eat songbirds, grouse, fish, insects, bats and amphibians. When hunting they usually perch in a tree and listen for prey. They may also fly through heavy tangles of woodlands or swamps, flushing potential prey into the open. This species of owl may also walk in knee-deep water snatching bite-size fish with its talons.
Young: Barred Owls nest in an abandoned hawk nest or natural cavity, often returning to the same site each year. The female lays 2-3 white eggs, which she incubates for 28-33 days. The young begin to fly 12-15 weeks after they hatch and become independent in late summer.