Owl Encounters / by Walter Kitundu

The young Great Horned Owls at Golden Gate park continue to amaze and delight visitors. Please be respectful of their space and comfort. None of these images were taken by encroaching on owls and making them uncomfortable. Many portraits show owls staring at the camera (like they might if they were alarmed), but these were just a few curious glances during what was un-manipulated natural behavior. Close-ups are made possible with a long lens, careful attention, and a bit of wonderful luck. I'm glad to be able to share such a thrilling set of encounters.

(above) An intense focus permeates every flight as they fixate on their destination.

Waiting out the daylight and watching the hillside for any signs of movement.

Spotting prey on the hillside behind me, the owl leaps into action.

Leaving to reunite with its siblings.

Slightly off kilter but still curious about a Downy Woodpecker foraging just above my head.

Even when preening owls stay on the alert.

Their flight skills are finally well honed - much more graceful with fewer clumsy landings.

Wind-blown, this owl glances down at me as we both listen to Red-tailed Hawks screaming in the sky above.

Perched with the reservoir beyond, a squirrel hopping over my feet attracts attention.

Cruising around the park in late afternoon light.

It still amazes me how silently they can float through the trees.

Plenty of toppled trees mean lots of places to perch and preen.

When they are comfortable they often look comical or curious rather than fierce, though they can revert to fierce in an instant.

Squirrels keep tempting fate. This one actually charged the owl causing it to lose balance.

Leaping into the air with authority.

*Bonus Behaviour: This young owl started grasping and plucking the nearby tree branch. Confusion? Vegetarianism? Actually I think it was just getting in little practice at plucking prey. I never actually saw it ingest leaves, just rip the branch to shreds.