For me, the typical great horned owl setting is one sitting high up in a tree, roosting peacefully during the day. Although there are owl species which spend a lot of time on the ground I am not aware of the great horned owl being a ground oriented species. In fact, I can’t really recall me ever seeing one perched on the ground anywhere. They are always positioned high up, perched in a tree or even on a building or structure.
Another thing which is unusual for the great horned owl, in addition to sitting on the ground, is to be sitting on the ground in a marsh. I tend to think of great horned owls as a forest or a farmland species as these are the places I have always found them, including in my own backyard many times perched in one of my trees.
Yesterday, however, I visited the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to see what kinds of birds have started to migrate through now that old man winter isn’t too far off. I hadn’t gone halfway around the gravely auto tour route road when I spotted something sitting along the side of a small slough. I had to look twice before I convinced myself what I was seeing was a great horned owl sitting in some fragmite stubble.
Yes, indeed it was in fact a great horned owl. What was it doing here? Why was it sitting on the ground on the edge of a marshy waterway where egrets and herons tend to congregate? And why am I just admiring this powerful and majestic bird and not reaching for my camera? These were the questions which raced through my mind as I sat and watched the owl for a few minutes.
I quickly came to my senses and realized I needed to capture this moment as I may never again see a great horned owl sitting on the marsh floor. It’s not that there are never great horned owls on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge because in fact there is an active nest which seems to produce young each year. It’s just I have never seen one blending in a marsh setting like that before.