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The beautiful Black-and-white Owl is a specialized nighttime predator of a variety of species of bats in Central and South American forests.

Of course, huge congregations of Mexican Free-tailed Bats attract a variety of opportunistic avian predators. The Bat Hawk and Bat Falcon are twilight bat hunters. However, during the hours of total darkness, the forests are the realm of menacing Black-and-white Owls.

It has a big round head, no ear tufts, and its pellets reveal its diet. They contain the bony remains of Mexican Fruit Bats, Black Myotis, Black Mastiff Bats, Wrinkle-faced Bats and Tent-making Bats.

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Given the choice of a roly-poly (Microtus) vole over a more slender mouse or speedy hare, Northern Hawk-owls prefer plump.

When the vole populations boom every 3-4 years in Canada, Russia or Scandanavia, a Hawk-owl pair can raise broods of up to 13 owlets.

If vole numbers are low, the Hawk-owls will hunt birds, however, they can themselves become the dinner of Great Horned Owls.

In the air, the long tails and relatively pointed wings of Northern Hawk-owls look more like an Accipiter such as a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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Some of Canada’s Great Gray Owls have moved south into Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The owls are seeking rodents in the frozen bogs, meadows and forest edges where the current daily low temperatures are as low as –25°F (–32°C).

Birding Ecotours started a 6-day tour north of Duluth, Minnesota on Jan. 11, 2016, to see up to 8 owl species and other winter birds. 

The annual Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival Feb. 12-14 near Meadowlands, Minnesota, is another great opportunity to see northern owls, Ruffed Grouse, woodpeckers, the Red-breasted Nuthatch, and many other birds. 

(Photo: Daniel James,


In these frigid conditions, binoculars may fog up when you bring them to your eyes – even if you hold your breath. “Fog-free” binoculars have internal seals and chambers filled with dry gas, and anti-fog lens coatings that work fairly well. But they can sometimes fog, too.

Anti-fog lens cleaners remove the moisture condensed on lenses, but the fog can reform quickly. Some birders use anti-fog cloths that snowmobilers use on their face shields. However, frequent use of such products can erode the manufacturer’s anti-fog coating. 

For U.S. birders with good equipment and warm clothes in the northern Great Lakes region, winter is a great time to see irruptions of northern owls. The Great Gray is the world’s largest owl by length – up to 33 inches (84 cm) – and their wingspan can approach 5 feet (1.5 m).


Seeing Great Grays in the U.S. Midwest and East Coast can be an indication of ecological difficulties up north. While global warming has led many bird species to extend their breeding ranges north by tens of kilometers, some land bird species in North America and Eurasia are breeding farther south. 

Scientists with the Finnish Environment Institute and Finnish Museum of Natural History studied the pattern of sightings of 27 northern land birds reported in Bird Atlas studies in 1974-79, 1986-89 and 2006-2010. In the journal Biological Conservation, they reported in 2014 that the ranges of 15 species moved north, 4 showed no change, and 8 species moved south at least 10 km (6 mi).

“The largest southwards shift was the Great Grey Owl,” the scientists reported. (The Brambling showed the largest northward shift.) Ecological models predict that the size of the breeding ranges (climate space) of the 27 bird species will shrink 74–84% in northern Europe by 2051–2080.


In winter, Great Gray Owls (Europeans and Asians call their subspecies the Great Grey Owl) watch and listen for signs of prey under the snow, if there is snow cover. They hunt from high perches in the northernmost belt of coniferous trees in the Northern Hemisphere. They hunt meadows, bogs and other open areas surrounded by trees.

Guided by excellent hearing, these owls are specialists at plunge-diving through as much as 2 feet (61 cm) of loose snow to seize small rodents. 

However, voles, the Great Gray’s chief prey, tend to be less plentiful in a warmer Arctic with less snow. Milder winters also have more freeze-thaws that result in layers of ice-crusts that deny Great Grays access to voles. The combination of these two trends may be pushing Great Gray Owls south in winter.

U.S. birders as far south as Long Island, New York, and Boone County, Iowa, have reported January sightings of Great Grays. It has a huge-looking head and a face with a pair of target-like circles of feathers with yellow bullseyes (actually owl eyes). 

“Had great looks and was able to observe for a long time,” eBirder Kayla Michael reported in March 1989. She saw her owl in Teton County Wyoming. However, there are few eBird reports of Great Gray Owls from year to year in the U.S.

Great Gray and Snowy owls and other northern owl species, routinely irrupt in winter far south of their normal breeding range. However, scientists say more Great Gray Owls are remaining in the south to breed. Such a change, they say, is a signal that something is amiss up north.


Scientists don’t understand all the ecological factors affecting Great Grays. Long-term monitoring studies have documented significantly reduced amplitude in the up and down 4-year cycles in vole populations, especially over the past 15 years. 

When vole numbers fall, the owls can’t move north where trees don’t grow, so they fly south. They are breeding in places like southeast Sweden, Belarus and other unprecedented areas.

“Rapid range extensions and population movements are so marked that they indicate a large-scale ecological change,” wrote Norwegian biologist Ivar Mysterud in the February 2016 issue of the journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research.

“The main cause underlying the Great Grey Owl’s [southern] distribution extension changes is presently unknown, and obviously deeper understanding of how climate change affects top trophic-level predators is vital,” Mysterud said.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, and study Great Gray Owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#owls #Canadabirds #binoculars #antifog #birds #birdingfestival #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtour #birdingguides #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature   

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Photographing owls requires preparation. Spectacular shots of beautiful owls are inspiring, but how do you capture one?

There are few, if any books on how to photograph owls. So I've listed 4 key areas to consider before you embark on this rewarding hobby.

Using the right camera, lens and flash, and being at the right place at the right time (or capitalizing on luck) are required. Passions for birds and bird photography are essential. 

Some owls, including Burrowing Owls, Snowy Owls and many northern owls hunt during the day. However, most owls are active only at night. They roost during the day in hidden, dimly lit places where nighttime photo techniques are required. 

(Photo: © Sparky Stensaas,, Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival)

For most bird photography, you don’t need a flash. However, freezing the wingbeats of hummingbirds require flash techniques. Owl photography almost always requires flash. 

There are Red-eyed Vireos, Doves, Bulbuls and Puffbacks. The right two-flash system won’t give you a Red-eyed Owl. (There is no such species.)

“If you add a second flash unit, it will help create three-dimensionality, giving depth both to the portrait and the scene,” wrote photographer Esther Beaton in her blog (


Jari Peltomäki occasionally finds Great Grey Owls hunting during winter days in Finland. 

“They only hunt out in open in full daylight when they are struggling to find enough food,” Peltomäki wrote in his blog ( “When the vole supply is plentiful, Great Grey Owls are usually hunting actively only during the nighttime.”

A great birding festival for bird photographers eager to see owls during daylight hours is the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival ( It’s held every February in northern Minnesota and features 8 owl species and many other birds.


In spring, summer and fall, spotting a roosting owl in daylight is often a matter of luck. If you’re not good at spotting owls or their nests, it helps to go with a pro. 

For nighttime shots, it’s recommended to set up a hide before sundown within sight of a previously discovered roosting spot or nest. (Of course, occupied nest boxes work nicely.) Your hide, or blind, should be one that is easy to set up. You may sit in your hide, or blind, for hours, so make sure its comfortable and has adequate roominess.

During the nesting season, some owl parents deliver several dozen rodents per night to hungry owlets. As owlets gain weight and demand more, parents may deliver rodents, birds, large insects, fish and other prey every few minutes. 

While you’re out, opportunities may occur to photograph other nocturnal species. If you stress an owl, stop what you’re doing and leave the area.

Here are 4 primary things to consider in any season:


It’s hard to argue against a Nikon or Canon, but there are other excellent brands. 

Many of the gorgeous images published on the Top Birding Tours website ( were shot with Nikons (D200, D700, D800, D3000, D3100 and E8700), Canons (EOS 1D Mark III & IV, 30D, 5D, 7D, and Rebel) and the Pentax K-5, Panasonic DMC-TZ50 and Sony DSC-H5.


You also will need a telephoto lens. Why? To fill the frame with feathers. I enjoy the work of wildlife photographer Kevin Loughlin, who also leads bird photography workshops in the field ( 

Loughlin once splurged on the Canon 200-400/4L with built-in 1.4x tele-converter. You can probably get by on a 400mm that doesn’t cost as much as my first new car. He suggests less-expensive alternatives to his workshop participants. I’ve listed some on my website (


Remember, the single flash is out. What’s the best two-flash setup? As Beaton notes, positioning two units offset from the camera illuminate the subject and create a nice 3-D effect. Having an assistant helps.

Illuminating half the forest with a flash is a waste of light and your time. Use focused flashes that match the focal range of your 400mm lens. You will need less wattage and the flash will recharge faster.

There are other techniques to backlight an owl for an even better shot, but you will want to master easy dives from the edge of the pool, before attempting back-flips off the high-dive.


Sounds set off any owl. A cough or rustle of a food wrapper can waste a long wait. 

For some owl photographers, a sudden hoot or shriek will startle them. With your heart racing, you may see your owl perched close-by and looking directly at you. Flashes charged. You’re ready to hit the shutter release: hopefully it is a quiet one. 

A note of caution: nesting owls will attack intruders. Consider protective headgear.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy owls, the better for the approximately 200 owl species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans. 

#owls #Nikon #Canon #binoculars #birds #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtour #birdingguides #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature  

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The Short-eared Owl is a sleek, lethal jet-fighter of a bird that uses unique, rarely seen aeronautical maneuvers in courtship displays.

In winter in North America, Short-eared Owls can be found throughout most of the U.S.

"My best bet for finding them is to locate a large grassland or cluster of grasslands, which is their preferred habitat," said expert U.S. birder Corey Lange. "I then drive the roads around the grasslands searching for the birds perched up on fence poles or flying around the area hunting. I have the best luck finding them around dusk and dawn."

More camouflaged than most owls, it hides in plain sight in brambles, bushes and piles of brush. It catches a wider variety of small prey than other owls, but the 1-pound (450 g) owl is itself occasionally eaten by Great Horned Owls, which are five times bigger. 

The smaller owl compensates by avoiding trees where bigger owls may be perching, and hunts mostly treeless areas instead. It hunts at night, but also during daylight and twilight when the bigger owls are inactive. (Marsh Hawks and gulls will occasionally harass Short-eared Owls during the day to make them drop their prey.)

Short-eared Owls prefer voles, but also eat small birds. They hunt them in tundra and marshes from Russia, Scandinavia and Scotland to Canada and Alaska. In winter in North America, they migrate south to grasslands and coastal salt marshes throughout the lower 48 U.S. states and Mexico. They often roost in groups of a dozen or more.

Short-eared subspecies are year-round residents of Cuba, Hawaii and the Falkland Islands. Another subspecies is the only owl that breeds on the Galapagos Islands. 

(Photo: Galapagos Short-eared Owl, Kevin Loughlin, Wildside Nature Tours)

They were once persecuted by bird lovers on Muskeget Island off the coast of Massachusetts for eating tern chicks. Short-eared Owls also eat Leach’s Storm-petrels on islands, seizing the seabirds on their nocturnal nest burrow visits. The pellets of a Short-eared Owl wintering on a marsh in San Diego Bay contained the remains of bats.

A birdwatcher at the Sand Lake Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in South Dakota watched seven male Pintails circle in a tight formation to repeatedly harass an airborne Short-eared Owl. The ducks forced the owl to continually swerve.

“This was repeated again and again for several minutes until owl and ducks disappeared behind a hill,” John Erickson wrote in The Auk.

Courting pairs of Short-eared Owls perform a sky-dancing flight display, a series of playful, high-speed turns, dives, circles and dips at low altitude. Courting owls (they are seasonally monogamous) emit 15-to-20 toot-toot-toot-toot-toots at the rate of four toots per second during higher altitude courtship flights.  

These unique owl flights can be watched in fading light with binoculars. Observers sometimes see the owls make shallow, U-shaped dives, during which they produce a sound like a small flag fluttering in the wind. 

A.D. Dubois described such “fluttering flag” dives in The Auk in 1924:

“When the owl began the short dive he brought his wings together beneath him, stretching them back posteriorly and striking them rapidly together with short clapping strokes,” Dubois said. “The dive ended simultaneously with the clapping, when the bird spread his wings, abruptly and noiselessly turning his course upward with a swoop. He seemed to be applauding his own aerial performance.”

Dubois didn’t mention if he also applauded, but he was obviously impressed.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Short-eared Owls, the better for those species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#owls #birds #birding #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography  #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtours #birdingguides #Canadabirds #Galapagos #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature

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As its name implies, the Boreal Owl was thought to breed only in northern Canada and Alaska in North America, but many have been found nesting farther south in the U.S.

Southeastern Manitoba remains one of the best areas in the continent to view them as well as the Great Gray, Great Horned and Snowy owls and the Northern Hawk-owl. Bared, Northern Saw-whet, and Short-eared owls and Eastern Screech-owls are also found in the Canadian province. 

(Photo: Eagle-Eye Tours)

In March, all the owls become more conspicuous as they begin courtship. Eagle-Eye Tours, a Canada-based birding tour company, leads a tour focused on owl photography in Manitoba during this active period.

The Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival, Feb. 12-14, 2016, in Meadowlands, Minnesota, is another terrific venue to see many owl species in one place.

Boreal Owls and other owl species “irrupt” from northern Canada south into Minnesota and southern Quebec about every four years. These irruptions occur when populations of their main prey species, the Red-backed Vole, crash up north.

Boreal Owls can be a challenge for birders to see. They prefer to roost in dense subalpine stands of conifers with few deciduous trees. Multiple pellets on the ground are good indicators of a roost.

Boreal Owls have a much wider breeding range south of Canada than most believed a few decades ago.

Beginning in the late-1980s, experienced birdwatchers and field biologists verified Boreal Owls nesting in subalpine forests as far south as northern New Mexico’s San Juan, Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains.  

Boreal Owl nesting and logging are mutually exclusive in every nesting habitat. 

The nesting pairs found in the U.S. are always in “islands” of mature fir, aspen and spruce in areas that had not burned or been logged in 100 years or more. When vole numbers peak, many male Boreal Owls become polygamous and mate with two or more females in adjoining territories.

Females nest in cavities created by Pileated Woodpeckers and other cavity-excavating birds high in trees, but not in areas where the trees are the same age.

The physics of sound has shaped the Boreal Owl’s head into a potent 3-D sound-location device. Researchers using laboratory experiments haven’t figured out exactly how night-hunting owls locate small rodents so efficiently. 

In winter, they use those skills in mature forests that shade the snow so it doesn’t form a sun-induced crust. They pounce on voles moving in tunnels under the soft snow. 

In summer they prefer forests with less vegetation on the ground to make locating prey easier. They perch on a limb, wait, listen, and fly a short distance to try again.

Their disproportionately wide head, asymmetrical ear openings, parabolic sound-reflecting facial feathers, and head movements all combine to enable them to pinpoint sounds made by small rodents, even under a thick layer of snow.

Even after prey is located, Boreal Owls patiently wait, attacking only after about 10 minutes, according to the Handbook of Birds of the World.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Boreal Owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#birds #birding #birdwatching #birdfestival #birdingfestivals #birdlovers #naturephotography #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdingtours #birdingguides #birds #Canadabirds #ecotourism #beautifulbirds #amazingplacestosee #beautiful_nature

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Northern Hawk-owls are Meadow Vole and Snowshoe Hare specialists of the Arctic and regular visitors to northern Minnesota during the annual Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival in February.

Given the choice of a roly-poly (Microtus) vole over a more slender vole, mouse or hare, the Hawk-owl prefers a plump vole. The more roly-poly, the better. When the vole populations boom every three to four years in the far north, Hawk-owls can raise broods of up eight to 13 owlets. 

When vole numbers crash in parts of northern Canada and Alaska (and parts of northern Europe and Russia), the Hawk-owls vanish, but sometimes irrupting in large numbers in northern U.S. states like Minnesota in search of prey. If vole numbers are low, they will hunt birds, however, they can themselves become the dinner of Great Horned Owls.

The Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival, Feb. 12-14, 2016, limits registration to 150 people, and local residents are also encouraged to attend evening programs. The morning field trips find Great Gray Owls hunting voles and mice along roads, and most buses stop at feeding stations in the hopes of seeing Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and possibly Gray Jays, Boreal Chickadees and Hoary Redpolls.

The Hawk-owls can sometimes be conspicuous while perched atop a snag. Their closest relatives are in the genus of Pygmy Owls. In the air, the long tails and relatively pointed wings of Northern Hawk-owls can be observed, which look more like a typical daytime Accipiter hawk such as a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The festival’s “Critters in the White Season” field trip will use a car caravan to look for mammals as well as birds. The leader is Larry Weber, a Minnesota Secondary Science Teacher of the Year in 1993 and the National Biology Teacher Association’s Middle School Life Science Teacher of the Year for 1998.

A field trip to Duluth will search for Snowy Owls and at the harbor will look for Thayer’s Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, and possibly Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Northern Hawk-owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

#birds   #birding   #birdwatching   #birdingfestival   #minnesotabirds   #owls   #naturephotography   #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography   #ornithology   #amazingbirds   #birdphotos   #birdingtrips   #ecotourism  

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Snowy Owls follow Arctic coastlines and ice floes, cross oceans and bays, and colonize over 36,000 islands and three Northern Hemisphere continents to hunt for lemmings and voles.

For ultimate birding where warm clothes and sturdy ships are required, follow the Snowy Owl on the Arctic’s Northwest Passage.

(Photo: Eagle-Eye Tours)
Antarctica, South Georgia and other Southern Ocean islands offer incredible summer wildlife spectacles of penguins, seabirds and marine mammals. Up north, birders, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts are dazzled on their travels across a vast belt of islands and ice and fish-rich oceans, bays and straits from Greenland across Canada’s 36,500-island Arctic Archipelago to Russia’s Far East.

This northern bucket-list region makes up for its lack of forests with a rich ocean ecology based on plankton and fish. The land-based ecology is supported by 1,700 kinds of low shrubs, sedges, reindeer mosses, liverworts and grasses.

Snowy Owls are found across the global Arctic. They cross oceans and follow Arctic coastlines, ice flows and other land and ice features. They hunt throughout the long days of the breeding season for lemmings and voles. When populations of those rodents crash, Snowy Owls turn to Arctic Hares, geese and other birds, and even fish.

As Snowy Owls and wildlife cruises traverse the Northwest Passage between Greenland and the Beaufort Sea, they pass noisy breeding colonies of gannets, murres, kittiwakes and many other fish-eating birds. 

In the pre-GPS millennium, Inuit inuksuit or stacks of rocks were the only seafaring guides on what later became known as the Northwest Passage. In this beautiful trackless region, the day-to-day path of a birding and wildlife expedition is where the ice allows.

One of the most experienced birding guides in the Arctic is Canada-based Eagle-Eye Tours. Its 17-day Intro to the Northwest Passage Tour in August 2016 will offer unforgettable views of Polar Bear, Musk Ox, whales as well as guillemots, murres and much more.

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy Snowy Owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and humans.

#birds   #birding   #birdwatching   #birdlovers   #naturephotography   #wildlifephotography   #birdphotography   #ornithology   #amazingbirds   #birdphotos   #birdingtours   #birdingcruise   #birdingguides   #Canadabirds   #Arcticbirds   #ecotourism   #owls   #seabirds  

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The Spectacled Owl is the largest, most feared owl of tropical old-growth forests from southern Mexico south to Argentina. At night in these forests, the Spectacled Owl becomes the equivalent of an eagle, the top nighttime avian predator. 

Weighing as much as 2.76 pounds (1.25 kg), this predator is a generalist, taking everything from beetles and crabs to rats, birds and rabbits. A Spectacled Owl killed and partially ate a Three-toed Sloth that is four times the owl’s weight. 

The owl can be locally common in Costa Rica. Indeed, they are commonly seen near the Finca Luna Nueva Lodge, a popular birdwatching lodge in Costa Rica.

When Brazilian conservationists release Blue-fronted Amazons into the wild that have been previously seizes by police from smugglers, Spectacled Owls prey on some of the freed parrots as they roost at night.

Spectacled Owls also have a taste for bats.

Bats habitually leave their roosts and return about the same times every day, and owls and other predators know the schedule. At these times, bats are easiest to catch. Spectacled Owls also readily help themselves to bats that have been mist-netted by bat researchers.

In January 2012, scientists watched a Spectacled Owl perched in a tree close to the roost of Greater Spear-nosed Bats. A drama unfolded in the tree near the Rio Ucayali in the Peruvian Amazon. 

Agitated by the owl’s presence, but emboldened by their superior numbers, several Greater Spear-nosed Bats flew toward the owl and began screeching, circling and swooping toward the predator. That was the first-ever observation of predator-mobbing behavior by bats. (This observation suggests that bats may routinely mob avian predators near their roosts.)

During the day, Spectacled Owls remain perched in one spot. Their white-rimmed facial disc and yellow eyes make them unmistakable. Experienced birding guides often spot them and know how to maneuver into position to take photographs. 

(Photo: Carlos Rodriguez, Finca Luna Nueva Lodge)

I believe that the more we watch, photograph, study and enjoy the Spectacled Owl, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

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#birding #birds #birdwatching #birdlovers #naturephotography #birdingtours #birdphotography #ornithology #amazingbirds #birdphotos #birdsgallery #birdingguides #threetoedsloth #birdwatchinglodge #CostaRicabirds #owls
#birdingsafaris #spectacledowl #batpredation #oldgrowthforest

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The uniquely feathered Black-and-white Owl has specialized as a canopy predator of animals that fly rather rodents that scurry on the ground. It eats bats and birds, and and nearly all of its regurgitated pellets contained indigestible parts of insects.

The rapidly zig-zagging flight of fruit-eating bats of Neotropical forests is a strong defense against predators. However, Black-and-white Owls have evolved ways to catch bats flying around fruit trees or exiting their caves. The owls even catch bats attracted to artificial lights.

“The diversity of bat life styles preyed upon suggests different capture strategies and a specialization in the predation on bats,” wrote Spanish and Venezuelan researchers in The Condor. 

This owl species with a big round head and no ear tufts is popular among birders in Mexico and Central and South America. It eats much more than bats. The owls’ pellets found under roosting sites typically contain

The wide variety of hair, small bones and insect cuticle in its pellets indicate that it is a flexible hunter. 

Black-and-white Owls and their close relative, the Black-banded Owl, have only one egg per clutch laid directly on epiphytes rather than in a tree cavity or a large stick nest. 

(Photo: Adrian Binns)

Birding trips to southern Mexico are excellent opportunities to look for Black-and-white Owls. Wildside Nature Tours leads an annual trip to Veracruz to witness the fall migration of millions of individual raptors and the owl is a delightful species to seek during those trips. 

VeraCruz Hawkwatch Birding Tour – Oct. 2-14, 2015:

I believe that the more that people spend watching, studying, enjoying and photographing Black-and-white Owls, the better for the species, all birds, all wildlife and all humans.

Wildside Nature Tours Calendar:
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