Golden Gate Park Owls

The four young Great Horned Owls of Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake are on the verge of dispersing. They have been the darlings of bird watchers and photographers for the last few months. Now capable of catching their own rats (the squirrels seem too elusive for the moment), they are becoming competition for their parents and will eventually leave or be escorted from the area. I haven’t been out to see them much this season but I did spend an evening with them last week.

Owls often look fierce but this one just looks frustrated. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time it has been tormented by the squirrels.

Stretching in the early evening light, the owls prepare for nightfall.

This youngster stays tucked in the longest. Perhaps it had a mid-day meal and is in less of a hurry to hunt. Below, one of its sibling has other ideas.

Success! An almost casual hop into the grass produced a large rat. After making quick work of its meal, the owl settled in for a rest (below).

The squirrels were pressing their luck and tried to sneak down the trunk past the resting owls. The result was this lunging dive straight down the trunk in an attempt to pluck the squirrel off the tree. You can see it escaping down the right side of the trunk.

Having missed its target, the owl pulls out of its dive and, while I’m not one to anthropomorphize, I sense frustration.

This is the same evasive little squirrel. As comfortable with people as with owls I guess.

It really is wonderful to get the chance to see them at close range. There is something to be said for urban birding. The close quarters brings its own challenges but also creates a familiarity/comfort that is hard to find among birds in far flung wilder places. I guess this reverts once you get so far away that lack of exposure brings a comfort aided by ignorance (i.e. the Dodo).

In the dying light I managed this shot of one of the owls rejoining its siblings. They were now very active and calling from all over the hillside but with no light and a long commute I called it a night.

Bonus Bird: Things often happen when you are waiting for birds to do something interesting. This little Downy Woodpecker landed about four feet from me while I was watching a motionless owl. It flitted about for two minutes softly tapping the branch and then jumped into a cavity to roost for the night. While this was going on, the motionless owl executed a beautiful full-body wing stretch that I could only watch from the corner of my eye, my camera settings having been changed to accommodate the woodpecker. A lesson learned…


98 responses

  1. MRS

    Thanks for sharing these fantastic pictures! I enjoyed your narrative, too.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:47 am

  2. Amazing photographs! How did you get them all? You must be an incredibly patient person.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:52 am

  3. wow… word come to mind when i looked at your photos… Perfect!!

    August 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

  4. Great photos! My favorite is the squirrel 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 9:07 am

  5. Great photos!

    August 4, 2011 at 9:14 am

  6. Will Bailey

    Incredible photos. Thanks for sharing. Only one question remains: what disguise do you use? Owl or squirrel?

    August 4, 2011 at 9:36 am

  7. Gracie

    Great photos! Congrats on being FP!

    August 4, 2011 at 9:44 am

  8. Owls are so cool and mysterious — beautiful birds, and stunning photos! 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

  9. owls out during the day?? so weird!!!!

    August 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

  10. Terrific photos. I can see why this post is Freshly Pressed.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

  11. Erica Elan Nelson

    Nice photos

    August 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

  12. Wow, these are really amazing. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:01 am

  13. I love your pictures. Owls are wonderful creatures!

    August 4, 2011 at 10:13 am

  14. Love the photos!

    August 4, 2011 at 10:22 am

  15. These are beautiful. I’m a big fan of owls — all birds, really. I’ve slowly been compiling a list of the ones my partner and I have come across on our various hikes in state parks and walks about town. They’re amazing creatures — thanks for the photos.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

  16. Hugo Sam

    son fotos sumamente hermosas, desde ahora te sigo a donde vayas. . saludos desde honduras.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

  17. Amazing photos – I can say I have not seen a pic of an owl stretching its wing – cool. I find birds interesting – mainly watch hawks, magpies and quails where I live – the quails do some funny things at times. Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being FP!

    August 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

  18. Love the owl pictures. Thank you.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:01 am


    August 4, 2011 at 11:07 am

  20. ciao

    August 4, 2011 at 11:07 am

  21. What a beautiful series! Owls + squirrels, what could be better!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

  22. Here in the southern Maine woods we can hear Barred Owls calling to each other all through the night. I wish I were as good with a camera as you. Great photos, thanks for sharing!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:18 am

  23. Beautiful capture!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:35 am

  24. están buenísimas las fotos re impactantes , muy naturales , la verdad las fotos me gustaron muchos y el relato acompañado a ellas lo hizo a esto mucho mas interesante.
    Gracias por compartir estas fabulosas imágenes 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 11:39 am

  25. You took absolutely amazing photos! They portray amazing details and color; if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of camera did you use/settings? I love the information you provided as well. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing! 😀

    August 4, 2011 at 11:57 am

  26. Wow! What a beautiful shot. Even though I am not a fun of owls I think your photographs of them are quite commendable 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm

  27. inkspeare

    What a treat! So Beautiful; I love owls.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  28. Owls have such a mystical manner. It would be a joy to sit with your camera poised, breathing so softly, becoming your lens. The light was kind to you and well used. We have an owl that calls outside the bedroom window often. But I have never seen him. He is a night owl. And I am not. Thank you, I will visit again. c

    August 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

  29. These pictures are incredible!

    August 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm

  30. Love these photos! Beautiful and inspiring. Thanks for sharing your talent and your passion.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm

  31. AMAZING photos! Incredible that you captured the image of the squirrel racing down the tree with the owl starting a dive bomb attack at it. Your enjoyment of watching these owls was clear, so thanks for sharing your experience and your great photos.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  32. What amazing shots!! I absolutely love owls–they’re a symbol of Greece, where I just lived for ten months–and you did an incredible job of capturing them in all their ferocity and beauty. Well done!

    August 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

  33. The owl photographs are so captivating! Great post.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  34. Adorable animals! (Great expressions on their faces too). I can never get pictures from that close. things just run (fly) away when I point a camera at them.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

  35. Magnificent Photos!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

  36. James R. Harris

    These pics and captions are really nice. Too bad there’s no twitter button. I wanted to share this, but I don’t like fb (hoping google+ catches on). I’m in the Bay area, and I love owls (and photography). Sorry for all the parenthetical phrases (bad habit). Keep up the good work!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    • Twitter sharing remedied. Thanks for the comment.

      August 5, 2011 at 10:09 am

  37. it’s beatiful naturally…

    August 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm

  38. Very nice pix. Congratulations!

    August 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  39. Amazing pictures. I had no ideas that Stow Lake was home to Owls. I have totally missed that on my last visit.
    The pictures are stunning. Great way to tell the story of the Owls.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  40. Great pictures, very inspiring.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  41. davidegravato

    Incredible photos… Beautifull owls…

    August 4, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  42. I saw them in person when they were two months younger! I have neither the skill nor a proper camera to capture them digitally like you have done, nice work!

    August 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

  43. Ha! Harry Potter. 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  44. Beautiful. Owls are amazing!

    August 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm

  45. These photos are truly amazing!

    August 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  46. Aww, I love owls! ^-^

    August 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm

  47. beatiful pictures!

    August 4, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  48. Excellent phtographs, but your story and writings are just as good. Thank you so much.


    August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

  49. Very nice pix.Even though I am not a fun of owls I think your photographs of them are quite commendable

    August 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm

  50. Awesome post! Love the photos, and that’s funny about the squirrels.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm

  51. Great photos! I’ve always found owls to be beautiful.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm

  52. Karya hari ini

    Very beautiful. Nice narrative too. Keep posting 🙂

    August 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm

  53. Fantastic pictures! Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. A few years back I had the opportunity to work with these amazing owls and other birds of prey. I volunteered at the Carolina Raptor in Charlotte and it was a wonderful experience helping injured and orphaned birds of prey. They can be quite intimidating up close. Great post!

    August 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm

  54. The second from the last photo is my favorite, with the owl in flight. Beautiful pictures!

    August 4, 2011 at 6:03 pm

  55. Dee

    GREAT ! AMAZING Photo ! especially when the owl dives… It’s just a milisecond moment to capture…

    August 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  56. abi

    nice pix i ❤ owls

    August 4, 2011 at 7:22 pm

  57. Awesome Pictures! I love Owls!

    August 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm

  58. I so enjoyed this post and your amazing photos! Thanks!!

    August 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm

  59. Wonderful shots, thank you.

    August 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

  60. beautiful ,i love the bird,and the photo are professional too!

    August 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm

  61. Secrets to wildlife shots revealed please!

    August 4, 2011 at 8:54 pm

  62. Beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing! -Melissa

    August 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm

  63. Incredible photos! Owls are beautiful creatures and you really captured them well. I also quite enjoy the close-up of the squirrel!

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    August 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  64. owls are mysterious in my mind. so surprised to see soooo clear pics about them on this post.

    thanks for sharing.

    August 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm

  65. fionaqiqi

    i love owls…

    August 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm

  66. Thanks for sharing, I’ve never seen one before.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:06 pm

  67. Wow, the pictures are great!! I want to know how did you take these pictures, such as the owl is flying or diving!! You are a great photographer!!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:34 pm

  68. simply awesome!

    August 4, 2011 at 11:54 pm

  69. Beautiful. Static owls always appear slightly sleepy to me. Thank you for the active shots as well.

    August 5, 2011 at 12:34 am

  70. Marie! Marie!

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos! I love owls!

    August 5, 2011 at 1:14 am

  71. What stunning photos! Can’t wait to show this to my three-year-old, who will love it. Thanks.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:20 am

  72. they are so cute!

    August 5, 2011 at 1:38 am

  73. Wow! How lucky to have owls so accessible! I really liked your pics, and enjoyed the narrative. Wonderful post.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:49 am

  74. sruja

    Beautiful pictures ! Thanks for sharing the sequence, it’s amazing!

    August 5, 2011 at 2:04 am

  75. Beautiful!

    August 5, 2011 at 2:05 am

  76. awesome! thank You..

    August 5, 2011 at 3:34 am

  77. Great post about one of my favourite birds

    August 5, 2011 at 4:47 am

  78. love these pictures! such young healty birds!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:18 am

  79. Very nice pictures.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:20 am

  80. sincerelyjoshua24

    great shots! love the post

    August 5, 2011 at 5:27 am

  81. bmplefour

    YOU ARE VERY GOOD. Fantastic photo.

    August 5, 2011 at 5:55 am

  82. Beautiful pic of the owl flying at the camera!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:55 am

  83. Owls are phenomenal creatures. They are truly, the cats of the sky!

    August 5, 2011 at 5:57 am

  84. makersidiom

    Great pictures! Such fascinating animals.

    August 5, 2011 at 6:26 am

  85. Whitney

    Great pictures! Thanks for sharing.

    August 5, 2011 at 6:48 am

  86. Wonderful photos! and in one of my favorite places in the world. This past spring I kept seeing an owl in the park where i walk my dogs. He’s big–a barred owl– and really loud. It seemed that I never had my camera when I would see him, but I finally got a picture of him. It was worth waiting for, although it was taken w/ a point & shoot & it isn’t nearly as nice as your photos. R\I really enjoyed this essay!

    August 5, 2011 at 8:24 am

  87. Beautiful photos of these awesome birds! Thank you for sharing.

    August 5, 2011 at 9:56 am

  88. It must be a really gorgeous park. I’ve never had a chance to visit it on my trips to SanFran. Great shots

    August 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm

  89. Mia

    nice photos!
    very professional~

    August 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

  90. This is a very powerful reflection of the power of mother nature. I’m completely impressed by how you have captured the wisdom of the owl. Thank you for sharing.

    August 8, 2011 at 7:35 am

  91. Wow, great photos! I used to live in the Mojave area in S. California and we had some great horned owls there too… usually only saw them at night when they were making targets of stray cats, though. It’s amazing the places that these birds decide to call home… though I was always happier to see them than to see mountain lions. 😀

    August 8, 2011 at 11:18 am

  92. Amazing pictures! I love owls. Theyre such beautiful creatures.

    August 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

  93. Absolutely gorgeous shots! Owls are my favorite animals.
    very very beautiful creatures.

    August 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm

  94. great photos! love the one with the squirrel.

    August 9, 2011 at 9:29 am

  95. These are gorgeous photographs. I had to look at them again and again. I can’t believe you got the sinews of the mouse in the owl’s mouth.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm

  96. Sue

    Wow… The owls look so camouflaged, I have probably walked by 100 of them hiking in the forest and haven’t even realized they were there, very beautiful.

    October 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

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