2021—Unexpected Treat

Sometimes an unexpected event can change your plans, at least for an afternoon. Last week in Madera Canyon, AZ that happened. I was reviewing images from that morning’s hummingbird shoot when Moose knocked and told me to get outside with my longest lens and a tripod. In a couple of minutes I was out the door, gear balanced on my shoulder following Moose up Madera Canyon Road into the forest. Earlier that afternoon, the Northern Pygmy Owlets from the nest we’d heard about had begun to fledge and Moose and Sharon saw one fly to another branch so Moose hurried back to get us.

Shortly after we arrived, the fledgling flew off its branch and became entangled in a rusty piece of wire fencing low to the ground. It dangled upside down for several minutes. We worried that it had injured a wing but we were relieved when it managed to disentangle itself and flew, without problems, to the ground near a tree trunk. I knelt on the trail to photograph the owl on the ground from a few feet away. In a short time, it flew up to a nearby branch. We watched it there for two and a half hours as it sat on the same branch. Time seemed to fly by as it swiveled its head 360° watching us, calling to and watching for its nest mate, and calling to its parents for food. When it flew to a nearby clearing, we discovered its nest mate. We moved again when the parents arrived as they managed to gather the family together in one tree. Papa had brought a large lizard and we watched as it fed first one owlet then moved to another branch to feed the second one. Finally, papa left the remains of the lizard with the two owlets and flew to a nearby juniper. What an incredible afternoon.

It was an unexpected treat to see first the newly fledged owlet, then its nest mate and finally both parents feeding the young owls. We watched the Northern Pygmy Owl family for more than four hours but it didn’t seem that long. The next day we learned that a third owlet had fledged. Yes, indeed, an unexpected treat. And, I didn’t miss the afternoon hummingbird shoot at all.