One late November morning in 2011, I was birding by myself around Greenfield Lake, in Wilmington, NC. It was early, not long after sunrise, and the lake was one of my favorite spots to watch the sun come up. There was a beautiful day breaking, and I was more just enjoying the quiet than actually birding, really.

I was walking through a small field adjoining the lake, head down watching my feet, and just listening to the surrounding woods awaken, when something brushed by my head, silent as the grave. Whatever it was, I felt it more than heard it. I looked up just in time to see a large bird swoop up and perch in a tree at the edge of the treeline. Startled, it took me several moments to get the camera up and pointed and fixed on the bird, and I only got a couple of frames off, badly underexposed in my haste, before the bird was gone. I wasn’t even sure what it was until I was home later, processing the shots.

This was the best of them. I was both excited about the Barred Owl and disappointed in the shot.

Wilmington, NC, 2011

The Barred Owl was new for my life-lists, and the first owl of any species I’d ever seen in the wild. I really wished I’d gotten a better shot.

In the ensuing years of my birding career, I added many species of birds to my lists, including some great shots of a Great Horned Owl in 2016.

Carolina Beach, NC, 2016

…and some cute shots of some Eastern Screech-Owls in 2013.

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Carolina Beach, NC, 2013 July 27

But though I heard plenty, and got glimpses of a few in the dark, I never got another shot of a Barred Owl. That finally changed last Saturday.

I was taking my partner Gretchen out on our first real, dedicated, actual birding adventure together. We’d done a brief foray into Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado last year while we were both there, but that was fairly short and as much to see the park as to go birding, and my back wasn’t in great shape, and time was limited, and etc etc.

But last week we planned ahead, got up early just for the purpose, loaded up some gear, and headed to Discovery Park, here in Seattle. Among the more common birds like American Crows and American Robins, we got some pretty looks at a Great Blue Heron, a couple of Osprey, and a Bald Eagle who posed like he was ready for his portrait on a quarter.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Discovery Park, Seattle, WA, 2020 July 11

But the biggest treat of the day waited for near the very end of the excursion. As we were walking along a back trail, conversing quietly and heading back to the car, this Barred Owl rushed right across our path and perched in a tree maybe ten meters off the side of the trail. I popped off a couple of shots, then moved a little closer to take a couple more, and got several of the owl giving a coy, over-the-shoulder, come-hither gaze.

Seattle, WA, 2020

First that way, then this, making sure I got his good side, I suppose.

Seattle, WA, 2020

And though the closer shots are, well, closer, I think I just like the framing and lighting best in one of the earlier shots. It’s my favorite, for sure.

Seattle, WA, 2020

I wrenched the holy crap out of my back the next day, and I’ve been on my cane ever since. A visit to my new doctor here in Seattle and some modern chemistry coupled with rest has it healing, but it’ll probably still be a bit before I can get back out birding again.

I’ve added a few new birds to my life-lists since I’ve gotten to Seattle, and I’m looking forward to oh so many more, but one thing is for certain – Seattle is definitely giving me some lovely new photos of birds already on my lists.