Traveling Ted is a blog that takes readers along on my adventures hiking, canoeing, skiing, and international backpacking. Many blogs focus on one aspect of backpacking, but I tackle both the outdoor adventure side and international exploration as well.

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Birding has become a passion of mine that rivals hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing. One of my favorite groups of birds are owls. They are the most reclusive birds and therefore always a treat to see and photograph. They are also the most challenging to find and photograph. 

Snowy owl

Photographing an arctic snowy owl in Chicago was a pleasant November surprise

Searching for short-eared owls at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie 

Searching for owls takes a lot of patience and warm clothes are needed, especially in the winter. I went searching for short-eared owls at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Seeing an owl usually takes a lot of luck; however, seeing short-eared owls in the late fall and early winter is pretty easy. They tend to fly over prairies at dusk hunting mice. 

Related: Social distance hiking at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Subaru Midewin

Adventure starts at the parking lot and trailhead at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

adidas jackets

Staying warm looking for owls with adidas jackets and hoodie

Staying warm with adidas jackets 

The weather was windy, overcast, and 44 degrees. Birding sometimes requires sitting in one place, waiting for your subjects to arrive. With the possibility of sitting around in the cold, I knew I needed to stay warm, so I brought with me several layers of adidas men’s jackets. I brought with me an adidas hoodie, a track jacket, and a puffer jacket. 

Midewin Tallgrass Prairie photography

Scoping the horizon looking for short-eared owls

Success and failure birding short-eared owls 

After parking the car at the Iron Bridge parking lot, I proceeded to go hike the Group 63 Trail. The wind was brisk, so I was glad to have the puffer jacket, and immediately put it on. I peered over the horizon past the barbed wire that penned in the bison herd in to see the a medium sized bird flying low. I knew immediately it was a short-eared owl. 

Midewin winter

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a stark place in winter

I spent the next hour trying to position myself in a good spot to catch the owls flying overhead or get lucky and catch then landing. Unfortunately, on this day it never occurred. I continually saw one or two in the distance flying low over the prairie in a herky jerky manner, but I could not get a good shot. It was still a success seeing them in the first place. 

Midewin short-eared owl

I need to work on my low light photography skills. This would be a good painting, but terrible bird photography

Snowy owl spotted in November 

Earlier in the fall, I lucked out catching a snowy owl at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. It is rare to see these visitors from the arctic, especially when there is no snow on the ground, but here was one in Chicago in November. I hope this is a harbinger of a productive winter birding for owls. I definitely will be out again looking for short-eared and snowy owls.

Snowy owl Montrose Harbor

This snowy owl was much more cooperative

Owl tips

  • The ebird website is your friend. Check individual birding hot spots, and you can also check by species. 
  • Join Facebook birding groups. I saw pictures of the snowy owl on the Illinois Birding Network. 
  • Dusk and dawn are the best times to go, but keep your eyes open during the day too
  • Go to Africa. I saw three amazing owl sightings in Africa including my first ever barn owl.
  • Get some adidas jackets to stay warm.
barn owl Etosha National Park

First ever barn owl in Etosha National Park – Namibia, Africa

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