Q & A: Great Gray Owls and Birding at Whitefish Point

Great Gray Owl, Whitefish Point, Michigan's U.P.

Great Gray Owl, Whitefish Point, Michigan’s U.P.

My photo of a Great Gray Owl and the story behind the photo inspired the e-mail question below. My answer follows, along with some additional information, visuals, and links.

Q: We would like to come see the great gray owl (and others) but can’t get there until the 6th of May. Will they be gone by then do you think? Thanks for your help.

A:  It’s hard to say since the appearance of a particular species, especially the less common species, is somewhat unpredictable.

Historical observation data in the list below (extracted from a much longer list at eBird) indicates most sightings of Great Gray Owls occur in mid-April and taper off through the rest of the month. Sightings occur much less often in early May and then the Great Gray Owl season is pretty much over at Whitefish Point.  I photographed the above owl on April 27 as the Great Gray Owl season was tapering down.

Bird observations by month at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

Bird observations by month at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory

So the odds of spotting a Great Gray Owl are less likely than if you could be there in mid-April. But you never know! The occasional bird shows up when the season is supposedly over.  Even if you don’t see a Great Gray Owl, Whitefish Point will still be well worth the trip with lots of other birds to see. Although the Great Gray owl season will be over, the spring migration season at Whitefish Point hits its peak in mid-May.

The Whitefish Point Bird Observatory has an online map of recent bird sightings in Michigan, followed by a species list (with rare birds listed first), date of sighting, and location. Here’s a screen capture of today’s map.

Recent bird sightings in Michigan

Recent bird sightings in Michigan

Keep an eye on the map at the above link as you get closer to your trip date.

Point Pelee National Park

In mid May, Point Pelee N.P. in Canada (about an hour southeast of Detroit Michigan) is one of the 5 best places in North America for birding and bird photography.  If your travel plans will allow it, by all means head for Point Pelee when you leave Whitefish Point. More information here.


You can order a print of the above photo at JimDoty.Zenfolio.com in the Wildlife gallery.

The story behind my photo of the Great Gray Owl along with some photography suggestions.

Information on birding at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory from the Michigan DNR.

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory Web site.

Whitefish Point bird observation data from eBird.

Online map of recent bird sightings in Michigan.

eBird has a wealth of information for bird watchers. You can choose a country, a state, a county, and a specific birding hotspot and look at bird observation data. You can also find range and point maps and line graphs by species and occurrence.  Start here.

Finding, Approaching and Photographing Wildlife

It is one thing to find a Great Gray Owl and another thing to get close enough to capture a great photo (I was 10 feet from the owl when I took the above photo). There is a chapter on finding, approaching, and photographing wildlife in my highly rated book, Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies. The owl above was partly in bright sunlight and partly in the shade. The only way to get a decent photo was to combine a careful ambient exposure for sunlit portion of the owl with just the right amount of fill flash f0r the shade. My book had detailed information on exposure and how to combine ambient light with flash. You can read more here and buy the book here.

More information on finding wildlife.

The best books for bird, wildlife, and nature photographers

Wildlife location guides.

How to Photograph Birds by Larry West. If you a beginner at bird photography, read this excellent book by Larry West. This is one the excellent series of books from Stackpole for wildlife and nature photographers. Some of Stackpole’s books have been published recently while some of the older books (like the one by Larry West) are getting hard to find.  Grab them while you can.

The Art of Bird Photography by Arthur Morris. This book is for the more advanced bird photographer.

How to photograph nature, landscapes, and wildlife.