How to Capture a Saw-Whet Owl (and make it into a Children's Book)

"Yes, I see you."

Photo: Linda Gast
Photo: Linda Gast

"Get Your Camera!"

"I was afraid he would fly away before I could get a picture," saidphotographer Linda Gast. Her husband had called her to come outside and bring her camera.

"I knew it was an owl, but I didn't know what kind. I thought maybe it was a baby, because it was so small." As it turned out, the little Saw-Whet owl, no bigger than a soda can, was full size and willing to stay around and pose for more than two hours.

"I got tired before he did," she says. "I even went inside to get a different lens, while he waited for me to return." The tiny predator had been napping under the deck of her house, with a partly eaten mouse grasped firmly in its tiny talons.

The Gast's have lived in the wooded Sierra foothills just a few miles west of Yosemite National Park for several years.

They enjoy seeing animals and birds on their property frequently, but this one seemed to be something special.

On that late November afternoon the light was still good enough to reveal the variety of feather patterns and the range of owlish expressions typical of the species.

Another typical thing that she did not know about Saw-Whet Owls, at that time, was the tendency for this bird to stay put when faced with a possible threat-- rather than attract attention by flying away.

It's defense mechanism, aided by it's camouflage patterning, is to stay still and avoid drawing attention to itself. People often might approach quite close to this type of owl thinking that it is merely a pine cone on a branch.

This particular owl seemed to be a bit wary, since it still had most of its tasty prey still uneaten. The mouse head-- apparently the tastiest part-- usually disappears first.

"I got a mouse; You didn't"

from the book "So What, Saw Whet?"
from the book "So What, Saw Whet?" | Source

So What, Saw-Whet?

A set of remarkable photos....

The Saw-Whet owl is one of nineteen species of owl found in North America. It is more migratory than most, and ranges across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, preferring dense mixed forests.

In fact, recent studies and banding operations reveal that its range may be wider than earlier believed, because it is just so good at hiding.

In the eastern half of the US and Canada it is the smallest of the resident owls, while in the west, the pigmy owl is slightly smaller and the elf owl-- a resident of the Sonoran desert is mostly seen in a limited area.

When Gast downloaded her photos, she was pretty pleased with the results. She e-mailed a few of the best images to her writer friend, Rochelle Frank.

The two women had become aquainted while working as free-lancers for local publications during the previous two years. When Frank saw the beautiful photos she responded almost immediately. "This is a children's book!" she e-mailed to her friend, then set about to prove it by penning a few verses to start forming a story in dialogue.

As big as your shoe? Photos: Linda Gast
As big as your shoe? Photos: Linda Gast

"This is a children's book!"

"I just thought the pictures were so good, that they should be shared with a wider audience," says Frank who had always had a yen to write children's books.

Her writing experience had mostly been in the areas of personality profile features, and humorous columns, but several years as a classroom teacher had given her a wide exposure to children's books.

"I thought she must be crazy at first, but then I decided she must know how to do it or she wouldn't suggest it. The idea grew on me." says Gast. "Actually, I really like it now and I am excited about our next book."

Click the blue words to see how we published and marketed our owl book

More by this Author


Comments 24 comments

sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

Great hub. Lovely photographs. i really wish you success with your children's book.

thanks for sharing this with us.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

I am so envious of Linda Gast's good fortune to have had that little owl pose for her photographs! And, you know I love So What Saw Whet, it is a delightful book.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Sixtyorso:  Thank you. It has been a great experience-- perhaps we may break even this year monitarily, but we count our success in how many people have appreciated the book. We have kept our wholesale price minimum, which has given a lot of nature centers a chance to use it  as a fund raising item in their gift shops all across the  U.S and a few in Canada.

From the story, you can see it was one of those fortunate happenings.

And, Donna-- yes -- it was a stroke of luck. I truly appreciate your enthusiasm and the reviews and mentions you have given To "So What, Saw-Whet?"


Karen LaVelle profile image

Karen LaVelle 8 years ago from Texas

I think it is really nice to see how things were brought together to make such a creative effort possible! I also think it was wonderful that you two fulfilled the idea of the children's book. You could truly change some child's life because of the set of coincidences that brought you two to write the book. spirit guides? I don't believe in coincidences, per sai. But, I do believe we are directed when the time comes to share messages. I plan to purchase this book for my grandson for Christmas. Thank you! =o)


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

So adorable! I hope I'll be able to catch one someday!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Of course, she only caught it with a camera-- but that is the best way since owls (and most wild animals) are not really good pets.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Karen...

 We have had some wonderful feedback, and people have been very generous with sharing.

 one told us that an uncommunicative boy, about four years old, pointed to the picture and said "ow".. much to the astonishment of his teachers.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

This is the 2nd time I have read this hub. I'm a big fan of owls, though my experience with them is pretty limited. I have one (at least) living on my property, and it has been here for at least 10 years. I hear it often, but I can't find it. I have gone looking for the source of the call, but it goes silent whenever I get near. Then I saw a documentary that said the best way to approach one was to mimic their call, and that way you could get real close to one. It didn't work for me, but the neighbors did think I had gone nuts. Then I listened on the internet to the calls of owls that could be living in my area, but could not find the specific call (they didn't have every call) so no luck there either. Still, it facinates me and I like the idea of it being here. I call him Poindexter. Maybe one day I will see him/her.

Thanks for the hub! Good luck with your book. It sounds like a winner!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I can find you some links== you miht try owlpages.com.

 Saw whet owls have a monotonus call-- but the banders who try to trap them do use recorded  calls to attract them. I have heard the call of Great Horned owls in our  neck of the woods.-- Always a good thing to hear, we have plenty of rodents.

The book is still chugging along we are very close to break even point finantialy and still have stock... that's all we wanted for our primary goal.


thegreenerme profile image

thegreenerme 7 years ago

Hi Rochelle-

Great Pictures! and what a cute book. I am involved with a bird banding project here on the East Coast studying the migration patterns of these tiny yet magnificent owls. I have used an endless loop tape with Saw-Whet Owl calls numerous times and have had a great response rate. These owls have been found in areas which we least expected to find them-one of these areas turning into our best "traffic" site during migration time!

~Danielle


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I have read about everything I can find about thse owls-- and have seen several of the sites that show the banding process. Apparently they are more numerous than once thought-- they are just such good 'hiders', (and as cute as can be).


water 4 years ago

nice job. Was he cute?


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Very cute! All of them are, as far as I know.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I am a bird person, too. Nice article.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks for reading; glad you liked it.


Linda Compton profile image

Linda Compton 3 years ago from The Land of Enchantment

What a marvelous joint venture! Love the hub and the events which inspired it; just ordered the book! As I photographer I share the thrill, sense of wonder & privilege one feels when capturing images of wildlife. Thank you for your collaborative creativity!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Linda Compton. I appreciate your comments and your purchase.


Torrs13 profile image

Torrs13 2 years ago from California

I am a big fan of owls and I think it's awesome that you wrote a children's book about it! I really enjoyed reading your hub and will have to check out your book now that I know a little bit more about it.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you very much,Torrs13.


KarenHC profile image

KarenHC 2 years ago from U.S.

My grandson's birthday is coming up at the end of this month. "So What, Saw-Whet" sounds like it would be a book he'd enjoy as a gift :-) So....yep, I'm ordering it.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you very much KarenHC. I hope he likes it.


genius101 profile image

genius101 20 months ago from Kingston, Jamaica

nice hub, great job


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

hope your children books will sell well and good photo


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 20 months ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, peachpurple. Yes the photos were the inspiration.

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