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How to Capture a Saw-Whet Owl (and make it into a Children's Book)
"Yes, I see you."
"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"
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.
"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