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National Audubon Society highlights Minnesota photographer's wintry great gray owl video

The clip earned an honorable mention in the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards.

A Bemidji photographer's slow-motion clip of a great gray owl, alert on a branch during a thick snowfall, was highlighted this week by the National Audubon Society.

Brent Cizek's 30-second clip (watch it below) earned an honorable mention in the ornithological nonprofit's 2021 Audubon Photography Awards, which were revealed Wednesday.

Cizek, an avid wildlife photographer whose shot of a merganser with 76 ducklings in her care made international headlines a few years ago, said he took the great gray owl footage in mid-December, in Koochiching County.

He'd gone out around 7:30 a.m., and came across the "peaceful moment" a couple of hours later, he told Bring Me The News.

"Being able to shoot slow-mo was really what captured the snow moving and kind of made [the video] really special in my opinion," he said, noting he's never recorded video quite like this one before.

The great gray owl is North America's largest owl species, and is highly sought-after by many birders. The species lives in dense evergreen and fir forests, mostly in Canada. But the birds sometimes choose to spend the winters in northern Minnesota's boreal forests. 

Every year, birders itching for a glimpse of the mysterious great gray owl flock to Minnesota's Sax-Zim Bog, hoping to add it to their life list. They tend to be secretive, keeping to themselves, and often elude even dedicated birders.

"A lot of time goes into it, going around looking for them," Cizek said of traveling northern Minnesota's roads in search of a great gray.

Related: MN photographer captures remarkable pic of turtle sunning on common loon's back

While some can be quite skittish, departing at the mere sight of a human, the owl captured by Cizek in the video paid no attention to him, he said, even occasionally flying to perch on a sign he was standing near.

"And those moments to me are way more special, because the animal is ... putting its trust in you that you're not going to harm it," he said.

As for the honorable mention, Cizek said it's "really cool" to have other experts commend the work. Especially for a species he has really taken to.

"I enjoy a lot of other birds but there's nothing like a great gray owl," Cizek said. "I would much rather spend days looking for one and not seeing one, versus going out and looking for other birds."

You can see more of Cizek's work on his website.

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