9 Jun 2020

A Morning in Sweden

Morning glow in Sweden © HIH Princess Takamado
Morning glow in Sweden © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, June, 2020

Click here to view pdf

Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko, Ueno Naohiro)

Birds in the owl family are popular not only among children but also adults: their ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees, as well as their resemblance to Russian nesting dolls, matryoshkas, seems to attract everybody. In fact we humans tend to feel a sense of affinity to owls, because they have forward-facing eyes like ours. This time I would like to show you the photos of Great Grey Owls Strix nebulosa, which I finally succeeded in taking in Sweden.

I have wanted to see a Great Grey Owl ever since my youth. A few years ago when I visited Sweden I made an attempt to see them, but could not get a chance. Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Dementia Forum in Sweden, where I made another attempt. And so, at 3:30 am in the beautiful dawn glow, filled with expectation, we headed for a forest some 30 kilometres north-northwest of Västerås. The wood consisted of trees at least 60 years old, mixed with trees 20 years old or younger, and some areas were thinned. Our guide explained that this was a typical recent woodland habitat, different from the ancient forests.

Despite its large face and body, the Great Grey Owl camouflaged itself so completely that at first I could not recognize it, even when the guide pointed it to me: “Over there”. Its plumage looked like the tree bark, and its face, round and striped like a baumkuchen cake, was to me little more than a blur.

A Great Grey Owl © HIH Princess Takamado

After observing the bird with binoculars and telescopes for almost two hours, we enjoyed a light breakfast sitting on stumps. We only took about 40 minutes, during which time the Great Grey Owl must have been watching us. When we started moving again, it looked less alert than before. The accompanying expert birder said that it would be all right to photograph it more closely, as the owl had got accustomed to our presence, and he guided us to a stunning vantage point closer to the bird. After a short period of time, the Great Grey Owl came closer to us by itself, watching us inquisitively and flying among the trees. In the end, it even put on a hunting display right in front of our eyes. 

“The early bird catches the worm” is an English proverb inspired by birds’ tendency to start action early in the morning. I often find it an equally true motto for for birdwatching. Our first encounter that morning had been an Elk mother and calf. They watched us wonderingly for a while, and then wandered away at a leisurely pace.

Witnessing the Great Grey Owl and the Elk coexisting with humans who keep a careful distance, I felt an indescribable comfort. The Earth is not only for the human beings: its richness is supported by numerous living creatures in nature. How to co-exist with them is our most fundamental priority for the future. It was a very precious morning in Sweden, inspiring various musings on nature.

A Great Grey Owl looks like a bur from a distance. © HIH Princess Takamado