This image of a northern pygmy owl calling to its mate from a woodpecker hole in a quaking aspen tree took just a fraction of a second to make.
For wildlife photographer Paul Bannick, however, it took days of careful tracking, observation of avian behavior and infinite patience to capture the moment. After traipsing through the still-snowy woods last spring in the south-central Washington Cascades, he heard an owl call, so he gave a response. Then a second owl joined in.
"After that, I listened and watched, not wanting to disturb the couple," he recalls.
After observing the pair for a few days, Bannick saw a fist-size female fly into a hole made by a hairy woodpecker, indicating acceptance of the cavity as a new nest. Bannick crouched about 15 feet away behind a tree, balancing his Canon 1D MKII and 600mm lens on a log, and waited.
By late afternoon, as the light was fading, the tiny owl poked her head out; she was in mid-hoot when Bannick snapped the shutter. The picture, he says, was particularly satisfying because nests for the elusive northern pygmy – the third-smallest owl in North America – are rarely found, much less seen occupied.
In October of this year, the image will appear in Bannick's new book, "The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds" (Mountaineers Books). Since 2006, Bannick has been documenting all types of these birds across the continent, and was intrigued by how some owl species rely on abandoned woodpecker holes to make their own nests.
"I found that for every unique habitat, there's frequently a type of owl that represents it, and also the problems that they face," Bannick explains. "Since more than half of the owls in North America depend on woodpeckers, it seemed like a natural fit to focus on how these two iconic species are interrelated."
Since his childhood in Bellevue, Wash., Bannick has harbored a love for the environment and a passion for its conservation. He established a successful career in the software industry, working for 15 years at companies such as Aldus, Adobe Systems and Microsoft, but also nurtured a hobby as a photographer and is largely self-taught.
Today, as director of development for the nonprofit Conservation Northwest (conservationnw.org), the Seattle-based shooter has merged two of his main interests, using photography as a tool to raise awareness about the plight of threatened habitat.
For more of his work, visit paulbannick.com.