Friday, April 1, 2011

The Hoot Owl

Southern Californian, Robert Bemus, has a unique and refreshing writing style that works perfectly with his story, "The Hoot Owl."  I think we've all had a similar experience; I know I, personally, flushed with embarrassment as I recalled one of mine! I'll think you'll appreciate this tale on April Fools' Day too!

Along with the photos that accompany the story, we've included a sampling of some of Robert's outstanding photographic work, for your enjoyment.


I'd love to know what you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below or email me with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog. If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you!

By the way, you may get a better view of the photos and the text if you enlarge your browser screen.


Michelle Alton



On a cool, crisp and clear January evening in 2004, I made my way up to the school. From the elevated viewpoint of the campus I was certain to get some great night shots of all the sprawling metropolis we know (and love) as the OC--as in Orange County, California. The '949' {the telephone area code for central and southern Orange County} to the initiated like me. Homeland of the beautiful people.

I had owned my Canon Rebel DSLR for about three months by now and was well past the 'shutterbug' stage of shooting anything animate, inanimate or dead. I wasn't just taking pictures. With each click of the shutter there emerged not just a photo but a visual interpretation, a social commentary of life as I saw it...a tour de force of composition, light and soul.

I pulled into the driveway and parked. Always an adventure when I shoot. Up in this deserted reach of pavement there could be coyotes...Cougars...mountain lions...rabid squirrels...Newport Beach policemen. I took a deep breath and proceeded to unload my gear. I walked across the deserted football field with the sure stride of someone who has taken a prodigious 1500 shots in just three brief months. Amazing.

When I got to the viewpoint I set up my gear for THE shot. I had the aforementioned camera. I had the tripod. I had the Canon 75-300mm lens with Image Stabilization. Last but not least, I had the one gadget that set me apart from the rest of the yammering herd and cast me in the Zen-like aura of a Serious Lens man-- I had the cable release mechanism.

So I've got the camera mounted and locked into position. I've zoomed in on the subject. I’m wondering what the 'Av' and 'Tv' mean on the dial. Screw it. I'll learn that stuff later. For now just set the dial to 'B', mash the cable release button and feel the shot into existence. Almost a birthing experience. Like a mother before she squishes out a bouncing baby whatever except there is no pain here...only inspiration. There. That should be long enough. Wait for the camera to write to the card...and...look at that...beautiful. I love that searing yellow glare caused by the city lights...I'll call this shot, Tungsten Fire. Or Nookular OC.

Nookular OC

I took a few more shots and then checked over my shoulder to make sure no other creatures of the night had crept up behind me. Hmmm. Look at that school building. Architectural Digest would want a shot of that. I turned the tripod around to capture the edifice and snapped a few more masterpieces. What's this? There in the viewfinder...what is that? It can't be. I reason for a moment. I have lived in Southern California most of my life. I have never seen an owl. Therefore, there are no owls in Southern California...but there it is still as a statue and perched on the roof.

A Study of Architecture and Nature

And there I was knowing that I had found myself in the moment they can't teach you in Photography School, the moment that neither money nor political influence can buy, the moment of being in the right place at the right time. As if the heavens had opened up, the angelic host sang in F sharp major and God Hisself smiled down and said, "You got the gear. You got the goods...Go ahead, Jethro-- take the shot."

I get the capture of the owl on the building. There's even a setting, waning moon in the shot. Classic. I was thinking if paparazzi can get twenty thou for a shot of Madonna, how much will National Geographic pay me for the first photographic evidence of an owl in So Cal...maybe fifty bucks? Dare I get closer for the money shot? I crept closer. The bird didn't budge. I'm golden. I zoomed in and captured the bird. Just a couple of shots. That's all I need. I'm a pro and I'll soon have the money to prove it. Being environmentally conscious and realizing that my lumbering around might be scaring away the owl's supper, whatever the hell they eat, I decided to pack it up knowing I had the shots in the Billingham camera bag.

The Classic Shot

The Money Shot

I was just a tad disappointed when I downloaded the shots. The shots of the OC turned out fine. The shots of the school turned out fine. But the money shots of the owl were a bit blurry. How could that be? I had the cable release so the camera was still. Damn. The owl moved. I had to admit to myself then and there that I should have taken a few more frames. Surely when I learn Photoshop, I'll still be able to fix the jittery images and then sell them to Nat Geo...When I learn Photoshop...A bit saddened and a little wiser, I retired for the night.

A few weeks passed and I found myself in a Lowes looking for flowers to shoot. Once in the garden section I saw it. My face flushed in embarrassment and shock. You need to know that up until that night I had never seen an owl in the wild. Sure, I had seen them on the nature shows but it's different seeing something on TV and then actually seeing it in person. And I had other, indelible images of owls in my mind. Sam from the children's book, Sam and the Firefly. The Snowy Owls in the film Dumb and Dumber when Harry and Lloyd attend the Preservationist Benefit. Or the guy in the film, Heat, when Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) asks him, "Who? Who? What are you, a @#$%ing owl?"

There next to the Miracle-Gro and the indoor plants and for just $24.99 stood the Scarecrow Owl. A lifelike replica of the real thing to scare away birds and rodents from buildings. My face turned the color of that red croton plant and I rushed out of the store a few feet smaller. Kind of like Yosemite Sam had he been crushed by a one ton Acme anvil, just a pair of boots and a hat trudging out to my ride. Not only had I been duped, but I was severely depressed that there was a rift in the brotherhood of birds and that greedy Corporate America, as fronted by Lowes, was using a puppet owl to bully and intimidate the wrens, chickadees and bluebirds of happiness away from their happy homes. It would take months of therapy and how did you feel when you saw the Scarecrow Owl and I felt like crap that's why I'm paying you $70 per hour to fix me, Doc. I finally got better when the good doctor convinced me that I was no dumber than the birds and rodents who had been fooled by that dummy owl and that most of the time Mother Nature is cool but sometimes she can be a heartless wench... a 'biatch' as they say in the housing projects of Newport Coast.

It has been just over 7 years since I shot the owl. After that incident I began to focus more on moving objects for my photography subjects, like surfers. I have shot one or two statues during this time but I made damn sure that you knew that I knew it was a statue. I have not had the opportunity nor inclination to shoot an owl since that time...

Bonus Shots

Tucking In
Native Californians

Frozen July


Robert Bemus’ Bio

In October, 2003, Robert was taking a Journalism class at a local college when a reporter from the Orange County Register gave a lecture on photo journalism. Robert went out the next day and purchased a Canon Rebel DSLR. He forgot to go back to the class and has been taking photographs ever since. He has received various awards on website contests such as and His work has been published on and he recently won the Surfline Photo Challenge for November, 2010.

He has a BA in English from Cal State University, Long Beach, has five grown children and currently works for a large cellular service provider. He spends most of his free time either surfing or photographing surfers. 
  All photography by Robert Bemus

Thanks so much for visiting "Tales of Relentless Pursuit."  If you have a free moment or two, please check out my Photography Website, Your Best Shot, and sign up for the mailing list!



peacheszzz said...

HAHAHA Very cool story Robert, I FINALLY saw my first owl last fall
I could hear him in the pines across the road or in our woods for yrs hooting, he FINALLY came to the top of a satellite dish we have on top of our VERY high barn roof with a snake in claw....I finally got my owl photo

LauraEm said...

I loved this story. Every word! Truly, I laughed so hard I cried! I am still chuckling as I type this!

Robert, thanks for sharing this great and funny story!

Joe DiGilio said...

Oh yea Bob, I enjoyed your story a lot, still LMAO. I actually have one of those owls in my yard. All the local critters know its not the real McCoy. Laughing at yourself is good for you. It was good for me too. I enjoyed your Bonus Shots too.

Debby Lewinson said...


We’ve all had moments of embarrassment that are best forgotten, but you have made this moment so real, so funny, and so human that it was worth experiencing and remembering. I have always admired your incredible images of surfers, and now I admire your humor, writing style, and humility.

Thanks for sharing!

Courtenay Vanderbilt said...

You sure didn't need the journalism class! Superb story telling and even though I haven't commented, I do enjoy your posts each morning!

Gina Cormier said...

When I bought my lastest house, I found an owl on my roof also. I thought it was real at first but when it didn't move I figured it was put there on purpose. We left it there for a few years and finally took it down. Since then I have not been invaded by other woodland creatures. :-)

Your story was so funny!!! I can't tell you how many times I think I have the money shot and's not!! LOL

Dave Phalen said...

Great story!! Well written!! Love It!! Excellent photos!!

Monnie Ryan said...

Terrific story! Wish I could count the times I thought I'd captured the killer flower macro, only to discover a fuzzy mush of color!

Bob Cammarata said...

I kind'a gathered where this story was leading from its onset..since I too have been duped by one of those fake owls at a marina.
Terrific story and entertaining writing style!
Thanks for the morning chuckle!