The dawn was frigid and windy. A strong N’oreaster was blowing in. The slate gray sky did little to warm the landscape.
A snowy owl was nearby. This was my third attempt to photograph this particular owl. It had been wintering on a local golf course. I had seen the owl twice in less than ideal conditions. My goal was to make an image of the owl while snow was falling. The storm however had slowed down overnight. With an important afternoon engagement, I had a limited window of time to find the owl and wait for the snow to arrive.
The temperature was a bone chilling seven degrees Fahrenheit with twenty five mile per hour winds. Dressed with five layers, including the thickest parka LL Bean sells and numerous hand warmers, I set out onto the golf course. On a previous trip, I had spoken with the caretaker and the manager of the course. Both had agreed that I could photograph on the links. The caretaker was adamant that I stay off of the greens. With a foot of snow on the ground and no greenery in sight, I wondered how I would do that, not knowing the layout of the course. Apparently, my footsteps would pack the snow down, turning to ice and taking longer to melt. This could damage the grass. Grateful to be let onto the course, I did my best to stay off of the greens.
The snowy had been spending a lot of time perched on a wood pile that was somewhat sheltered by the wind. A nearby cove had served as a winter feeding ground for a variety of ducks. The owl had survived by hunting the ducks.
As I cautiously approached the owl, I did my best to stay low and move slow. This helped me to get reasonably close to the owl (approximately 100 feet) and to keep my footing on the icy terrain. After about an hour of getting myself into position I was able to make a few beautiful images of the owl. Perched on the woodpile and surrounded by tall marsh grasses, the snowy was in a unique setting. I was thrilled to make these images, but I waited even longer for the chance to photograph the owl in snowfall.
After another frigid hour, I had run out of time and I could barely feel my extremities. With no snow and a pressing engagement, it was time to leave. The snow arrived as soon as I had started to drive away. I was disappointed to miss the opportunity of photographing the owl in the snow, but it had been worth my effort. The resulting image was very exciting!
This month’s tip: In this article, I highlighted the respect that it takes to make excellent wildlife images. Get up well before the sun, ask for permission and treat wild animals with care. These are a few of the maxims that are critical for wildlife photographers to follow.
Greg Lessard is a professional photographer. You can view his latest portfolio “Snowy Owl – Soul of the Arctic” at the Bridgewater Library during the months of November and December.