Every now and then the elements come together nicely for a photographic encounter with snowy owls: the light, the behaviour of the owl,  as well as the location. By location I mean where the owl might be perched or roosting. You still need luck!

I enjoyed one such afternoon yesterday while visiting owls. After the region had been battered by a snow storm I knew that there would be a layer of snow on the ground – much preferred to the mud that has been a common malady this winter.

Now if the clouds might part for a time, well, then it would be a positive experience.

The weather forecast had predicted cloudy skies and winds coming out of the northwest. Since snowy owls generally orient towards the wind and the sun would be low in the western sky by the time they began to think about hunting – thus illuminating them –  I drove up there inspired.

This mature female owl was roosting along a hedgerow when I spotted her from my car.

I pulled a u-turn and came to a stop. The sound caught her attention. I have noticed owls are savvy enough to differentiate between cars which race past and those that slow down. Before locking the car door I put on my four way flashers and made sure I had spare batteries in my pockets. Then I made my way across the field towards a spot I had picked out.

I took a few shots of her to check the lighting using the histogram on the back of my camera. Then I moved into a position that presented the best background – no barn or grain silo in the field of view.

The owl yawned. She yawned again. She looked at the road towards my car and when I turned I could see a car had pulled up in front of mine. Probably another photographer or birder. Again, I have permission to be in that field. She stared at the car but it left after a couple of minutes. The owl yawned yet again!

I sat down in the snow to observe her and settled in for the long haul. The sun was very low in the sky and I hoped that she might fly to a hunting perch before it got dark. That’s when luck came to pass.

The owl was startled by something, I didn’t know what, and she suddenly took off across the field past me. I caught a sequence of images and watched her land on a hydro pole along the farm’s driveway. Then I saw the reason for her abrupt departure – a neighbour’s dog was fast approaching.

She was a friendly dog and came running towards me with her tail wagging. I knelt down to pet her and told her I had a treat in my car.

I went back to my car then drove over to the farmhouse. The fellow came out and I explained what happened then asked if I might give the dog a treat. He and his kids laughed and said it was fine. Cara came over and so too did two other dogs that live here. 

Now, I strive to be an ethical photographer. I adhere to the maxim that if an animal or bird alters its behaviour because of my presence then I am too close.  I don’t bait owls and don’t deliberately spook wildlife to get a picture.

But, folks, I now have a little moral dilemma. By rewarding Cara with some treats did I knowingly encourage her to frighten owls in the future? 


I’d like to remind folks that my next wildlife photo presentation ‘Predators’ will be a live, in-person event on Thursday April 20th, (7:00 p.m.) at Idea Exchange (Old Post Office). I will be talking about bears, wolves, pumas, jaguars and other predators I have had the good fortune to observe and photograph around the world. 

Although it is free to attend a reservation will be necessary because of limited space. I would encourage those interested to ‘save the date’ I will send a link when it is available in coming days.

Enjoy nature!!!!!



  1. John Palmer

    I love how sensitive you are to the well-being of the wild life that you patiently observe and photograph. Surely Cara the friendly dog was attracted to you and not the owl.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks John. I must admit I wasn’t quite as careful when I started out in wildlife photography a little over ten years ago. In the interim I have learned that observing an owl that is comfortable with me 30 metres away is good fortune. If I get a photo that’s bonus.

  2. Jerry Kooymans

    Interesting dilemma, Paul. Dogs are pretty good at learning what behaviour gets treats for them, although it usually takes some repetition before the learning becomes ingrained. I’m interested in hearing what happens the next time you visit this farm to photograph snowy owls. Great photos, by the way. I love the one of the owl yawning.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Methinks the dog will remember me and the experience but so too will that owl. I am quite sure it will be careful where it roosts in the future or, at least, watches out for that dog! They are intelligent birds and its interesting to watch their reaction to different sounds and sights. Some owls are oblivious to cars, trucks and school buses but will freak out when a horse drawn buggy approaches. That’s a cue for me to be ready for action.

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