Luck plays a large part in wildlife photography.

It’s not every occasion that you come across the wildlife subject you are hoping to see. And, there are many times that I come home without any images at all. Still, I always ask myself ‘what have I learned today?’

Last friday I ventured out to the fields I call ‘snowy owl country’ to look for the young male snowy owl that has taken up residency there. I have already mentioned in previous posts about the low number of owls that have migrated from the arctic this winter. This young owl, I believe, has become accustomed to the sound of my camera and with me.

On my first lap of the area I failed to see him roosting on the ground. As you might see from this uncropped image – taken from the roadside with a Nikon 500mm and 1.4x teleconverter attached (700mm reach) –  it’s a little like looking for a needle in a haystack. Can you imagine how small this owl is to the naked eye? A good pair of binoculars has been essential this year.

Eventually, I decided to go out into the field for a visit with this little fella. So I carefully maintained a distance between us. It was late in the afternoon a time when normally snowy owls become more active.  

Like most raptors snowy owls orient themselves to the wind and, when it is a particularly harsh wind, they will find spots in the ground where they might shelter. With the uneven ground it is easy to lose sight of an owl and in my quest to get into a position for some photography I did just that. 

From the middle of the field I could see a couple of photographers kneeling down in the roadside ditch taking photographs. As I made my way back to the car I literally had to line up where they were pointing their lenses to find the owl again. Suddenly, I realized he was only about 25 metres away from me. That was closer than I have been with him in past occasions so I backed off in a hurry.

When I was in a place that seemed comfortable for my friend I sat down on the frozen ground and fired off some pictures as the snow started falling.

The owl looked at me a couple of times but seemed more interested in the cars and the photographers at roadside. As I have said before unusual sounds will attract an owl’s attention and so does movement.  I try not to move when I am in the field though when I am out there for an hour or two I must sometimes change camera batteries or take my gloves off to encourage blood flow into my fingers to prevent frostbite.  

Something caught his attention on the opposite side of the field and I wondered if it was the short-eared owls I have seen hunting along a fence line. Apparently snowy owls will attack the smaller shorties.

We remained like this for about an hour: me sitting and sometimes kneeling on the ground, him watching his surroundings.

It was another cloudy day and the light was poor. Then he shuffled his feathers a bit, pooped, then gave me a look as if to say ‘bye bye’. I trained my camera on him through this and caught him taking off.

He made an arc to avoid coming too close to me but flew low to the ground. After capturing a few images as he went past I stood up to watch his flight path. Across the field he flew towards a tree he has favoured in the past.

In past winters, at this stage, I would have had far more encounters with individual owls and seen them hunt. Although I have witnessed this fella preening on the ground –  a sign I take to mean he is comfortable – I have yet to witness a hunt. In the absence of a large number of owls he has a much larger hunting ground to choose from.

I have an idea where he might be hunting but it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get a photograph. The fact that I have been fortunate for eleven years now to observe these magnificent birds is a blessing.

This was another special encounter with a magnificent raptor.



Registration for my April 17th  ‘Coyotes: The Misunderstood Predator’ presentation is underway and seating is going fast.

I will be showing images and talking about coyotes at Idea Exchange (The Old Post Office) 12 Water St S, Cambridge from  6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Although it is free to attend registration is required so that organizers can best prepare.

Here is the link to register……. please copy and paste to your browser:

I hope to see you there!


    1. Paul E Gains

      Hi Carlos, thanks for your query. I generally prefer to photograph alone although I happily dispense any advice I can to photographers I encounter in the field or at my photo presentations. My experience with some snowy owl ‘workshops’ is that they ‘guarantee’ shots of owls and will therefore stress the owls at a time when they are roosting. And there have been workshop hosts that use other unethical means, baiting with live mice, for instance, to attract owls for the purpose of photographs. Best thing to do is read up as much as you can about a species, get out with your camera and prepare to be in it for the long haul. It is rare that a great shot happens at once. Good luck!

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