Once November arrives, birders and wildlife photographers in western Pennsylvania begin to have hopes of seeing a Snowy Owl, our grand visitor from the north. When the weather gets bad in Canada, Snowy Owls will begin to head south but only far enough to find food. If you are lucky enough to find one, it will probably be a female or juvenile male. The pure white males tend to stay back to the north.
In January, 2015, I wrote a blog called Follow Me to Gull Point. In it I tried to take the readers on a journey to Gull Point at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA. I researched a lot of Snowy Owl information for that blog so I'm not going to repeat it in this one. If you would like to read Follow Me to Gull Point and learn Snowy Owl facts, click the link.
In this blog I'd like to tell the story of one day with a Snowy Owl. Bear with me because most of the story needs to be told before the photos can be seen.
It was the beginning of March and winter was passing without having a Snowy Owl photo opportunity within reasonable driving distance. Word got out in the birding world that there was a Snowy located on an Amish farm in Crawford County, about 1.5 hours away from me. I gave it a few days to see if it was passing through or if I would actually have a chance to photograph this one.
Birding reports were posted daily that the owl was still being seen. Crowds were beginning to gather daily and the owl was keeping its distance in the large expanse of fields. The Amish family was very friendly and even had family members posted as locators for the bird so visitors didn't have to go searching for something that might be a small white spec in a distant field. Birding ethics were displayed and monitored as to not stress the owl. Nobody was allowed to approach the bird and everyone was being watched by the landowners and local birders.
Finally, on Sunday March 19th, my wife Elena and I decided to go photograph the owl. As we drove north, the weather started getting worse. The rain ended and cold air crept in below the warmer air, creating fog. By the time we reached the farm it was fairly dark outside, there were only two vehicles there and the Snowy had flown over the crest of a hill and disappeared into the mist. It was only 1:00 in the afternoon.
A couple country roads divide the large farm so we drove around for about 20 minutes with no luck of spotting the owl. Finally, I parked at the same spot the owl was perched when we arrived. Since we missed lunch, we began searching the GPS for a local restaurant. A few minutes later a tractor pulled up beside me and the driver introduced himself as the property owner and asked where the owl was. I pointed him in the right direction and he drove up a farm access road into the field. When he reached the top, which was about 50 yards away, he waved for me to join him.
It was then I saw this owl, for the first time, perched about 80 yards away.
It sat on the fence post watching the field for rodents to eat.
I got plenty of photographs of the owl perched on the pole so I just stood and talked with the landowner. Eventually a friend of mine showed up and was also waved to the top of the hill. The wind picked up, it continued to get colder, and the fog began to lift. Soon, the owl flew away from us to a perch about 200 yards away. I thought it was a little closer but after checking Google Earth, I can confirm the 200 yard distance.
We continued to talk about the land, crowds that have been there and other idle chit chat. Finally the owl spotted a vole and left its perch to catch it.
It was still pretty dark but my shutter speed was high enough to catch the action.
It flew about 25 yards and sat down to eat.
Of course, the vole was devoured in seconds and the owl took flight again.
After making a large loop away from us, it returned to the perch 200 yards away.
A couple other people came and went while we continued to watch the owl. Eventually it left its perch again and this time it flew a big circle and flew right towards us.
My heart began pumping faster as the owl continued toward us.
It reached the original post where the landowner and I found it a few hours earlier, and sat down.
It seemed content again simply sitting on the pole.
About 30 minutes passed, I realized it was after six o'clock and we should head home.
What a lucky day we had. I believe we had the good luck because of the weather. I believe the owl hunted in mid-day because it was fairly dark outside and the rain, cold, and fog kept the people that would normally be there, at home. All in all, it was a great day!
Thanks for looking,