From shore to shore I traveled this past week. Leaving the beautiful and soft sands of Southwest Florida where the breezes were light and the temperatures were warm to the cold and brisk Northeastern seaboard of Delaware.
Before my trip I had heard that a number of Snowy Owls had traveled further south than usual and were being spotted throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. I didn’t have time to go and chase an owl, but hoped with good graces that some may still be around upon my return home.
As luck has it, one appeared on the Delaware Shore at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. After catching up with the things one has to do after a road trip..unpacking, laundry, housekeeping, etc. etc. I finally had free time to get in the car at o-dark thirty. Yes, I’m becoming quite familiar with that early wee hours of the morning. Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any easier. Drove nearly two hours to arrive to the beach. Walk out to the beach with camera in hand and arrived…..No Owl in sight.
GRRR !!! I waited and scoured the beach line with my binoculars for about a half an hour and more people began to arrive. I was just about to give up and chase a huge flock of several thousand Snow Geese I saw flying in the distance when a good birding friend of mine appeared. Within two minutes he found the owl ! It did help that a Harrier Hawk was dive bombing it. Woo Hoo !! I’m so excited.
It was far and there were six of us on the beach now. We began to approach. Some went left, some went right, some stayed right in the middle. This was completely the wrong thing to do. As with any birds, a group should stay together and not circle the animal as that is more threatening. It didn’t take long for the others to see what they were doing and we joined together to continue our approach. By no fault of our own, the owl flew off in hopes of catching something. It landed on a fence line then decided to come back to where it started.
With the low light, I was trying to use a one-spot focus point. There’s a phenomenal photographer out there that swears by it. Well, when the owl flew off, I’m certainly not good enough to keep the one point on the bird while it was moving. So I missed shots when it first flew, but by the time it returned I had changed to my preferred 5 spot focus points. The owl flew silently and fast past us and landed back on the beach.
Spending nearly two hours watching her, it was truly an amazing sight. About every 10 minutes or so, I would take a few steps closer so that she wasn’t just a little dot in my frame. I knew not to get too close and I was having lens envy as others were shooting with a 600mm lens with an extender. I had forgotten my extender (darn travel) and had just a 500mm range.
At long last I arrived to a place that I felt good enough with the crop and far enough where it didn’t distress the bird. In fact, she began to doze off. But with all owls, they are on constant alert and she would pop her eyes open suddenly and look around. She knew we were there and as more time passed the more accustomed she became with our presence. As a matter of fact, I think she got bored with us.
Such an amazing week I’ve had with two amazing owls from shore to shore. Now I’ve got owl fever, which the cure isn’t easy. Hopefully the video at the beginning of this post brings you serenity to your day.