Snowy Owls are no doubt magical. They are one of the most, if not the most, instantly recognizable birds around. What makes them so popular? Was it Hedwig of Harry Potter fame that brought them such notoriety or was it just their pure, simple beauty?
I don't have the answer to those questions - but I can remember the first Snowy Owl I ever photographed like it was yesterday. It was a bitter cold winter morning. We had been driving around scoping out our favorite hotspots for anything with feathers, to no avail. We were just about to give up when we came around a bend and saw a couple of photographers in a Pine stand. I figured they must have something good, so I went over to check it out. There, in the distance, at the tippy top of a very tall Pine Tree was the whitest, most beautiful Owl I have ever seen in my life. It seemed very comfortable up there far away from the photographers below. The wind was blowing and it seemed to be gently rocking this Owl to sleep. Only once or twice did he open his crystal clear eyes - but when he did they glistened like rare gems as he looked into the sun.
Now when I say it was bitter cold out there - I do mean bitter! I have no doubt that the wind chill was well below zero. And yet, we all stood there almost motionless (now that I think about it...maybe a couple of those people were frozen solid!)...completely in awe of the beauty before us...afraid to make a sound.
Standing next to me was a bear of a man...in stature and in looks. He had one of those bushy "Grizzly Adams" type beards, and it appeared as if his beard was so frozen it might break if he even opened his mouth. I only glanced over at him once - mostly because we were all afraid to take our eyes off of the Owl - but I remember thinking he didn't exactly fit the part (in my mind, at least) of someone who would stand around in freezing cold temperatures looking at a bird.
Well, the minutes seemed to tick away at half speed as we all stood there watching this magnificent Owl. I was rather new to wildlife photography - and I wasn't entirely sure what we were all waiting for. To me, it seemed obvious that this bird had settled in "for a long winter's nap" - but I figured the others must know something I don't, and so I waited right along with them.
After standing out in the wind and cold for what seemed like an eternity I decided these people were indeed all frozen to the ground, and that's why they weren't leaving. I was nearing that point myself - and was just getting ready to close down my tripod when the most breath-taking moment I had ever witnessed happened. This Owl lifted its wings and seemed to just gracefully fall from that tall, tall Pine... right over my head - without a sound. And I swear if I had lifted my arms up I could have touched his feathers.
And just like that, he was gone.
Remember that bear of a man I told you about earlier? Well, NOW I turned to look at him...and this big bear of a man was just standing there with his mouth agape and tears in his eyes. We didn't speak. We just knew.
I'm pretty sure none of us got a good shot a of that bird falling from the tree that day - but I really don't think it mattered to any of us.
Snowy Owl MA Seacoast - 2014