The Great Grey Owls of Canada

-Birds in a Blizzard-

Part of being a wildlife photographer means having to get up before the sun and work in difficult environmental conditions. Recently, I had just such a trip. While most people were battening down the hatches to prepare for Snowstorm Nemo, I was driving seven hours north to Ontario, Canada... in a blizzard. Okay, okay, let me explain.

Every few years in winter the conditions north become so harsh that many animals are forced to suddenly migrate south in search of food. With birds this phenomenon is known as an irruption. This year the Great Grey Owls have been venturing far and wide in search of prey. The blizzard barreling down forced them close enough to the border that I could drive there and photograph them. This was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss, blizzard or not!

I left Thursday night to get into the area and rest before getting up before dawn to find the owls. Even at this early hour there were a few other photographers in the woods, in a blizzard, excited to see the birds. I met a local photog named Mike who often visited the owls and was such a blast to chat with. Along with several other photographers we spent the morning owling in the steadily falling snow.

Great Grey Owl

 

Great Grey owls are diurnal, meaning that they hunt in the early morning and late afternoon. They spend midday and midnight sleeping. Around 10am the owls roosted deeper in the woods and it was break time for us photographers.

 

During my lunch break I went back to my hotel to warm up and change from my snow dampened clothes. The blizzard outside was in full force, much of the highway was closed and you could hear the occasional siren. Then suddenly the power went out. My room was on the thirteenth floor. I had a few hours until I would have returned to the woods to find the owls. I was hungry as I hadn’t had lunch but I really didn’t want to walk down thirteen flights of stairs to get in the car and drive around looking for food when the roads were blocked. So I took a cue from the owls and decided to nap.

I woke up a few hours later freezing. The power was still out and there was no heat! This also meant no hot water, no wifi and still no lunch. Luckily I had my smartphone so I could still update my Facebook and answer emails. I waited out the storm in my dark room rather than try for the owls that afternoon. The power came back that evening and I was able to get some dinner but it was still a stressful day.

Saturday morning, I met with another amazing wildlife photographer, Dave, whom I had previously only known via Facebook. Dave and his friend Karen were awesome company! We spent that morning and afternoon shooting followed by a lovely dinner at St. Hubert. It was great to hang out like that and talk about photography over a nice hot meal.

Great Grey Owl

 

Sunday was the last day for all of us. Bright and early we raced out to spend our morning with the owls. After brunch on Sunday with Mike, Dave and Karen headed home. I had one last chance to photograph the owls before I too needed to head back to the States.

Great Grey Owl

 

With the shortened afternoon hours of winter, it was a race against the sun to get any last photographs of the owls. The fresh white snow was perfect in that it reflected any of the remaining light back up to illuminate the quickly diming scenery. The effect was dramatic and moody. It was the perfect way to end my trip and with one last look at the owls I had grown to love, I departed back to Pennsylvania.

Great Grey Owl

 

 


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