Sometimes the story about a bird photograph requires a somewhat lengthy background. This one does so please be patient. The story of the Snowy Owl involves 3 of my birding friends – Steve Howes, Jennifer Loren and Gerry Ellis. As this sequence of bird photos develops you will likely see these names frequently since these folks are central, in many ways, to my “birding” and photo habit. So, let me give you a bit of background about each person as they relate to the photo.
Jenn and Gerry are experienced and avid birders who tolerate my inexperience and seem to enjoy any excuse to get outside to bird. Occasionally they undertake a version of a “big year” and 2014 was one such year in which they were trying to document as many bird sightings as possible. They work at this and build a great list as they travel around and visit friends or birding hotspots. I know that Jenn is particularly fond of owls although I don’t know of a bird species that she doesn’t find interesting, beautiful or fun. But I enjoy tormenting her with the fact that I may have seen an owl when she didn’t. We know it’s just in good fun but, still, I enjoy the tease. Gerry is a global birding fellow and travels extensively as he pursues and documents one or more passions. His time in the USA is limited many times. I am connected to Gerry in my role as a person who tries to help organize and distribute some of his images to various media and his stock agency. When I get time with Gerry it is always an interesting and dynamic discussion about the project of the day and is often interrupted by a window bird sighting or a cup o’ tea on the patio.
So, the setting so far is that Gerry and Jenn are doing a “big year”, they don’t have a snowy owl on the list yet and I’m sitting in Gerry’s office at his home when my phone rings. Enter the third character in this short play… Steve Howes. Steve lives in Pasco, WA and is a man with whom I share time and many interests. Birding is one such common interest. I answer Steve’s call and he quickly explains that he is sitting on a rural road looking at three Snowy owls. I giggle and tell him to hang on a second so I can put the phone on speaker mode. Once the phone is enabled I ask him to repeat what he just told me so that Gerry could hear it. Yeah, I have a bit of a mean streak. Steve repeats the multiple Snowy owl message and Gerry reacts much as I thought he would. He screams at Steve to not move… that he’d be there soon. Gerry thinks that the Snowy may be one bird that is within reach for the year but might be out of their grasp due to work and travel commitments. Since Jenn is at work and Steve is 3 hours away the idea that Jenn and Gerry would scurry up to Kennewick for the bird is just a fantasy. None the less, the idea that Steve was seeing the owls was tormenting – mildly, but tormenting just the same.
As I finished up my discussion with Gerry I began to form a plan. I’m retired and married to a very understanding lady. I called Steve back to see if I could visit. He’s never turned me down yet. I left Gerry’s place, went home and packed for a visit to Steve’s place. I grabbed my camera gear and some clothes and drove to Pasco. By 2:00 that afternoon Steve and I were looking at two Snowy owls. We began by photographing an owl that was fairly distant but my heart was racing. My first time to see this species. Decent light. The bird was cooperating even though distant. We moved the car forward a bit and discovered a second owl sitting on an old fence post next to the road. Neither Steve or I could believe that it was just sitting there looking at us. I took numerous photos and we edged closer. More images were made. As we left the area we talked about bird karma and our good fortune to be able to see and capture images of this irruptive owl. It was a good day. And yes, I sent an email to Jenn to let her know about our success. Gerry got a copy too and let me know what a lucky cad I was. Yes, it was a good day.
To finish the story, I left Steve’s house early the next morning to go home. I left the Tri-cities area and went back to the 9 Canyon Road area where we’d seen the owls the previous day. I got to spend another hour with a Snowy that morning but the photos are just not as nice. The owl the previous day was a rare opportunity. A bird photographer can’t really ask for much more. Oh wait… there’s that “bird in flight” photo that didn’t happen. Next time. Please, let there be a next time.