Landscape Photography | Mis-Adventures in Saw-Whet Owl Photography

Syracuse PhotographerThere are so many different ways I could have titled this blog post. But we’ll go with ‘Mis-adventures’ because that’s really what it was. Is.

I had been following reports for different owl species sightings across the state, in attempts to make a solid plan and better my chances for an encounter to photograph them. I’m the kind of person that likes to have everything planned out, t’s crossed, i’s dotted and all that jazz.

Folks had reported seeing northern saw-whet owls in Baldwinsville at the Beaver Lake Nature Center and I waited until the reportings became more consistent. Then, several days in a row people reported seeing  the same one (supposedly) along a particular area of the property.

Off I went, all packed up, suited up in abominable snowman winter weather-wear. Perfect winter conditions, perfect light, consistent reportings…It’s going to be a sure thing.

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First pass through and nothing.

The cedar and hemlock forest was deadly silent. No movement. No twittery chickadees, no madly-chirping red squirrels. And no silently poised, wide-eyed saw-whet owls.

Then a group of women passed me, a quick chat revealing that they too were in search of the now talk-of-the-town owl. They said they had made a quick pass through with no luck.

After they left, I decided that the story of the saw-whet owl for me was going to be a story of “if at first you don’t succeed, try again“. Yes, don’t give up after one go at it like my fellow owl-gawkers, take another pass, Kelley.

So around I went again.

Nothing. Again.

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I thought about going home at this point. Just not meant to be, right? Then my little internal cheerleader kicked in and I decided no, this  was the story…don’t give up so easily, third time’s a charm.

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And what do you know?

Still nothing.

No owls. No wildlife. No other humans even. Just me and the silent winter forest. I thought maybe the story of this outing, the lesson, is that sometimes despite how hard you try and the effort you give, things perhaps still don’t work out the way you hope and planned.

Life is ridiculous like that, after all.

By now my hip-joints were hurting from trekking through the snow, my stomach growling louder than the winds that are whipping through the tall woods, and I contemplate again. Do I pack it in and head home, or try again?

I tell myself that I try again. The story is perseverance, resilience. I like to think of myself as a resilient person. I think that is a trait my family has passed on through our family tree.

So I go at it, again.

I’m a fighter. I’m going to search every tree in this wood and find that little owl.

Well I do, I search damn near every tree. My neck is all kinked by this point in the day. And still no owl.

By now though, I start to realize that this doesn’t really matter because something more beautiful has been happening.

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All that time looking up…

There it was, this perfect storm of sun light and falling snow in a winter forest. You probably wouldn’t have seen it with your eyes kept on the trail ahead, scanning the forest floor for movement, and checking the phone for the time and missed emails. Thank God I was looking for saw-whet owls.

I might not have found what I was looking for, but I just might have found something better.

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I think I like that story more. And that’s an important lesson for a photographer person. Don’t be so focused on the owl that you miss the forest. Don’t be so tunnel-visioned that you are out-of-tune with the big picture.

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Admittedly, I often focus too much energy on the what-could-have-been, what-should-have-been and what isn’t. And why. The hazard in spending too much energy thinking like that is you miss what is.

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Lesson (re)learned. Be ever-present in what is. Don’t forget to be tuned in to the whole environment, the big picture.

And hey, sometimes the dead of winter is actually kind of pretty.



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