Wildlife Photography | When the Snows Comes Down

Snowy Owl | click image to enlarge

Snowy Owl, perfectly content among the Syracuse snow fall | click image to enlarge

I have always especially loved owls (long before their recent popularity as decor from stores like Pottery Barn). Owls used to frequent my dreams when I was younger. I think that is where my fascination and respect for them stems from.

Recently there have been several reports of Snowy Owls being sighted in central NY and other northerly states south of the Canadian border. Several in fact have been reported to be hanging around the Syracuse Hancock Airport…so of course I had to go trolling 😉

The first day I went I was convinced my slow creeping around the airport in my truck, with a telephoto lens, was going to get me in the news. (I swear, officer, I am just looking for birds.)

I never saw any owls that day and left the airport kind of bummed. A couple days later I decided to try again since we were going to be in the area picking out a Christmas tree. So glad we did.

And let me tell you, it is sooo much easier to do “drive-by shooting” (that’s my photographer-take on the phrase when I go on photo safaris in the car) when you have another person riding with you. I was trying to drive and watch traffic when Josh yelled out “Uh, I think there’s one”.

She flew right down the middle of the road we were driving on and landed on a light pole over the road. I pulled into the airport hotel parking lot and from the warmth of the car we watched this arctic visitor.

Snowy Owl observing airport traffic | click to enlarge

Snowy Owl observing airport traffic | click to enlarge

Those legs are crazy! They look like the abominable snowman’s legs to me 🙂

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

Snowy owls are residents of the arctic far north. Some remain there year round and others come down in the winter into Canada and the Northern parts of the US. According to Cornell’s ornithology page they can have “irruptive” years where a greater number of owls migrate south in the winter based on the status of their primary prey item on the arctic tundra (lemmings).

Younger birds are strongly barred with dark-brown/black stripes…older individuals, especially the males, are almost pure white.

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

One of the airport staff walked right up under the poll she was sitting on to snap a pic with his cell phone. I wouldn’t advise doing that if you can help it. I like to get up as close as I can to animals, sure, but there is an invisible line between where close-enough is, where you don’t inhibit natural behavior, and beyond that line where you go ahead a spook the animal and affect what they are doing. Unfortunately, the worker did just that and the owl took off. I think the invisible boundary line is at an even greater distance when you are in an urban setting, like an airport. I think the chances of the bird getting hurt by on-coming car (or plane) traffic is probably pretty high if they become uncomfortable and have to fly quickly away from a perceived threat.

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

After she flew away we decided to drive over to the trooper barracks at the airport and park in their lot for a quick look on that side of the property. Sure enough, a second bird was perched on another light pole.

2nd Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

2nd Snowy Owl | click to enlarge

Obviously, I would love (and rather) photograph the owls on the tundra and not in an urban setting (I’m not really wanting to have a fine art print made of the owl on a pole for my living room) but you gotta take what you can get 😉

DSC_2492edit2 FB

click image to enlarge

DSC_2496edit FB

Snowy Owl with his head rotated behind his body | click image to enlarge

He *almost*  looks like he is smiling. Because owls have more vertebrae in their neck than people do, and because the foramina (holes) that the arteries pass through are much larger than the artery diameter, they are able to rotate their heads almost all the way around their body without cutting off circulation.

Wicked cool, huh?


“A wise old owl lived in an oak;

the more he saw the less he spoke.

The less he spoke the more he heard. 

Why can’t we all be like that bird?”

Edward Hersey Richards


Share this post