My First Snowy Owl - A True Delight
Mike Grandmaison, December 07, 2014 at 6:00 AM

It's always exciting to make your first photographs of a new species! I went out yesterday morning to explore around Starbuck, Manitoba and came upon a couple of snowy owls. These large owls are active during the day and they are truly beautiful birds to see and observe. Snowy owls breed in the Arctic and some birds winter within their breeding range but some can be found on the prairies during the winter and their migration to more southern areas. When their main food sources of lemmings and small rodents dwindle in the Arctic every few years, snowy owls tend to migrate further south in search of food and this is why, in some years, they are more commonly seen in these parts.


I had only seen two other individuals in my lifetime (and one of those was a few days ago) but I had never had the chance to photograph them. My experience with most wildlife I encounter is that they don't stay around very long when they notice humans. I usually have my camera fitted with a long telephoto lens at the following settings: shutter speed set to ISO 1000, automatic exposure mode, automatic focus, shutter set on continuous high speed, widest aperture possible, fastest shutter speed possible for the prevailing light conditions and the lens set on vibration reduction, usually with no filters attached. This combination of settings allows me to shoot at fairly low light levels and perhaps get a decent shot. As I see wildlife when I am driving, if I am not ready, I will drive by for quite a distance before turning around and stopping to set up the camera properly. As I approach my subject, my window is down and I make sure there are no other vehicles close by before suddenly stopping, pointing the camera and shooting one to a few frames as soon as possible. Often, that may be the only opportunity to capture an image before the animal takes off. Depending in which direction the bird decides to take off in, you may or may not get an opportunity to make an action shot. Yesterday was a mostly cloudy day and the sun came out only briefly in my location, enough to make the first photograph of the perched owl.