On the Lookout for Snowy Owls

Every Michigan winter has something different to offer. This year, we had an unusually “snowy” winter. It wasn’t just about the white stuff, it was about the plethora of snowy owl sightings all over the Midwest. Who doesn’t love snowy owls after they were featured in Harry Potter? Forget about Harry’s magical powers, I loved Hedwig!

I wanted to see a snowy owl this year. Who knows when they would be back in such numbers? Winter was waning, but I didn’t know anything about finding them. When @Todd Maertz Photography offered to bring me out on a shoot after I passively asked if I could join him some day, he quipped back “How about today?”

I was in!

When we arrived at the location he explained how snowy owls like long expansive spaces that remind them of the arctic. We looked out over a long section of ice. Although the ice was melting off, there was still enough of it to attract the snowys. He explained to me you can’t get too close to them or they fly away. It was obvious to me Todd Maertz had great respect for the animals as he disliked it when photographers tried to spook them into flying to “get the shot.” It was unnecessary and disrespectful. His philosophy was to observe and not to disturb. I read later how snowys require rest after long flights and hunting. Never “make them fly away.” It exhausts them.

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Another photographer was on location so we maintained a respectful distance giving her some space to complete her shoot. We headed to another area instead. The first few times he asked me to look for snowys because he wanted to teach me how to find them. Where the heck were they? Oh yeah, over there, blending into the white rocks. They like the camouflage. It took a while to get the hang of it. It got easier!

We had amazing luck that day. We found two sisters sitting side by side.

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We watched amazed as one snowy fed for several minutes. Yes, they are meat eaters. It was a little gross but in a National Geographic way, you couldn’t turn away. Nature is brutal. One hatched duck or seagull egg was clearly lunch to a snowy.

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The moments were also so fleeting. No sooner would we find a snowy then it would move on to another place, turn around, or the light would be all wrong. Having a snowy owl and getting a good shot were two different things. He took dozens of pictures. I could tell he was a perfectionist.

Snowy stalking required us to keep our distance. There wasn’t always time to think about dynamics as they sometimes took off without much warning. Todd let me look through the 600 mm lens. I could barely hold up the camera with the lens attached. Those lenses are an investment. Always pay a photographer for their work! Lenses are expensive!

The afternoon was full of surprises. Just when I didn’t think it couldn’t get any better, Todd paused and looked down. Not more than 6 feet from the car was a snowy resting on the rocks. We had approached so gradually it never moved. She showed off her exorcist head turn and we were in awe. This had never happened for him before. What piercing eyes she had! Absolutely stunning!

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Todd Maertz has a nice library of snowy owl photos because he is committed to putting in the consistent time and money for equipment. He was a great guide. I was a happy sidekick! I’d like to thank Todd Maertz for letting me be his adventure buddy for the day. I had an awesome time! You can purchase his images online at his website.

Carol Charron for A Michigan Thing

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