So it was only a couple of days ago, when I was coming back from a meeting in Boston, that I decided to stop at Plum Island and see if there were any Snowy Owls around. It's been a good winter for work, shooting videos for three different clients, and I'm happy for that. But it hasn't left a lot of time to go out and shoot for fun. So as I drove down the road inside the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, I kept my eyes on the marsh to my right. I only had about 30 minutes to find a "Snowy" and get something. Anything. Any kind of picture of a Snowy Owl. I didn't want to end up being one of the only photographers on the entire East Coast, not to get a "Snowy" pic this winter.
I had stopped to talk to a nice couple from New Jersey, who had actually taken a four day weekend, in order to come north and escape a snow storm hitting their area. I asked if they had spotted and Snowies, but despite an hour of looking through a hefty set of binoculars, they hadn't seen any. I left them and continued down the road, splitting my time between watching the road (there really weren't too many people around anyway) and the marsh. And then I saw movement. I immediately pulled over and looked through my camera. Yup! I had found a Snowie. Now, I had read the two signs by the ranger station and neither one of them had said anything about what you could, and couldn't do. Except that you had to pay your $5 entry fee, and you absolutely couldn't bring dogs into the refuge. Nothing else. No sooner had I pulled my camera out and taken about 10 steps towards the Owl when some lady started yelling at me, "Hey... Photographer...! Don't harass the Owl!!! It's a fine...". I looked back. Where had she come from? Where had the other cars come from? And more importantly, shouldn't they be thanking me for finding them a Snowy? I looked at my car, not 20' away. And then I looked at the Snowy, still a good 150' away. Not much I could do. I grabbed a couple of very distant shots and headed back for my car and started down the road again. When I realized that the Owl Nazi was actually following me in her car, I decided that my time was up at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and headed home.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, when I realized that I didn't have any work lined up for the next three days. I quickly sent Dale Martin, of Massapoag Pond Photography an email. I had met Dale the previous year at a big show in Portland. And both his nature images, and his astrophotography work, were stunning. And I don't use that word very often to describe photos. I told him I had a few free days, and could he recommend a place that I might find a Snowy or two, that I could photograph without getting yelled at. He asked me if I could meet him the next morning before dawn. I simply asked him where.
We got together in a parking lot about 30 minutes before the sun came up, and Dale immediately pointed out our subject, perched on top of a distant telephone pole. Also with us was the "Moose Man", Rick Libbey. Rick is also an accomplished nature photographer, who specializes in... any guesses? Well, Moose, of course! So here I am, with two of the best nature shooters in New England, wondering how in the world I'm going to get a decent shot of an Owl, sitting in a telephone pole, 100 yards away from us. Dale explained that he'd been photographing this particular owl for some time, and she'd been following a pattern. A night time roost, then she'd fly to the roof of a bath house/rest room, and around sunrise, she had been flying to a park bench, right beside the ocean. So with a quick "Let's go!", Dale and Rick headed for the rocky beach beyond the park bench. By the time I caught up, they were already setting up their tripods. Because both of these guys make a living shooting wildlife pictures, smart money told me to set up right beside them, and we all waited.
Just as the sun started to rise out of the ocean, and about a second after I had grabbed a couple of shots of the rising sun, I heard Dale casually say, "Here she comes...". I looked back to the pole, but she was gone. I readjusted just in time to see her land on the top of the bath house roof, just as Dale had predicted. And five minutes after that, as four of us watched (Ian Clark had also joined our party), she took off from the roof and gracefully swooped down to her perch on the park bench, twenty feet in front of us! No searching. No chasing. Just set up your camera and let her fly right to you. Amazing. I picked my jaw up off of the rocky beach and was about to say something to Dale, but it was too late, as he was in full "wildlife photographer" mode, merrily blasting away at 10 frames per second.
I got some good shots today. Not because I did anything right, but because someone who really knew their stuff, put me in the right place at the right time, and in the right light. Thanks Dale! You're the man!
You can see Dale's work at Massapoag.com, or by searching Facebook for "Massapoag". Rick, "the Mooseman's" images can be found at moosemannaturephotos.com. Do yourself a favor and check them both out!