Into The Fold: How A Snowy Owl Captured The Heart Of A New Birder
On a cold, dreary Saturday morning, my father and I awoke at 4 a.m. in preparation for a trip to the Lake Erie shoreline. Northwest Ohio can provide a plethora of birding opportunities year round, and we had a feeling that we would not be disappointed. There were reports of Northern Saw-whet Owls and Northern Shrikes earlier in the week, and I received a late report of a Snowy Owl the night before, so we excitedly got geared up to spend a windy day on the lake.
The two and a half hour drive went as it usually did, with talks of conservation issues and happenings around Ohio and the country. Photography goals, and how we could spread our passion about conservation to others. We arrived at Maumee Bay State Park just after first light, and saw a few birders spread out around the beach with cameras and spotting scopes. We pulled into a parking spot near the large beach and started the tenuous process of getting geared up to be outside for awhile. Gloves, hats, hand warmers, camera gear, binoculars, and monopods. It takes some time.
While in the midst of that process, a local sheriff stopped behind our car and kindly asked us what we were there to see. To be honest, I wasn’t sure of his intentions, but he seemed nice enough, so I struck up a conversation. I told him that we had come up from Columbus to see birds and wildlife, specifically to see if the Snowy Owl that was reported the previous night was still around. The man looked surprised, and asked what a Snowy Owl was. I gave him a general description, and while doing so used my binoculars to have a look at a group of folks congregating across the parking lot. I immediately noticed the owl beyond them, and excitedly told my father to hop back in the car while excusing myself from the conversation with the Sheriff.
Excitedly, but patiently driving across the parking lot to the group, I was racking my brain in excitement with ideas about how I wanted to present this owl in my photographs. We quickly parked and got set up to start shooting. It was perched on the seat of a park bench, calmly looking it’s surroundings. After capturing a few different angles, I was again approached by the Sheriff. He was awash in wonder and amazement, trying to take photos with his cell phone and asking questions. I took some time to talk to him about where they’re from, what they eat, a guess at the sex and age, and why they sometimes come down from their arctic homes to the upper states. It was a wonderful conversation, and I was in high spirits seeing the delight of someone that once knew nothing of this species take it all in for the first time.
Not long after, Dad and I decided to head to Magee Marsh in search of the Northern Saw-whet Owl that had been reported there, as well as the Northern Shrike. We were successful on both counts, getting shrouded views of the owl and very nice views of the Shrike. The day was going quite well, and we were thrilled to get our targets and see some great birds. We decided that we would return to Maumee Bay to observe the Snowy Owl, since opportunities with these birds in Ohio are often fleeting.
When we returned, we noticed a “changing of the guard” with new observers replacing the folks from earlier in the morning. The owl had moved again, deciding on a spot just in front of the boulders that made up one of the many break walls along the beach. Dad and I set up, and shot a few photos before deciding to take some time to just observe the bird. I was surprised moments later when that same Sheriff came up behind me, with his wife in tow, to show her this amazing owl. We all spoke for awhile, talking about this and all kinds of other owls, and birding in general. We spoke of the massive festival held down the road every year, that he’d heard of but never looked into. He asked many questions, and I answered them all the best that I could.
We ended the day with many photos of the first Snowy Owl that I had ever seen that wasn’t in the middle of a torrential downpour or blizzard. It was a memorable experience. But the best part of the day wasn’t the Snowy Owl. It was the sheriff that now carried a passion for birds, especially that Snowy Owl. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Birding, and viewing wildlife in general, is about far more than just seeing and photographing. It’s about experiences. Connections. Stories. Every time we go out, whether it be to a local park, or exotic destinations, we have a chance to impact lives and educate. We have a chance to contribute to local economies and show the world that protecting wildlife and wild places is important. I count myself a lucky man to have the opportunity to speak out, be heard, and bring others into the fold. A big thank you to all that read what I write, I hope you can take some of these things to heart, and actively make a difference for the world!
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