Behind The Shot: Wind Beneath The Wings

Rye Harbor State Park in Rye, New Hampshire
Behind The Shot: Wind Beneath The Wings By Jonathan Steele—A snowy owl photographed at Rye Harbor State Park in Rye, New Hampshire
Photo By Jonathan Steele

The snowy owl irruption had been going on since late fall all throughout New England. Sightings had been reported along the coast from Maine to New York and even further south. I had already seen and photographed several in the coastal Connecticut area (my home turf), but they were either on a utility pole or too far away for a good shot.

One area I kept hearing about where it appeared a snowy was settling in for the winter was at Rye Harbor State Park in Rye, New Hampshire. Snowy owls are raptors that like to eat lemmings, voles and other rodents along with the occasional bird. Though the park was small, it provided the bird with several of these food sources and open space for hunting them.

I had a business trip to southern Maine scheduled where I decided that on the return leg I’d swing by the park on the off chance that the owl was in the area. As I neared the park driving along Route 1A, I spotted the owl perched atop a utility pole. At the base of the pole was a group of folks with cameras snapping away. In all the articles I had been reading about snowy owl irruptions, the one common thread was that folks should give the birds their space. I made the decision that I would look for a spot further away from the owl to watch and see if a shot developed.

Looking around the park, I saw one photographer sitting on the rocks along the edge of the water. He was about one hundred yards from the pole and was dressed for an extended stay in the cold with both a long lens and unipod attached to his camera. Something told me that he knew more than the others. I decided to stroll over and join him for a bit. Turned out that the photographer, Marcel was his name, had been spending a lot of time watching and photographing the owl and was learning its habits. Marcel felt that given the time of day the owl would either come off the utility pole and fly away from us to nest for the night or it would fly towards us in search of food.

Marcel and I continued talking for a while when we notice a vole briefly run out into the open and then back into the rocks just in front of us. We looked at each other and pretty much had the same thought at the same time: Hopefully, the owl saw that vole! We both got our cameras ready just in case.

Within seconds, the bird started moving atop the pole and then lifted off. The owl was flying straight towards us! We raised out cameras and started shooting. The owl kept coming closer and closer; it flew low to the ground in search of the vole where its flight path took it about eight feet to our left and below our knees. It missed the vole and pulled up about 25 feet behind us to land on another perch. The owl was on that perch just long enough for me to turn around, focus and fire off one shot before it lifted off to make its way to the next perch.

The image you see here was my next shot and was captured just a fraction of a second after the owl pushed off of its perch where it hadn’t caught the wind beneath its wings yet.

Equipment: Canon 6D, Sigma 150-500mm lens at 500mm. Exposure: 1/4000 sec., ƒ/8, ISO 1600.

To see more of Jonathan Steele’s photography, visit www.JonSteelePhotography.com and follow him on Facebook.

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