White As Snow

The dawn was frigid and windy. A strong Nor’easter was blowing in and the slate-gray sky did little to warm the landscape.
A snowy owl was nearby. This was my third attempt to photograph this particular owl. It had been wintering on a local golf course, and my goal was to create an image of the owl while snow was falling. The storm, however, had slowed down overnight. With an important afternoon engagement, I had a limited window of time to find the owl and wait for the snow to arrive.
The temperature was a bone chilling 7 degrees Fahrenheit with 25 mile-per-hour winds. Dressed in five layers, including the thickest parka LL Bean sells, and numerous hand warmers, I set out onto the golf course.

Text and photography by Greg Lessard

On a previous trip, I had spoken with the caretaker and the manager of the course. Both agreed that I could photograph on the links, but the caretaker was adamant that I stay off of the greens. With a foot of snow on the ground and no greenery in sight, I wondered how I would do that, not knowing the layout of the course. Apparently, my footsteps would pack down the snow, turning it to ice. This could damage the grass. Grateful to be let onto the course, I did my best to stay off of the greens.

The snowy owl had been spending a lot of time perched on a woodpile that was somewhat sheltered from the wind. A nearby cove, home to a variety of ducks, served as a winter feeding ground.

Snowy owls are federally protected. It is important to be respectful of them. Staying quiet and keeping your distance (more than 50 feet) is critical for their safety. Owls prefer to perch higher than everything else in their vicinity. Staying low is the key to keeping them calm. Slowly army-crawling over the last few hundred feet is the best way to approach them.

As I cautiously approached the snowy, I did my best to stay low and move slowly. This helped me to get reasonably close (approximately 100 feet) and to keep my footing on the icy terrain.   After about an hour of getting into position I was able to capture a few beautiful images. Resting on the woodpile and surrounded by tall marsh grasses, the snowy was in a unique setting. I was thrilled to make these images, but I waited even longer for a chance to photograph the owl during a snowfall.

After another frigid hour, I had run out of time and I could barely feel my extremities. Without snow and a pressing engagement, it was time to leave. Snow arrived as soon as I drove away. I was disappointed not to photograph the owl during the storm, but the resulting photo was worth my effort.

Greg Lessard is a professional nature photographer and a band director in the Scituate Public Schools. During the winter of 2013-14, a record-setting irruption of snowy owls occurred in Massachusetts and Lessard spent numerous hours observing and photographing these magnificent creatures. The resulting photographic portfolio, titled “Snowy Owl – Soul of the Arctic,” will be on display at the South Shore Science Center from Jan. 5 – Feb. 7. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, Jan. 10, from 2-4 p.m.. The exhibit will include nearly 30 stunning images of snowy owls and a 50-inch-wide, life-size panorama of a snowy owl in flight. More of Greg’s work can be seen on his blog at: http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/

To purchase images from this collection, contact the artist:

Greg Lessard

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