Sometimes it isn’t about the final photograph and such an occasion for me was yesterday. I received word of a Great Grey Owl sighting some 200 kilometers south of my current location near Kussamo in Finland and decided to take a chance and drive with my local ground operator in the hopes we might sight it. Finding and photographing a Great Grey Owl in the wild has been a long-time dream of mine. I have previously spent more than two weeks in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in the USA looking for the Great Grey Owl in Winter. I have completed countless Finland trips in both Winter and Autumn also in search of this species, but have always come up zero. The opportunity to see one in the wild was too much of a drawcard for me and so yesterday we piled into the 4WD at 6:45am (yet another early start!) and drove the 200km south to the area the Owl was last seen.
The tip proved reliable, and once in the area we fanned out armed with our binoculars and began a hard-target search for the elusive owl. Great Grey Owls can be tough to spot. They have a habit of sitting in the middle of tall pine, birch, and fur trees and are typically much harder to find than the much smaller Hawk Owl (that sits on the very top of the tree). Mercifully, it didn’t take long and the owl was found sitting low in a fur tree looking out over a farmer’s snow-covered field enjoying the morning sunshine. A wonderful moment and a ‘lifer’ for me.
Unfortunately, weather conditions were absolutely horrible for photography with blue skies and harsh direct sun-light that meant anything more than a record shot was going to be nigh on impossible. On top of that, the owl was perched in a position that meant it was impossible to get a clean background – Ce La Vis. Although we waited, sitting all day in the deep snow in temps as low as -10C until well after sunset the weather and light (and owl) failed to co-operate. Was I disappointed? Not at all. Although it would have been fabulous to have a clean background, blowing snow, and dramatic light I am nonetheless thrilled to have finally seen this beautiful bird in the wild. A future high-quality, emotive and dramatic photograph of this amazing owl will have to remain a dream for now, but I will keep trying. Until that time, a record shot from the back of the camera just has to suffice.
LIFER (noun) The term lifer refers to a bird species when it is first seen and positively identified by an individual birder. Lifer is a designation for a species that individual birder has never seen previously, not a returning migrant, new sighting for the year, or other repeat sighting.