I arrived home Thursday evening with a single thought in mind - get Logan (my son) to wrestling practice. So, as I scrambled to get both he and I ready to leave, my phone rang, but I ignored it and figured whoever was calling would leave a message if it was important. Indeed, the caller left a message, but I didn't listen to it until later that night. Turns out, it was a coworker telling me that I missed a great opportunity to photograph a Snowy Owl he had seen while scouting deer not far from the plant we work at. I thought, "A Snowy Owl? In Kansas? He can't be serious." I obviously needed to talk with him at work the next day, which I did.
My coworker explained what he'd seen and that the owl had flown out of a corn field and landed on an irrigation pivot station not far from where he was set up. It was still hard to believe, but this coworker has a lot of outdoor experience and it would be difficult to incorrectly identify a Snowy Owl, especially since we have no snow - it would stick out like a sore thumb! He also told me about a Snowy Owl that had been rescued a couple days earlier after hitting a power line on the south side of town. "Get online, it's in the newspaper," he told me. So, I did. And, sure enough, there it was - a Snowy Owl in Kansas.
I decided to send the newspaper article to my wife and then I called her to tell her about my coworker's experience. She proceeded to ask, "Didn't I tell you what my Dad said? There have been several sightings in the KC area." No, she hadn't told me, but I was getting more excited by the minute thinking of the possibility of actually photographing one of these owls.
Friday night my wife helped me do a bit of online research to determine a location that would provide the best opportunity to get close enough for a decent photograph. After reading that some had been sighted near the Clinton Lake dam - an area I'm familiar with - I made the decision to be there at sunrise.
After spending the first 20-30 minutes of sunrise on the lake side of the dam, the morning was not off to a good start. It was a lot colder than I expected (the temperatures this week have been extremely unseasonably warm) and I had forgot my gloves. I snapped a few landscape photos, but could barely feel the shutter release button. My decision to start on the lake side of the dam wasn't too good, either, because the dam and the shoreline trees shaded the early morning light and, therefore, the light wasn't too great. Feeling defeated, I headed back to my truck to warm up and figured I could at least drive a road that loops from the dam onto the spillway side of the lake. There the morning light would be better for some landscape shots I had in mind.
Luck finally arrived as I drove near the spillway, noticing a couple vehicles pulled off the road. Looking closer, I could see some other photographers standing with their gear on tripods and I knew they had to be watching a Snowy Owl. After slowly approaching, I began scanning the open field to the west and then scanned the face of the dam, but saw nothing. Then, there it was, right in front of me, sitting on a signpost.
For the next 1/2 hour, I sat in awe watching this beautiful, majestic bird sit, quite peacefully, as myself and 3-4 other photographers snapped pictures. The sound of camera shutters firing was almost constant the entire duration. I'm still surprised how it seemed to ignore us as if we weren't there. Every now and then the owl would turn it's head perfectly into the morning sunlight to display it's yellow, piercing eyes. Those eyes are stunning! Several gulls were in the area, also, and made the occasional flyover, at which the owl would briefly look skyward. Finally, it took flight, gliding toward the face of the dam and it appeared to actually pounce on something as it landed. Then it took flight again, flying to another signpost down the road.
At that time, I was really wishing I didn't have more things planned for the day. But, I had to get back home and get ready for the day's events. I honestly could've sat there all day watching because I know the chance of ever seeing one again are pretty slim. But, those 30 minutes were pretty amazing! The only thing I'd change is to have been in a better position when the owl took flight so that I didn't have guardrails in the background of my photograph - Oh well!
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