Journal

In search of the white ghost

The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are dropping. This means the owls are moving down south. Having seen many reports of snowy owls on the coast of Lake Ontario I decided to make the trip out to Amherst Island which is somewhat famous for raptors and owls. The island is about 2.5 hours south west of Ottawa. There is a ferry from Millhaven that leaves every hour for $9.00 you get a return ticket. The ferry takes about 20 minutes. Make sure you fuel up before you drive on to the ferry since there is no gas station on the island. There are toilets at the dock and on the ferry. I could find one diner and a general store just around the corner from the dock but both were closed when we were on the island.

We left the ferry and after 10 minutes we already found our first snowy owl high up in a dead tree. It was pretty far out in the field and because all land is privately owned on the island you are only allowed to photograph and view from the roadside.

 Snowy Owl high up in a dead tree. Nikon D500 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1600 - 1/640sec

Snowy Owl high up in a dead tree. Nikon D500 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1600 - 1/640sec

After this first encounter it started raining and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. We already arrived late and were losing light fast. I couldn’t even take my camera out because it would just soak the front element. On our way back to the ferry I spotted this snowy taking off. The light was almost gone but I managed to get this shot. Even though it is blurry I like the mood it captures and the contrast of the owl against the dark woods.

  Ghost from the north . Nikon D500 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1600 - 1/400sec

Ghost from the north. Nikon D500 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1600 - 1/400sec

On our drive back to the hotel it was already completely dark. I couldn’t wait to review my images and get some rest for the next day since the weather forecast looked a lot better!

The next morning I looked out and the rain had finally stopped. It was still overcast but already looked a lot brighter than the day before. I decided to use the D5 today with the 500mm PF and TC. Arriving on the island we spotted two snowy owls pretty close to the road near the same spot as the day before! I took some shots out of the car but decided to get out so I could move around a little. I managed to capture some portraits of the bird and these are by far my favourite shots of the trip.

 On the lookout. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1250sec

On the lookout. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1250sec

 I see you. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1250sec

I see you. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1250sec

After about 30 minutes the owl flew off and landed in the field where it sat in the same spot basically the whole time. I decided to set up my tripod and get some video footage.

Snowy Owl
 Sleepy owl. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1600sec

Sleepy owl. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 1250 - 1/1600sec

We decided to leave the owl alone and look for other opportunities. During the day the light conditions kept changing rapidly and there were some breaks in the clouds. In the distance I spotted a snowy on a beautiful tree. I wished it was a bit closer but I still like the environmental shot.

 Nice perch. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 800 - 1/2000sec

Nice perch. Nikon D5 - Nikkor 500mm PF f/5.6. Shot with 1.4 tc iii ISO 800 - 1/2000sec

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you want to see photos more regularly follow me on instagram. Feel free to send me a message with any questions you might have or if you want me to write about something specific.


A final note. All of these shots are taken with a long tele lens so I’m pretty far away from the animal. As photographers we have to put the animal’s well being as a first priority. I get it, we all want to get that amazing shot of the owl gliding over the field. I’ve heard of people bringing out live mice to bait or intentionally flushing the bird by making noise or honking. This just sounds like insane and highly unethical behaviour to me. As I’m writing this it’s 2018, this is my first year of birding and bird photography, meaning, I’m still learning as well.

Here are some great reads about the ethics of bird photography: https://www.audubon.org/photography/ethics