Visiting the Skagit River Valley in Washington this past week was a challenging photography experience for me. I have been spoiled by my good fortune over the past several years to spend time photographing wildlife and landscapes with Moose Peterson. Moose always seems to find the best places so that those who shoot with him have the best opportunity for the best photographs. However, on this trip with Moose the weather dictated our photography experience. But, in the end, despite the adverse conditions, Moose’s experience and intuition helped us all achieve our main goal for the trip: To see and photograph owls, in particular Short-eared Owls, in their native habitat.
The weather was the guiding factor for our photography. The rain was non-stop, the light was flat, and the skies were gray, three factors that made our bird photography quite a challenge. The rain tends to keep birds in place so they are more difficult to find and therefore, more difficult to photograph. With flat light, the range of light is very limited and there are no shadows and little contrast. The gray skies are not appealing backgrounds for birds, either in flight or even on the water as the water tends to reflect the same gray skies and subjects are usually backlit.
Due to the conditions, we each took only a handful of photographs the first couple of days and saw our first owl on day 2. On our final day, with the skies still dreary and the rain unrelenting, we returned to the place we saw a Short-eared Owl the day before. During several hours, much of it spent standing in the rain or under the rear canopy of our SUV, we watched at least five and possibly six, Short-eared Owls hunting, sitting on the ground watching and waiting for prey, and fending off opportunist Bald Eagles. In addition to my goal of photographing these owls in their native habitat, the one photograph I wanted to capture was an owl in flight. And with guidance from Moose and a lot of patience, I did just that. The experience reminded me that all it takes is one photograph, something I have known but I needed a reminder.