Earlier in the week I made yet another trip to observe and photograph Arctic birds. My goals were to complete my Snowy Owl story and improve my inventory of Snow Bunting photos. It was a bright, clear morning with an air temperature around 0 (degrees F) and wind chill about minus 10 — roughly 40 degrees below acceptable operating conditions according to my camera manual. The search area is accessible by lightly traveled roads running E-W and N-S, so my strategy was to road hunt. If I found something of interest, I would shoot from the truck if at all possible, using a padded window edge to steady the camera.
My search of perhaps 15 square miles of tundra-like terrain was drawing to a close, with nothing to show for my efforts. A last minute decision to check an unfamiliar road before heading home led to one of the more interesting and rewarding wildlife observations of my career.
I found an owl, an immature female, doing what I was doing – hunkering down and trying to stay warm. I had my truck and cold weather gear, the snowy her thick, fluffy, insulating feather coat.
Since my goal was to capture a new and exciting chapter in the life of a Snowy Owl, I waited. And waited. Finally! I never dreamed that I would welcome the disturbing presence of crows in the midst of a shoot, but in this case they made my day.
Crows are very intelligent, social birds capable of solving problems. A social group will locate, harass and drive away predators like hawks and owls, a common behavior called mobbing. This wasn’t a typical mob scene though. The crows were unusually quiet (they usually squawk loudly and often), and the owl seemed to be more curious than concerned or annoyed. I wondered if this was just a normal variation in behavior, or a function of unfamiliar species trying to figure one another out.
The gallery that follows includes a few highlights from the mob activity that followed. (The owl eventually found refuge on the ground, under a large shrub, and the crows left it be).
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.