As a photographer I have found that many of the best photographs are those that you happen to notice while on your way to shoot something else. On Monday I was heading in to Kalispell to photograph Memorial Day and on my way I passed the largest owl I have ever seen. A Great Gray. He was perched on a tall fence post which hid him quite well – he blended in with the post and in the light fog he practically disappeared from certain angles. When I realized what I had seen I had to decide whether or not to take the shot or keep on driving. I was on time, but I didn’t have any extra time and was therefore caught between wanting to turn around and the need to get to where I needed to be on time. I am obsessively on time. It’s a real flaw. I hate being late, but this was a moment I just couldn’t pass up. So, I U-turned the jeep (an easy thing to do with the wonderfully tight wheelbase) and went back to see just how close to the owl I could get.
I parked at the base of the hill beneath the owl and arranged my camera gear before I even got out of the truck. In a situation like this always do as much preparation as you can before you start shooting. I changed the lens from my wide angle to my longest telephoto. I took a few shots out of my windows to make sure I had the f-stop, aperture and ISO set correctly. Only then did I carefully get out of my jeep and make my way toward to the owl.
Of course there was no sneaking up on him. But birds that size take off slowly and even a little reluctantly. That works in my favor. Start with a safety shot. Get the picture, even if it is not as close as you want take a shot. Because you never know when the moment will simply evaporate. As I crept closer and closer the owl stopped watching the field and focused on me. I was taking pictures the whole time and I did get one that I really liked. But then he decided that was enough and took off. He didn’t go far. Far enough to be out of range. I was not about to follow him when that would entail even greater trespassing and walking through a dewy wet field of tall grass. But I did get one last photo of him up in the tree. Still eying me warily. I’ve never seen an owl in the wild before. I know that one of these days I may well come to take the wildlife here for granted, but for now, it just makes me love Montana more.