I am incredibly thrilled to finally share this photo as a quick shot. This photograph represents countless hours and MILES of work...... Why?
I've been on a quest for owls.
I have wanted to photograph an owl for a VERY long time, but I've been particularly unlucky. Usually my owl sightings happen when I'm driving down the road, helpless to take a photo. Or I can hear an owl hooting in the trees, but can't find him in the foliage. This is the first owl I've photographed in the wild.
Background: This quest started when I saw an absolutely spectacular owl photograph in a magazine. I was moved by his bright eyes and deep gaze and instantly wanted a photograph of my own. Unfortunately, I'd soon discover that photographing owls was not going to come easily (at least to me).
Apparently my deodorant is owl repellant. Maybe it's my choice in socks. Whatever it was, I couldn't find an owl, yet all my photographer friends seemed to find them at will. They bragged about their owl sightings while I came home frustrated and empty handed. All spring and summer I listened to the owls tease me at Mason Neck State Park - their hoots might as well have said "you'll never find me!" The dense tree canopies were great camouflage from which to torture me. As the seasons changed, I felt optimistic about my chances to catch an owl - the leaves were thinning and darkness (when they are most active) came sooner in the day.
One September day I went out to Mason Neck and inquired with the park rangers about recent sightings of owls. They told me to hit the Douge Trail- owls had been there recently. I did two laps on the trail with little more than a squirrel sighting. Determined, I ended up hiking EVERY mile of trails in the park that day. I came home with no photos, having seen only a white tailed deer and some uninspiring birds.
I was crazed. I'd dedicated 8+ hours and some blistered feet to finding an owl. I had a fire in my eyes- like a psychotic Black Friday shopper - I was going to find an owl before the end of the year, no matter what!
I spent several more days at Mason Neck repeating the process. The owls who had boasted with their hoots in the summer had gone quiet, giving no clues as to their current location.
Desperate, I hitched my hopes on my friend Tim.... he had plenty of owl photos (even an owl as his iPhone screen saver!) and seemed to know a popular spot. Our first outing was a complete tease.... we found a hole where an owl lived (complete with freshly molted feathers) but no owls. A few days later, Tim sends me a photo of an owl he just found on a hike... dammit!
Last weekend we tried again. We hiked along the C&O canal in a spot where Tim had previously spotted an owl. Our ears were on high alert for any sound that could be an owl. We hiked.... and hiked.... and hiked some more. Nothing.
We turned around, accepting the fact that I was just an owl repellant. Tim became worried that I might actually be a bad luck charm when it came to sighting these common birds!
As we walked I noticed a shape on a tree, just a few yards from the trail. It looked like the body of a cat sitting on a limb.
It was an owl.
Inside I was screaming and jumping for joy - outside I was calm. I certainly didn't want to scare my first owl away!
Thankfully, this owl was a great sport. He let Tim and I photograph him for the better part of 45 minutes, seemingly unbothered by us. Although my fingers were freezing from the cold, I was filled with a warmth from the happiness of having seen and photographed my inaugural owl.
Now that I've conquered this first owl, I'm hoping the second comes a little easier. I still have some work to do to get that perfect shot, but I'm at least content and can sleep without having nightmares of owls tormenting me!