What's an irruption, you may be asking. An irruption can have many faces but in this particular case it involved a big and beautiful Snowy Owl. Let me explain in greater detail before you write me off as a complete nut case. An irruption can occur for various reasons and involve different critters. Most generally the popular opinion is that an irruption occurs when there is a shortage of a much needed and popular food source and happens from time to time when nature feels it is necessary. In this particular situation it involved a Snowy Owl who typically resides in the Arctic. While we may drool over a Prime Rib as our favorite staple the Snowy Owl craves a good old tender Lemming. A Lemming is a small rodent that lives in the Arctic area and provides a tasty treat to a Snowy Owl. In fact these Owls will consume 3 or more per day and 1600 per year. If this food source experiences a shortage the Snowy will move southward in search of food and occasionally will end up in the northern states. In this case this Snowy Owl decided he liked an area in western New Jersey at the back end of a beautiful reservoir.
Fortunately I got word of this from a photographer friend and the temptation was too much to resist. I sent an e-mail to my son and although a bit apprehensive he opted to join in the adventure. It turned out to be win-win all the way around. Sure it meant driving 550 miles in 28 hours and heading out in the early morning cold, climbing an extremely steep and treacherous rocky embankment, and nearly freezing our fingertips. And certainly it involved possibly getting arrested because we found ourselves in an area where we weren't supposed to be. But the nice gentlemen with the megaphone made it very clear that we needed to vacate the area which we did, well kinda'. After speaking to this fella we formulated another plan and another approach which really paid off. And of course the fact that he now drove away really helped us. Just kidding, I think we were legit at that point. At any rate, our final approach from the hill and through the trees paid off and we got some good images. Between my son and I we fired off approx. 500 images. We had a field day!
So just how magnificent is this Snowy Owl? Well the Snowy is one of the largest Owls and is the heaviest in North America. It is approximately 24" tall and has a wingspan of 52". It's more than capable of making small species of ducks it's next meal. In fact I believe this female is acquiring a real taste for small ducks. By the way, this Snowy is a female as the male is nearly all white. The male is also considerably smaller than the female. All things considered, there were only two disappointments with this shoot. The Snowy Owl has incredibly large yellow eyes with dark centers but this one seemed to be squinting almost the entire time we were shooting. I only ended up with a couple images that show the yellow. Also the feet and talons are amazing on a Snowy but this female was making every effort to keep them tucked under her plumage to stay warm. On one picture you can just see the claws. So you're probably wondering was all the effort worth it? That would be a definite yes. It was an awesome road trip with my son Jeremy and the Snowy Owl was a big bonus. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
In the image below the X marks the spot where we climbed to in an effort to get withing shooting range. It was extremely steep and very treacherous walking on the loose rocks. That is a stairway to nowhere above us and it's close to 150 foot long so it gives you an idea how high this embankment is. We were staged at the X and shooting when we heard the megaphone telling us to vacate immediately. The red arrow shows the approximate location of the Snowy but she was actually out of frame and on the fringe of the woods.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dorsey
The picture below was taken by Jeremy as I clicked like a wild man.
Be advised...this is not Plumbers Butt, it's my t-shirt.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dorsey
The yellow eyes are barely visible in this image as are the claws.
This amazing predator can rotate her head a full 360 degrees.