My brother used to tease me about my naming the deer that frequented my feed blocks in the winter months. One time he even asked if I was getting leashes for the twin fawns that came in the spring.
I suppose it may sound unusual for people to name wild animals, but they do and I’m not alone. Notice this beautiful female Snowy Owl has a tag #25. Since she’s been tagged, I’ve been able to learn more about her. For example, we know from her bander that her name is Socia.
Socia’s core territory was Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin. She was first seen there near the Menards in December of 2008. She was caught and banded that same month. She was sighted in the Duluth/Superior area often until March of 2015, after which she went missing.
Somehow Socia made it to Traverse City this winter and sightings of her began again in December. She’s been seen all over the area this winter. The airport. The Holiday Inn rooftop. The ball park. Even the front page of the newspaper. Here Socia sits atop a light post in the ballpark.
What’s the attraction there? What’s Socia looking for? Snowy Owls hunt from elevated perches during the day. With amazing eyesight they are able to swoop down and catch voles and other small critters that are in the field.
On the other side of the field is a huge pile of snow deposited by the plows as they’ve cleared the roads. It’s another favorite of Socia’s perches. From this vantage point, she can case the other side of the field.
From a photographer’s perspective, there are two things that are especially appealing about taking Snowy Owl pictures. The first is sharply capturing those piercing yellow eyes. Socia kept an eye on me the whole time I was watching her.
The second dream of a photographer is to catch this enormous bird in flight. She often gives a few signals that she’s about ready to take off. Ruffling her tail feathers, rising up and stretching her body forward, spreading the gigantic wings. Sometimes, though, it’s a false alarm and the owl doesn’t take off, like on this day.
She sat back down and turned slightly towards me, giving me a look with that yellow eye, as if to say, “You’re still there, watching me, aren’t you? Are you ready for the big show?”
But my gut told me she was about to take off. And she did not disappoint. Without going through any of the preliminary moves, off she went into the air, flapping those huge wings to propel herself forward. What a sight she was!
Now I tell you, photographing a bird that’s flying all over the sky is one of the most challenging aspects of photography. I keep practicing and I’m always happy to get a few. When she first took off, Socia was flying away from me so I only captured her from the tail end as she pumped those powerful wings up and down.
As she neared her destination, Socia turned a bit towards the left, revealing a bit of her face. Is that a smile on her face? And yes, you’re seeing the #25 tag on her right wing.
And where was Socia headed? Would you believe the Blair Township Water Tower?
If you look closely you can see her perched atop one of the bars on the top right side of the tower.
As I prepared to leave the area, I took one final close-up shot of Socia atop her new perch. Even from that distance, she was keeping an eye on my whereabouts.