Photo Shoot: Snowy owl stare-down

·2 min read

Stare fight. Back in second grade, 56 years ago if you are counting, the stare-down contest was part of the lineup for recess entertainment, joining thumb-wrestling and rock-paper-scissors as the top three.

The staring rules were liberal but basically whoever blinked first, by whatever means, lost. The skills learned from this long-ago game have paid dividends over the years as a photojournalist. Training your unblinking eye into the viewfinder, waiting for the correct instant to activate the shutter, is a learned skill. This unflinching eye trick also comes in handy when waiting for a snowy owl to make its next move.

As you might have heard, this has been a banner year for snowy owls visiting from the Arctic. Last week, I decided to check out the show. Having been taken to task by several readers for mentioning the specific location earlier, let’s just say it is easy to find on Facebook.

Arriving at this well-known, south-facing beach in the Mid-Cape area, I was already late to the game. Birders, photographers, walkers and gawkers had gathered in two distinct pods, keeping their unblinking eyes trained on two owls separated by about 100 yards.

One was just off a walkway, the other was nestled in the grass of a lowland dune. To this non-bird expert, they weren’t looking at each other but seemed aware of their shared space.

I joined the photo group, nestled in the leeward side of a comfort station to stay warm and keep our long glass from getting shaken in the wind. Much of the conversation was about the great images made the day before, in golden late-afternoon sun as the bird was in flight. Our owl du jour spent most of my three hours there back-lit and presenting its hind quarters to the assembled avian paparazzi.

A staring contest between a snowy owl on the pathway to the water and a group of onlookers at an undisclosed Mid-Cape beach last week.
A staring contest between a snowy owl on the pathway to the water and a group of onlookers at an undisclosed Mid-Cape beach last week.

The group grew and shrank throughout the morning. When “our” owl moved out into the open pathway, shutters clicked their appreciation as it spun its head around with open eyes for a cameo. Neither bird took flight when I was there.

I am sure each departing shutterbug had the same thought I did. “As soon as I leave, this bird will take flight, making a low approach over the crowd.” Indeed, looking on social media, there are some stunning images. But a fast-approaching deadline and two more assignments took me away from this stare-down, and, just for the record, I swear the bird blinked before I did.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Photo Shoot: Snowy owl stare-down

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