Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Damon Point State Park, Washington - Snowy Owls Experience

Damon Point State Park, Ocean Shores Washington,  January 31st – February 3rd 2013.  That was my destination for a two day photography outing with Snowy Owls, a first for me with this species.As with new species that you first capture, the fact that I have never encountered one makes it all that more special to me.  Damon Point is a 61 acre State Park on the southeastern tip of Ocean Shores.In 2012 there was an irruption year for these Snowy Owls.  I was unable to make it out to Damon Point last year.  So when I heard this winter the area was experiencing a rare “echo” irruption I made every effort to make it out there in hopes of capturing my first Snowy.  Accompanying me on this journey were two friends of mine, Don Hamilton and Tinman Lee.  

**Before I get to my experience, I do have to disclose the travel aggravations that I endured.  The aggravations ultimately made my experience even more unforgettable in the end.**   So flashback to a couple weeks ago when I was sitting in Akron/Canton airport waiting to fly out on an undisclosed airline with a 6:30am departure time to Detroit then on to Seattle.  My plane ended up being delayed because of mechanical problems.  So I was bumped to fly into Atlanta instead of Detroit.  During the flight down to Atlanta I wondered if they had switched my luggage between the two planes.   I would have my answer to that when I land in Seattle.  So I land in Atlanta, and find out my connecting gate is on “the other side of the world”, clear across the airport and was about to begin boarding.  So here I am speed walking with my Gura Gear bag on my back fully loaded with my gear as I felt like a running back in the NFL sprinting through the airport dodging incoming linebackers for the opposing team.  Guess all the running with the heavy load would prepare me for my adventures at Damon Point though.  J  I made it to the gate in Atlanta and get my assigned seat at the check-in.  Whew!  Should be an easy ride now into SeaTac now and was relieved to finally be on the last leg of my flight into SeaTac.  My friend was to land at noon and I was originally supposed to land shortly after 11am.  We had hoped to get in a couple hours of shooting that day that would not come to be as I found out after I landed in SeaTac.  So, fast forward to SeaTac, I finally land at the airport shortly after noon PST (an hour later then I was supposed to land).  Boy was I glad to be in Washington to begin my Snowy journey.  I wonder if my bags arrived with me or if they were clear across the USA still getting snowed on??  I would come to find out from the agent at the gate that my bags were in Detroit on my original plane and would not arrive until 5:30pm!  Dang, there goes my shooting with my friend for the day as I had my tripod and head in the luggage.  Forget the clothes; I can pick up extra clothes at the store, a Gitzo tripod…well not so much.  So I was told go to baggage claim and they would deliver my luggage to my hotel.  Cool I thought, that works for me!  I should have known it would not work out like that on what was the worst traveling experience for me ever.  I come to find out Ocean Shores (where I was staying) was outside their delivery radius and they would have to go through FedEx and my luggage would not arrive until Saturday morning sometime.  WHAT!!!!!  Those were approximately my words.  Trying to contain my cursing at the poor lady that was trying to help me.  “That isn’t going to work for me, I flew across the country for Snowy Owls, to photograph them and I have photography gear in that luggage that I need, “ I said.  I might as well stay at the airport until my luggage arrives, which is ultimately what I ended up doing.  I was given a $25 voucher for airport food for my headaches, which I split with my friend since they gave him nothing because he wasn’t “affected” by the situation.  Yeah right, he was stuck there with me as the rental car was in my name.  We got something to eat with the voucher (which was another story in of itself).  Off to get the rental car, thinking to myself what are the odds I don’t have a rental car or hotel room.  In the end, I had both.  We killed time at REI (a sporting goods store) where I bought myself something to make me feel better after the day I had, an upgraded headlamp which I needed for the Snowy Owls anyways even though I had brought one with me from home.   This one is 2x brighter though,  that headlamp will always have a special place with me.  J  Finally we get to the hotel at 8:30pm. 
Off for an early start the next morning.  After a short breakfast at the hotel we were off.  BTW…if you are traveling out to Ocean Shores, I HIGHLY recommend staying at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites.  After we found were we had to park, onward we began what ended up being 4-5 miles of walking in a span of two days as we zig-zagged across the Point.  Sooooo worth all the effort and soreness that I endured and I’d do it all over again!.  We came to our first of many Snowy Owls just as the sun was rising and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief knowing all my aggravation was going to be well worth it.  We had some clouds in the morning that burned off as the day went on.  We were lucky in that the first owl we encountered the sun seemingly broke through a clear patch in the horizon to give us that stellar light before it disappeared again for about another hour. 

Was so happy to see our first Snowy Owl on Friday morning!

We found some Snowy Owls in some interesting perches on the first day.  Found a lot of them perched atop of evergreens and found one that was almost cradled in one.  It was nice to be able to mix up different habitats with them. 

We worked around looking for some higher ground to get near eye level for Mr. Sleepy here.

Both days we left for the Snowy Owls walking to them in darkness and left them in darkness being guided by our headlamps. 

The second day there we had some strong winds.  On an open piece of land like Damon Point there was nothing to break the wind.  I would guess 25 mph winds.  Temps were warmer then Ohio so can’t complain there. J  The winds died off as the day wore on.  We found the Snowy Owls closer to the ground that day as they tried to shield themselves from the wind.  We really lucked out with the weather as this time of year in that part of the country it is usually overcast and raining.  Abundant Snowy Owls on various perches, fantastic weather, and met some great local photographers out there as well.  Can’t go wrong with that recipe!  Heeding the warnings of fellow photographers Tinman and Conrad Tan we brought lots of water with us.  What I took out with me I slimmed down on by the second day.  Ditching my backpack on the second day to cut down on some of the weight I was hauling around and only taking two lens and my fanny pack with me that was so packed it was bulging. 

We took a short rest in the afternoons.  This was taken by my one of my friends, Tinman.  A pair of Snowy Owls had just left this piece of driftwood.  I decided to take a snack break and to stretch my back where they were.  It was so a cool feeling to be in the exact location where they had just been resting.  Sounds weird, but I almost felt their presence there still. 

Photographing Snowy Owls can be exhausting!  Photo taken by my friend Tinman Lee.

The scenery around Damon Point was breath taking.  On a clear day you can take in great views of Grays Harbor, the Olympic Mountains, and Mount Rainier.

My first Snowy Owl experience will definitely go down in the books as one of my more memorable photography trips.