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  Field Notes From
Snowy Owls

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On Assignment
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From Author
Lynne Warren

On Assignment

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From Photographer
Daniel J. Cox

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top), and Daniel J. Cox

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Snowy Owls

Field Notes From Photographer
Daniel J. Cox
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When working with birds of prey, it's essential to give them time to get used to the blind. So when I took my equipment to the field, I placed the small camouflaged blind 100 yards (90 meters) from the nest. Then I left and watched from a distance. I was pleased to see the adults return shortly after.
Two days later I moved the blind closer and retreated. And again the birds returned with no concerns. After two more days, I moved the blind to the final location about 30 yards (27 meters) from the nesting chicks. I left the area once more, and again the adult owls came back to feed their young. I was finally able to wait inside for the next feeding.
At 12:30 a.m. in the golden glow of Alaska's midnight sun, the male returned with a lemming for his mate. He handed it off, then paused, looked toward my blind, and flew to a perch 100 yards (90 meters) out. The mother began to feed her young, and I was elated that I had just been brought into the first of many intimate moments with these spectacular Arctic birds.

I wanted to make sure the blind was as unobtrusive as possible. But when I tucked my six-foot (two-meter) frame into the small tent—just barely the same length and only three-feet (one-meter) high—my concerns for lack of intrusion became a serious pain in the back.
A typical day in the blind consisted of 12 to 15 hours sitting cross-legged and bending over my tripod in anticipation of the male coming to the nest to feed the female and chicks. Every hour or so I would lay down to take a break, but it was difficult to stay in that position since there was no way I could shoot action if the male flew in. So I did my best to tough it out.
But at the end of the day, when my wife came to retrieve me, I could hardly stand. Cold temperatures, a hunched posture, and hours in one small place took a serious toll on the fun factor of this shoot. Thankfully Tanya was there to lend a loving hand in rubbing the knots out of my lower spine. Without her help I might still be stuck in that tiny tent in the wide open Arctic.

After the shoot, my wife and I stopped off in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for another assignment. When we arrived to stay at her mother's house, we backed the truck, which was full of equipment, into the carport. It was late November and minus 35°F (minus 37°C) outside, so to avoid frozen locks, I left the truck unsecured. I thought, "Who would be out stealing in these temperatures?" But sure enough, somebody came along and, undeterred by the motion light in the carport, stole two duffel bags of equipment and gear, plus my much-loved Gore-Tex jacket. When we returned home to Montana, I filed a claim with my insurance company. They told me that unless I could produce receipts showing the cost of my equipment, they would only pay 40 percent of the value. Well, who keeps receipts that long? I couldn't believe what happened next. It was weird enough that my gear was stolen in sub-zero temperatures, but once I got the 40 percent out of the insurance company, they proceeded to drop me.

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