The Lucky Swedes Photographing Snowy Owls Around Calgary

Photos and Story by Carl Beskow and Bengt-Åke Öhgren ©
May 17, 2018

Male snowy owl photographed near Bieseker

(Tamron 150-600 mm lens)

In the last week in February Bengt-Åke Öhgren and Carl Beskow, from Skövde in Sweden, took a snowy owl workshops in the surroundings of Calgary. Our guide Dr. Robert Berdan took us to different places in the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the Badlands. Here follows a short story of what we have seen.

Male snowy owl on fence post

Male snowy owl on fence post

Male snowy owl in flight

Male snowy owl in flight

Male snowy owl in flight

Male snowy owl in flight

Female snowy owl in a field of snow

Female snowy owl resting in a field

The Snowy Owl was the main reason we made the trip to Calgary and we were happy and lucky to see 10 male and female Snowy Owls on the first day, first at a distance and then closeup. We were in the land of the Snowy Owls and it was an exciting feeling, thanks to Robert who let us see and photograph the owls. The third day we were lucky to see a male Snowy Owl flying after catching hungarian partridge and then landing in the snow close to us beside the car. We watched and photographed him eat the grouse (see series of photographs below).

Male snowy owl photographed beside the highway

Male snowy owl photographed beside the highway

Snowy owl swooping in to catch a grouse

Snowy owl swooping in to catch a grouse

Snowy owl with a Grey Partridge in its claws

Snowy owl with a Grey Partridge in its claws

Raven attempting to steal food from a snowy owl

Raven attempting to steal food from a snowy owl

Snowy owl feeding on a Grey Partridge

Snowy owl feeding on a Grey Partridge


In our trip to the Rocky Mountains we saw 5 female Moose, several Elk, White-tailed deer and mule deer. The most spectacular event was when we saw three wolves along a riverside for perhaps 3-4 minutes. The trip ended with a vistit to Hälle Flygare in Canmore, and it was fantastic to meet him and his wife Linda and see his new book about the Arctic and see all his photos. For us Swedes it was special to meet the Swedish-Canadian legendary photographer in Canada.  

Rare sighting of wolves in Kananaskis

Rare sighting of wolves in Kananaskis - there were three in total

Short Eared Owl on fence post along Grande Valley Road

Short Eared Owl on fence post along Grande Valley Road

Snowshoe Hare in Kananaskis

Snowshoe Hare in Kananaskis

Photographing Moose from behind Robert's Jeep in Kananaskis

Photographing Moose from behind Robert's Jeep in Kananaskis - we saw 4 of them at this location.


North of Calgary Robert took us down Grande Valley road to photograph Short Eared Owls, four at the same moment and with a Coyote in the distance. We could study the owls quite close and also see one catching a mouse and we could take some nice pictures of them flying and sitting.     

White tail deer jumping a barbed wire fence

White tail deer jumping a barbed wire fence

In the Badlands we visited Royal Tyrrell Museum with dinosaur replicas found in the surroundings and in was a fascinating and interesting story told in the museum. Afterwards we visited Drumheller to see the Hoodoos stone - pillars.

Hoodoos near Drumheller

Visiting the Hoodoos near Drumheller

flock of snowy buntings

We encountered a large flock of snow buntings

We want to thank all nice people we have meet during the week in Calgary and especially Robert who showed us Canadas wilderness, animals and birds. We had four really nice days in Roberts' company, telling us interesting things about nature and science.

Robert Berdan our guide and his Jeep on the backroads near Bieseker

Robert Berdan our guide and his Jeep on the backroads near Bieseker in search of snowy owls in February

A visit with Canadian - Swedish Wildlife Photographer Hälle Flygare in Canmore

A visit with Canadian - Swedish Wildlife Photographer Hälle Flygare (standing) in Canmore

 

Why the Snowy Owl is a passion in my life.
First sighting - Bengt-Åke Öhgren

In the beginning of the year 2000 I was operated on to remove a cancer. After that I had several tough treatments. During this period I didn´t feel very good. One day I caught a sight in our local paper of a Snowy Owl that was staying near a lake in our neighborhood - Hornborgasjön. We only see such birds once every ten years in our part of Sweden. I called my mother Alice, suggested a trip to the lake with a packed lunch. She said no, you are not well, go to bed and rest. But I tried again - then I was determined to go by myself. She softened, fixed a packed lunch with coffee and egg-sandwiches, and I promised to wear double knickers and other warm clothes.

When we arrived at the lake we met a gloomy group of bird watchers. They had spent the whole morning, looking for the rare beauty. She is not here today, they told us, deeply disappointed. In spite of this information my mother and I took a walk to the observation tower and climbed up to the top. While chewing my sandwich I got a glimpse of a movement in a reeds. And there she was, one of the most beautiful creatures in the bird world, spreading her wings almost as a greeting. At that time I was not a photographer. Therefore this awesome experience is just saved in my brain and in my heart.

Snowy owl in flight East of Calgary

Snowy owl in flight East of Calgary

Wrangel Island
Ten years later I got the ability to go to a place where many Snowy Owls breed, Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. Ironically there were not many owls left on the island that summer because there were very few lemmings. On Wrangel we met Irina Ovsyanikova, a Russian researcher and specialist on Snowy Owls. She was sad, when she told us that many Snowy Owl chicks were found dead that summer. Many owls were searching for other nesting sites around the Arctic world. Two owl couples chose a site in Stekenjock in the north part of Sweden.

However, it was a fantastic experience to visit Wrangel Island, sometimes called the Galapagos of the Arctic, because it was free from ice, when our part of the world was covered with Glaciers 3500 years ago and while the last wolly mammoths in the world were still living there. When you walk around Wrangel Island today you can find mammoth bones sticking up on the tundra. On Wrangel you can also find 22 endemic plants and two species of lemmings, which live nowhere else. We also had a lot of fantastic meetings with Polar Bears, Walruses and thousands of spectacular birds. Our last day on Wrangel we asked a local ranger to help us spot a snowy owl. He suggested a walk on the tundra. The first snow that season started to fall, so we brought our cameras in plastic bags. After a while we saw an owl sitting on the ground, white like an angel. I think I snapped over a hundred pictures. But I was very excited and my hands were shaking , so just one of this pictures was sharp. All the same, it´s one of my favorite pictures.

Calgary Canada
A couple of years later my fascination wilth the Snowy Owls still exists. When my friend Carl suggested a trip to Canada in February this year, looking for Snowy Owls, he didn´t need a long time to persuade me. He arranged all details for the journey and what a success! We met Robert Berdan in Calgary, and he planned our visit. Afterwords he called us "The lucky swedes". Thanks to his experience and knowledge we had a lot of unforgettable views and meetings with the marvelous owl. We encountered a male, sitting on a pole like a photo model, showing us all his beauty (see photos above).

Robert told us, that the natives of the prairie learned from the Snowy Owl how to protect their eyes from the intensive light from the sun. We saw the owl on the pole with the eye in the sunny part of the face as a narrow slit, but in shadow of the eye we observed the yellow color. Of course another highlight was to see and take a photo of the owl flying close to the ground with a prey in his claws. After a while he was harassed by a Raven, which was prepared to fight and conquer the food from him. A short fight and the Raven failed and flew away. In front of us the winner could enjoy his meal with three fascinated spectators in their car on the first row. After the meal we could see that there was a Grouse (Grey or Hungarian Partridge) on the menu this afternoon.

Hungarian Partridge (Grouse) and feathers after the Snowy Owl feasted on him

Hungarian Partridge (Grouse) and feathers after the Snowy Owl feasted on him

Back home in Sweden again I read in a book: ”An Inuit tale tells of the day Snowy Owl and Raven made each other new clothes. Raven made Owl a pretty dress of white feathers, dotted with black lamp oil. In return Owl made Raven a lovely white dress. But when she asked Raven to try on the dress, Raven became so excited, she couldn´t hold still. She jumped around so much that Owl got mad and threw the pot of lamp oil at her. The black oil soaked into the white dress and Raven has been dressed in black ever since.”

Coyote hunting in the field

Coyote hunting in the field

The endless plains of the prairie and the wilderness in the Rocky Mountains will stay in my mind as long as I live. I will never forget the glimpse of a Wolf pack in a creek. I even got a chance to take a few photos before they disappeared. My pulse was of course very high. It was the first time I saw wild Wolves and captured some photos with my camera. What an experience! A couple of times we saw Coyotes, mostly far away from us. But the last day in Calgary-surroundings we were lucky to meet one fairly close and in good light for a photo. We also met Wapiti (Elk), Moose, Snow Shoe Hares and even other owls like Short-eared Owl. I will never forget our trip to Calgary. Robert Berdan helped us to make it a lifelong memory.
Bengt-Åke Öhgren


We recommend a visit to Calgary and the Snowy Owl workshop is a nice way to see as much as possible.

Carl Beskow and Benkt-Åke Öhgren at Upper Lakes Kananaskis

Cheers from the “happy and lucky” swedes - Carl Beskow and Benkt-Åke Öhgren at Upper Lakes Kananaskis

 

Authors Biography & Contact Information

Carl Beskow and Benkt-Åke Öhgren Carl Beskow and Bengt-Åke Öhgren are photographers from Sweden interested in nature and wildlife photography. They visited Calgary in mid winter (February 2018) in search of snowy owls and other wildlife.

 

 

 

 

Carl Beskow
Email: Infrakonsultcb@telia.com
Benkt-Åke Öhgren
Email: bengt-ake.ohgren@hotmail.com

 

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