Chasing ghosts

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The Great Grey Owl is sometimes referred to in Scandanavian myth and folklore as the Phantom of the North. For the last couple of years I’ve visited Finland in winter hoping for the chance of  photographing this beautiful bird hunting in the snow. The more I chased , the more the opportunity seemed to elude me though.

Only a matter of weeks after returning from Finland where I had been fortunate enough to photograph the Northern Lights with good friend Danny Green, I found out from our guide Antti Peuna of Finnature that a couple of Great Grey Owls had been found hunting in open areas in Finnish lapland.

Surviving winter isn’t always easy for the Great Grey Owl. Vole populations are highly cyclical, reaching a peak  every 3-4 years before crashing. When this inevitable crash occurs prey becomes scare and the owls have to travel several hundreds kilometres in search of better hunting grounds. During these difficult  times Great Greys sometimes come to open areas if they can’t find food elsewhere. The last time this occurred was in 2009 when the BBC’s Frozen Planet team’s footage of hunting Great grey owls was taken (again with the help of Jari Peltomaki’s Finnature).

For Danny the opportunity to photograph this bird has haunted his imagination for many years. He was on the last leg of his Long Journey North and hoping to include this perhaps the most iconic  species of the North in his book of the same name, some eight years in the making. A few weeks earlier that hope appeared to have all but gone with publication deadlines looming, replaced by a weary acceptance that we were  perhaps chasing ghosts. I like to think that there is something poetic that at this moment of  surrender this magnificent owl finally emerged from the forest, revealing itself to us.

There was no time to waste, Great Greys are nomadic and there was no knowing how long the owls would remain in the area they had been found. Flights were hastily booked followed by a madcap dash to Heathrow. A  long wait at Helsinki for our connecting flight to Lapland followed. For once it was a gamble that paid off though. Just a few hours later we were stood watching the ghost of the North, staring unblinking back at us, perched in falling snow. Unreal.

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There were 5-6 owls in the area at the time, there were a pair of owls though that were particularly accommodating , on which we focused our photography over the next couple of days. I’ve included a few of my favourite images from the trip here.

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I learnt a lot working alongside Danny during our time with the owls, in particular about understanding  light and interpreting animal behaviour for which I’m very grateful.

Danny’s The Long Journey North is now available to buy exclusively from his website. With a forward by top BBC wildlife cameraman John Aitchison, it’s a visual exploration of the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Northern Europe and a stunning collection of images showing some of the most beautiful and iconic species that can be found in this varied and pristine wilderness.

Many thanks also to our guide for our time with the owls, Antti Peuna and all at Finnature  Finnature. It was an amazing experience.

This is my last blog for the year. And what a year, with wildlife highlights including spectacular Northern Lights, wild wolves, adorable Brown Bear cubs and  magnificent Great Grey Owls. If Carlsberg did wildlife photography…

I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who follows my work for your support and on behalf of Pressie and myself to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and joyful New Year.

 

 

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16 Responses to Chasing ghosts

  1. Manish says:

    What a beautiful work .. indeed rare images

  2. Gerry says:

    Great image all round Jules. Definitely still a subject I would like to photograph one day! :)

  3. Paul W says:

    Lovely set of images.

    Only six months and two weeks until it’s the bears of Finland (not that I’m counting…)

  4. Ann Chapman says:

    Outstanding series of photos! I’ve seen a captive Great Grey Owl close up and I think they are my favourite owl but what an experience it must have been to see these in the wild. Utterly wonderful to see these so thanks for sharing with us all!

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Hi Ann

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. They are stunning birds aren’t they. I love all owls but Great Greys are something special I agree :)

  5. Peter Maris says:

    Wow, great shots Jules. Really stuff that makes me drool behind the screen. You also got a nice variation in the images, though being the same bird and area. Love the ones with the snow flakes a lot.

    • jcoxfoto says:

      Cheers Peter. Glad you spotted the variation. I tired very hard to mix it up a bit. You’ve always been a great supporter of my work. Much appreciated. Don’t forget to wipe that keyboard dry btw ;)

  6. Tammy Johnson says:

    Mr Cox, your photos are absolutely beautiful! I’ve been a bird lover all of my life as well as a wildlife artist with a special focus on the raptors. I love the owls but especially the Great Grey Owl. They appear to be so majestic and regal yet mystical at the same time. Thank you for sharing your amazing work with all of us! :-)

  7. Beautiful pictures….full of life…Their eyes haunt you.. no wonder they are called Ghosts of the north… thanks for sharing.

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