About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bagging My Snowy


The Magic of the Snowy Owl
I resisted it for as long as I could. All winter I have enjoyed watching the flood of dramatic pictures on Facebook of the Snowy Owls that have invaded our New England coast in record numbers. These beautiful birds are usually a rarity this far south, but every 4-5 years there is an “irruption” as the supply of Lemmings, their staple food, rises in its normal cyclic pattern. This year the Snowies have launched a full scale invasion. It is estimated that this is the biggest irruption in the last 50 years. Facebook in general and the New England Photography Guild FB site in particular have been overflowing with fantastic images of Snowy Owls. It seemed that every other picture on the site was of an adorable white raptor fluffed up against the cold. I haven’t seen any Snowies in the Monadnock region, but it became apparent to me that I can’t call myself a New England photographer unless I have a Snowy in my portfolio. So I finally surrendered and headed to the coast last Monday to try to catch a Snowy before they made their springtime retreat to the northern tundra.

Failed Search

Two years ago I had made a similar attempt, but came up empty. I had taken the two hour trek to the New Hampshire coast on a cold February morning and searched the coast for several hours before I
Hampton Beach Sunrise
had to give up. I had to fulfill my responsibility to photograph the Cheshire Medical Center's participation in the "Penguin Plunge". The plunge is an annual fund raiser to Benefit the Special Olympics in which otherwise sane individuals pointlessly dive into the ocean at Hampton Beach. For several years I came along to record my friends in various shades of blue as they emerged from the frigid Atlantic. The Plunge was a great success and everyone survived, but I saw zero snow owls. I did get some nice images of a clear and frigid coastal sunrise.

This year I decided to improve my odds. Several of my fellow New England Photography Guild members are world class bird photographers and I sent out a general email looking for recommendations about where I would have the best chance to bag a Snowy. John Vose got back to me with two suggestions which turned out to be perfect. It helped that the birds seemed to have settled into favorite locations and were not wandering a great deal. Also Snowy Owls are easier to find since, unlike most other owls, they tend to be active during daylight hours.

Roof Top Snowy

My first location was at the State Park on the northern side of Rye Harbor. I pulled in at about 9am and a quick tour revealed no owls
Up On the Roof
in sight. A park Ranger, who was parked in the lot, told me that a female Snowy had been hanging out around the Park for several weeks, but he had not seen her for the last few days. My hopes fell, but then he mentioned that she occasionally perched on the roof of a white house on the opposite side of the road from the Park. Again I saw nothing, but then, as I scanned further up the road, I spied a white smudge on the roof of a pink house. A glance through my telephoto revealed that I had found my Snowy! I approached the house slowly and in stages. I didn't want to spook her and even a distant picture would make the trip worthwhile. I was eventually able to approach close enough to capture close-up images of this magnificent bird. It was clear that she had become used to seeing crazy photographers and John had told me that she was quite imperturbable. I was able to capture sharp images with my Canon 100-400 zoom and a 2x tele extender. Fully extended I had 800mm to work with. The extender meant that I had to focus manually and was limited to an aperture no wider that f11, but it was a bright day and careful manual focusing was necessary anyway to deal with the shallow depth of field of the long lens. Of course my position on the side of the road with a ridiculously long lens drew passersby. I initially felt sorry for those who only had a cell phone to capture the scene, but then I realized that no photograph was necessary to capture the majesty of these birds. I felt incredibly lucky. I finally had a chance to experience a Snowy. I could have returned home happy, but I had one more of John’s locations to try and I wanted to see if I could catch a bird in a more natural environment. Roof shingles were not the most dramatic backdrop for my images. 

Salisbury Beach

I headed south to Salisbury Beach and the entry road turned out to be a bonanza of Snowies. I saw at least 3 different owls, including one in a tree, another in the grass of an adjacent marsh and one that seemed attached to a telephone pole just outside the park entrance. On weekends this road tends to be packed with cars, but on his cool Monday morning I shared the owls with only a few birders. I have read that the males tend to be mostly white while he females have more dark spots. The owls were easy to find. All I needed to do was notice where the other photographers were pointing their cameras. It was all too easy and, given how hard I worked last time, I felt a bit guilty. The one thing that I missed was good pictures of the birds in flight. They mostly seemed comfortable on their perches. I kept my camera trained on the birds, leaving room to the side toward which I expected them to take flight. Invariably I was glancing away at the moment they took wing and only caught one just as it was flying out of the frame.

Taking Flight

How can I complain? The 4 hours of driving to and from the coast was well worth the effort. I not only bagged my Snowy, but I got to see these magnificent birds in a variety of locales and activities. I now feel that I can hold my head up among my fellow New England photographers and settle back into my usual role of shooting trees, rocks and streams. 

Passing Seagull


  1. Jeffrey, what an amazing trip! I had never seen a snowy owl until this year. I fell in love!! I have had the fortune to have seen 18 different owls this year. One snowy owl is only about 20 min. away from my apartment and I go to see/photograph him every day..Two days ago, he let me into his life! I was within 30 ft. of him, I sat down on the snow, and he/she just watched me! It was truly an incredible experience to be able to connect to wildlife!

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  2. Congratulations Jeff. You did very well photographing your first Snowy. Beautiful images.

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