Great grey owl flips the script on Quebec City wildlife photographer

An amateur photographer got more than she bargained for when the owl she set out to photograph landed on her camera lens.

Anaïs Trépanier shares her close encounter with one of the world's largest owls

Anaïs Trépanier was quite surprised when the great grey owl she set out to photograph landed right on the long lens of her camera. (Thomas Pham-Van/Submitted by Anaïs Trépanier)

Anaïs Trépanier was supposed to be the photographer, not the subject. But during a photo expedition in the Côte-de-Beaupré area north of Quebec City last week, a great grey owl swooped in with other ideas.

"I was clicking on the shutter and seconds after, I see it land on my lens," she told Breakaway's Alison Brunette. "It's the biggest owl we have here in Quebec. It's not like a chickadee."

Trépanier says the owl perched on her camera for about 30 seconds. She remembers standing as still as possible because her friends, who are also photographers, were saying, "Don't move! Don't move!" while they snapped some photos.

For someone who picked up photography as a hobby during the pandemic, Trépanier considers herself quite fortunate to have had such an intimate encounter with a rarely spotted bird.

Great grey owls range from Quebec to the Pacific coast across northern North America and are also found in Scandinavia and parts of northern Asia. The birds aren't always easy to spot, and they don't venture to Quebec every year.

Lens as perch?

Trépanier has asked a few experts why the bird might have decided to land on her camera. She said they have a few theories, but no one is entirely sure.

"It could just be a question of chance," said Pascal Côté, director of the Tadoussac bird observatory. "Maybe the owl thought it was a perch or was looking for prey."

"She might have just been in the right place at the right time."

Côté said while it's strongly discouraged, some photographers bring mice or other live bait to try to lure owls or birds of prey toward their cameras. He said that practice has made some birds more comfortable interacting with humans.

"That's not what I did," said Trépanier, adamantly.

Anaïs Trépanier snapped this picture of a great grey owl, known as a chouette lapone in French, moments before it landed on her lens. (Submitted by Anaïs Trépanier)

A few ornithologists who have seen the photographs Trépanier shared online said the perch theory makes sense. The photographer was wearing a white jacket that blended in with the snow, and she was standing still for quite a long time. Experts have also told her that great grey owls are known for not being afraid of people.

"Most photographers have been surprised, but they're really happy for me," Trépanier said.

Her own stunning photo of the owl coming in for a landing on her lens has set the bar incredibly high when it comes to where she will go from here. But she said wildlife photography has quickly become a passion she'll continue to pursue.

She said she has a lot of ideas for subject matter. This spring, she'll be aiming her lens at Canada geese and trying to track down a few foxes raising new kits.

"You have to be really patient," she said. "Sometimes we wait for hours to have a good shot."

"It's a good way to live the moment. I didn't know I was going to love it this much."

with files from CBC Quebec's Breakaway