I participated in an Audubon birding walk on Governors Island last week and we lucked out and observed a Snowy Owl. This was my first, so I was really excited.
I'd been nervous about the possibility of seeing an owl as I didn't want to disturb it if it was there. I've heard too many horror stories of photographers getting too close to owls and flushing them or causing them stress, so I didn't want to potentially endanger the bird. I've invested in a long lens so I can stay a safe distance from the birds and not interfere with them.
However, our Audubon guide was excellent and spotted the owl from a great distance, so we were able to get close looks through a scope. The video below (without the scope) shows how far away we were when the camera zooms out.
As a bonus, we were treated to a flock of Snow Buntings just as it began to snow. I'd never seen these birds before either, so this was a real treat.
New York City Audubon offers many local bird walks throughout the year. Upcoming events can be found here.
For tips on ethical snowy owl photography, please read this article from New Hampshire Audubon.
This collection of Audubon articles on ethical bird photography is also a must-read.