Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hoping for Owls

Not far from my home is a expansive area of salt marsh that forms the outer estuary of the River Dee. This relatively short vegetation, small creeks and ponds provides good habitat for birds but also for a range of small mammals which in turn attracts a variety of birds of prey. This is particularly the case during the winter months when birds like hen harrier and short-eared owls take up temporary home on the marsh to join the residents such as kestrel, barn owl and merlin.

The photography here is really a question of luck. Walking out on the marsh is discouraged to prevent disturbance of the birds and also presents some real dangers in terms of disappearing into the soft muds. So it is a question of finding a location along the footpath the runs along the eastern side where you have a chance of the birds flying close. The only way to get some results is to put in some time on the basis that the longer you are there the greater the chance of a bird flying into photography range. A game of persistence and chance.

Since the start of the year I have been making some occasional visits to try and photograph some of the owls. Barn owls have been doing well locally in recent years due to a lot of effort put in to provide them with nest boxes. These enigmatic birds show wide variability in the timing of the daily hunting. Some individuals will appear in daylight at either end of the day but many are strictly nocturnal so to achieve any success requires the right bird to be found. The patterns of the bird behaviour do change through the year with the birds forced to hunt in daylight during the demanding periods of rearing of their young.

During the last couple of months the Barn Owl I have been trying to photograph has shown nearly nocturnal behaviour with very brief appearances at first and last light when often too little light for photography which has obviously limited success. Several sessions have seen me heading back home with no or only a few photographs that have headed straight to trash. In fact I only really managed to get a few photographs, that I was happy to keep, from one recent session when we had the heavy snowfall. The cold weather probably forced the owls to stay out a little longer than usual. It was nice to get a couple of photographs of the ghostly form of the owl gliding through the light snow that was falling.
I was surprised when the owl appeared behind me, hunting along the verge of the the car park, and landed close by briefly having missed a vole.
The Short-eared owls are an easier prospect for photography as they are one of the few owls that regularly hunt in daylight so the chance of success is much greater. My efforts for these have been hampered to an extent by the dreadful weather we have had at the start of this year. How I have yearned to just have a few moments with the owls driftingclose-by  through some beginning or end of the day sunlight. Oh well you can't have it all.

It has been pleasure just watching these beautiful owls as they hunt in low buoyant flight across the marshes, looking for voles, with the occasional close fly-by allowing a few images to be captured.
I will probably keep putting some time in for the owls in the near future assuming I do not become distracted by other species. Photographing these birds is quite addictive. As always so much to do and such limited time.

1 comment:

What Do Owls Eat? said...

Beautiful pictures.


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