Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Summer Owls

When I returned from my trip to Romania earlier this year, apart from having a huge number of images to work through, I was trying to decide where to concentrate my photography efforts during the summer. The summer can be a tricky time for the wildlife photographer particularly in a year of good weather when the best conditions are early morning and and late afternoon evening.

I received a call from my friend Steve who said that a Barn Owl had been showing reasonably regularly during daylight. The owl was hunting in fields at distance from its nest site in an old  barn. An important point as I am always aware that these are a Schedule 1 species. I did 2 or 3 evening sessions, only one of which produced any results I was happy with when there were several close fly-by the owl. A beautiful sight to watch on a summer's evening as the ghostly form quartered over the fields in slow buoyant flight listening for signs of voles  A couple of photographs from this  session are shown below.

I arranged to meet up with Steve one evening and on his arrival he told me that on the way over he had spotted a Little Owl sitting on a farm building that might be worth having more of a look at. The interest radar immediately activated. Little Owls are one species that I have never got round to photographing for a variety of reasons but partly due to them being fairly scarce the immediate vicinity of my home. With a no show by the Barn Owl, we packed up early that evening and headed off to check out the other site.

The Little Owls were nesting in an old, derelict brick t farm building which had a low outbuilding with a slate tiled roof to one site. The building was separated from an adjacent field by a gravel track with a wide grass verge. On arrival an owl was sat in a circular brick opening when Steve had spotted it early in the evening. This turned out to be one of its favourite places to perch and from where it could watch below for any potential prey. So many hours were spent over the next 2 months looking at the owl in this hole doing not a great deal until the sun had dipped sufficiently to stir it into action.

When looking at a new site and species there are lots of factors to consider. You always need to go through an education process of assessing the site in terms of light and photography potential and most importantly learn the behaviour of the animal. What times are they most active? What areas do they frequent most? and so the  list goes on. All of which are processed by my moth filled grey matter to try and determine how and when the best photo opportunities are likely to be presented. So the photographs below are a selection from a couple of evening sessions after work during June where I was learning the habits of these owls. As you can see they are mostly portrait type photos which you tend to take during an initial phase of a mini project. Typically once you have established patterns then you can move on to trying to capture some other types of photographs.

It became quickly obvious that owls has a preference for sitting in the brick window or on the roof and would frequently drop to the lower roof before dropping into an adjacent gravel track or verge to hunt prey.

Catching the very last of the day's light on the roof.
Despite their diminutive size the stare of a Little Owl can be very intense. 
A bird on the track standing to attendion at the sound of the camera shutter having not yet got accustomed to it. 
The birds would spend quite a lot of time on the lower roof which they seemed to be using as a hunting perch.
Before dropping  to the ground below to look for food.
However, these birds are constantly alert for birds and potential predators passing overhead which is hardly surprising given their small size with an adult standing at about 20cms.
Little Owls are an interesting species which are  not native to the UK but were introduced in 1842 by Thomas Powys and a population quickly established. These tiny owls appear to have quite a feisty temperament which is partly enhanced by their scowling and stern appearance. They certainly seem to stand their ground  when frequently mobbed by other birds.  A very endearing species to watch and a pleasure to be with even if it does involve quite long periods of watching  them do apparently very little. One point I noticed very early on is that the iris on those penetrating yellow eyes seem to act independently of each other in terms of dilation according to the quantity of light falling on different sides of the face. This can give them quite an odd appearance at times.  You can see this effect to a degree in this photograph with the left and right pupils being slightly different sizes.
However, their vision is amazing and there ability to spot prey at distance in the grass verge adjacent to the farm building was nothing shot of staggering.

This will be the first of two or three blog posts on these birds as I followed the progress of the adults and their young over a couple of months this summer. So expect to see more of these fascinating owls in some future blog installments.

3 comments:

Linda said...

Brilliant and gorgeous captures!

Martin Powell said...

Nice shots well done uncle Richard

Esben Reiersen said...

Excellent shots. I really like the first one of the Barn owl. A beautiful picture of a beautiful owl.
Well done!

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