Sunday, April 03, 2016

Late Season Owls

It has been a good winter in the UK for Short-eared Owls with a large influx of birds from continental Europe. Unfortunately for me, free time coinciding with decent weather to try and photograph these majestic owls seems to have been limited. The birds usually stay on their winter feeding areas through March before starting to disperse to the upland summer breeding sites. With an improvement in the weather this March and three birds being reported to be appearing at both ends of the day on the local marsh, I decided I would try to get some photographs before they disappeared.
Photographing owls always requires an element of luck as it tends to be done by standing in a spot and waiting for owls to fly close by as they quarter the fields in their buoyant flight searching for voles. My first trip was in the evening which proved to be unsuccessful as the light was not great and the birds all distant. I decided I would try an early morning visit when the birds would be front lit. This was at the time of a new moon which means that these daytime owls are limited in their ability to hunt visually at night, compared with a full moon period, which would hopefully prolong their morning hunting activities.

So an early alarm call saw me creeping out the house on a still and frosty morning with clear skies overhead. I was down at the site before sunrise, standing on the edge of a large area of salt marsh. Slowly the sky lighten behind me with the rising sun and it was a joy to hear the marsh slowly come to life with an increasing symphony of bird sounds.  Soon after the warm glow of the sun started spreading across the marsh two owls appeared and started hunting. They spotted each other and made a direct line towards each other for a mid-air tussle at distance before seeming to fly off into the distance which was not a very encouraging sign but they did return and one made several close fly-by in the soft warm dawn light.

Its is always a pleasure to watch these owls hunting, as they float low above the marsh before suddenly twisting downward to try and wrap their talons around an unsuspecting vole. The are such a lovely looking bird armed with a very penetrating stare from those bright yellow eyes.

By 8am it was all over and the birds went back to ground to roost. A brief but pleasurable session. I made another return visit in similar conditions about a week later although not an owl was to be seen. Maybe they had already moved on and I was lucky to just catch the very last on them in their winter haunts where hopefully they will return once more in the mid-autumn.


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