Short-eared Owls

March 08, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Following my previous post which was dedicated to the local barn owls, I've had a little more time out and about and whilst the barn owls have continued to show well, I'm very pleased to say that the short-eared owls have also joined the party. With a keen eye on the weather, I've managed a few more hours out with my camera and have been rewarded with some exceptional views of our over-wintering visitors, including an incredible close-call with a very obliging individual. More on that later though.

The weather hasn't improved greatly since my last visit, though the heavy rain has eased, with just a strong wind remaining. This hasn't proved as bad as I thought it might for the owls, with plenty of sightings seen over the last week or so. I spent an afternoon onsite a few days ago and upon arriving was welcomed by a heavy shower, so I waited this out in the car, getting my gear ready. As soon as the shower blew through, I was out of the car and within a few seconds had a short-eared owl hunting not too far away, though it was travelling in the wrong direction for a photo! What happened next was one of those moments that makes wildlife photography so unpredictable and exciting. I noticed another short-eared owl, then another, followed by a barn owl. I had a quick scan behind my and there was yet another shortie up hunting. I turned back around and had three shorties and a barn owl in front of me, with one of the latter coming in at a nice angle and looking like it would give a very close flypast. I just about got it in the viewfinder before another bird came into frame, pushing the shortie away. It was a second barn owl! After a little mid-air melee, the barn owl popped back over the hedge where it must have come from, leaving the shortie to carry on hunting. Fortunately it didn't move too far off its original course and it gave a wonderful display as it glided past.

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl
Brilliant as always to see these birds up close and I was buzzing to have got a few photos, which is always a bonus. Just to see these owls is the real treat and the next 20 minutes or so was pretty chaotic, with owls all over the place. At times I didn't know where to look as they were hunting both in front and behind me. The wind was making things even more frantic as the owls were using the strong gusts to cover large distances in a matter of seconds. One such moment saw a barn owl catch a gust and head straight for the few of us who's been watching it. I had my camera on a monopod so tracking the incoming owl proved incredibly difficult and the few photos I managed saw clipped wings or were out of focus. The owl was hurtling towards us, gaining and losing height as it did so and I gave up trying to get any photos, assuming it would zoom straight past us. When it was no more than 20 feet away it dropped and incredibly, landed on a post. How it stopped so quickly I'll never know but I managed a quick couple of shots before it was off again. An amazing moment! Only one semi-decent shot worth sharing - just a shame about the head angle!

Barn OwlBarn Owl The rest of the afternoon saw activity die down gradually and opportunities for further photography didn't materialise so I simply enjoyed the fresh air and watching the owls at distance. Only one catch was seen and that was by a barn owl, so hopefully the shorties had similar luck when out of sight.

My subsequent visit was a lot quieter, with just one barn owl and one short-eared owl hunting for most of the time I was there. A second short-eared owl appeared a little later, but all three remained distant. Once the light had gone, I went for a slow drive up a couple of the lanes before heading home. I found one short-eared owl perched up but again, distant, but in the hope it may have moved closer to the road I'd be taking home, I carried on very slowly, scanning as I went. I noticed an unusual shape ahead, tucked down in the scrub alongside the road and it was only once I was almost next to it did I realise it was a short-eared owl perched on a bit of wood! Thankfully the camera was on the passenger seat so I eased the car to a stop, with the window down, and managed a few shots from the car. The owl seemed completely unfazed so I watched it for another minute before deciding to get out of the car and get a better angle. Over the next few minutes, I managed to get myself in a much better position, with my lens resting on a fencepost. The owl simply sat there, watching me. A bonkers moment but as always, I has something to complain about, that being it was by now pretty much completely dark! I was shooting at ISO 3200, handheld in strong wind, and my shutter speed was a paltry 1/50 second. Awful conditions but a few images came out just about okay, though not if you're a pixel peeper who likes to view things at full size. Below are the shots that just about made the cut, though I'll admit I'm more than happy how they look on screen, given how little light I had to play with!

Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl

Subsequent visits provided plenty more sightings, though photographic opportunities haven't been as good but no complaints whatsoever as it's been reassuring to see that a good number of owls have survived this long and continue to hunt. It won't be long at all until the short-eared owls head north so here's wishing them a safe flight and successful breeding season!


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