Wildlife photographers in the UK (well certainly this one!), look forward to the migratory return of the wonderfully photogenic Short Eared Owls, each winter.
Flying south and west from colder points north and east, these beautiful birds are partly diurnal, meaning that they are active at both night and in daylight, especially the dawn and dusk 'golden' hours.
This of course makes life much easier for both wildlife and photography enthusiasts alike. Whilst not every day at this time of year is dramatically better than night time itself, there are occasional sunny days with only gentle breezes, that produce some great sightings of Owls ... once you've found where they are of course!!
Local wildlife photography social media jungle drums, have revealed a location where up to 4 Short-eared Owls have set up a temporary roost in a relatively unlikely setting, soon to become a 6,000 strong housing development.
With some sadness at the loss of more natural habitat, balanced against the need for the important house building, it was time to enjoy the here and now and enjoy the rarity of both the wildlife subject and the good weather conditions.
The Short-eared Owls (SEO's), are such a stunning sight that they can draw good numbers of photographers (TOGS), keen to add their image to their portfolios.
Fortunately, this site provides plenty of room for safe social distancing to the benefit of both SEO's and TOGS alike. It does however, still require some care when dashing from one side of the road to the other, to avoid getting squashed flat by the bemused building contractors in big machinery, who were clearly wondering what the heck was going on?!
These are slightly bigger Owls compared say, to the more familiar Barn Owl. They most usually roost in the rough grass of undisturbed, uncultivated or un-grazed ground and make a striking sight when they rise up from their hiding place.
With reasonable numbers of TOGS eyes scanning the fields that represent likely spots, it's not too difficult to notice when an 'Shortie' emerges for the first time usually around mid afternoon, as an array of long lenses swing in the direction of the show.
Spotting the subject with your binoculars is one thing, but locking on with your camera, gaining a sharp focus and tracking the birds flight, is quite another.
The wonders of the latest camera equipment technology helps of course, but I believe an understanding of the SEO's behaviour coupled with some reasonable 'hand/eye' coordination, is required too. A decent helping of both factors can deliver some exciting results, despite the inevitable 'misses' to go with the 'hits'!
SEO's like a perch and can be seen scanning their surroundings with astonishingly swivel heads, constantly looking our for prey, but also danger.
I could see a Shortie doing exactly that and watched as a Kestrel dive bombed the SEO, with a nice little sequence of shots to capture the moment ... I could almost imagine the Owl's thought process ...
"Incoming alert .."
"take evasive action ... Duck! ..."
"Did you see that mate ??! ..."
It's a shame the middle shot didn't get the Kestrel in the perfect depth of field (DOF) focus, but that's wildlife photography for you - you have to get lucky sometimes as it's not easy to plan for such a speedy encounter, still fun to watch though!
Everybody wants that shot of a SEO in flight, golden yellow eyes staring straight down the camera lens ...
... a gaze which seems to say "I see you but I'm going about my business regardless", or so I imagine. This shot seems to have the Owl looking at the TOG on my left - hey ho - next time I'll wear a big yellow hat ha ha!!
I also like to try and capture shots from a different perspective to show a range views and light.
I was presented with just such a chance as one of the Shorties flew close, but with a scrubby tree obscuring the view. I quite like the resulting shot though, as the blurred foreground branches, cast shadows over the outstretched wings ... nice!
Whilst nice bright light shining from directly behind the camera is always welcome, I do also like the last few minutes of light before darkness descends and the ghostly images on offer there, the three below being examples of this.
Of course .... if you're very lucky ... the SEO's will be joined by a local Barn Owl, just as the light disappears below the horizon. Barn Owls are a beautiful subject at any time, but I think these last few views before dark are always to be treasured.
So there we are, the first really successful afternoon with the Shorties of the winter. I'm sure there will be more afternoons in their charismatic presence and I for one, can't wait for that!