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Monday, 23 August 2010

Ospreys & Owls - on 22nd August, 2010

Although I always try and keep my eyes open when out, it is a couple of months or more since I have been out specifically looking for new owl sites. As I had a turn of duty at Rutland Water yesterday evening, I decided to make an earlier start than necessary, and take a devious route there to try and find some owl sites. I was only 10 minutes from my home when I passed a gateway into a field that looked interesting. I reversed up and parked in the gateway. Surveying the posts in the field, I just saw crows, but then I looked at the large modern barn in the distance, and Hey Presto! - a Little Owl. Through the bins it looked like a juvenile.

Little Owl (juvenile) - at new site No.14

I managed to locate the farmhouse and get permission to enter the field. Closer viewing confirmed it was a juvenile and when it spotted me it ducked into the roof. Its home was the void beween the large corrugations of the roofing and the end-capping.

Shortly after this, the farmer's son came out and opened up the barn in order to get his car out. I was about to give up and come back another day. However, the farmer's wife came out and started chatting, telling me that they also see a Barn Owl there from time to time. I noticed that, in spite of all that was going on, the owl had come out again. This time I tried an approach from a different angle, but the owl soon spotted me and ducked into the roof again - time to get the hide out!

I had to wait just over half an hour before it emerged again and, having looked curiously at the hide, it took no notice of me - even when I started clicking away with the camera. Unfortunately I was looking up at 45 degrees, straight into the sun. If I tried taking a shot when the sun was out it was hopeless - the first image below was when there was just thin cloud, and you can see the problem. I had to wait until it clouded over properly, and I was still working at a compensation factor of +3.7EV! Fortunately the owl was in no hurry to go anywhere.

Having looked at my images, I am wondering if there were actually two juveniles in the roofing as the bird in the first images seems somewhat more mature than the extremely fluffy bird that emerged when I was in my hide - just look at the fluffyness in the image below the back-lit one! I shall be returning here soon.

I didn't find any more owls that afternoon (although more were to come later!). My duty at Rutland Water was at Shallow Water hide on the Lyndon Reserve, showing people the Ospreys and giving information as required. It was extremely busy due to people coming round from Birdfair on the Egleton side. I did not, therefore, have much time for photography, just grabbing a few images of the distant Ospreys. The main excitement was when one of the juvenile Ospreys caught a fish - it is relatively unusual for a juvenile to catch fish before it starts its migration. This was, as far as anyone knows, the first time one of this year's brood had caught a fish - to my mind, it bodes well for a successful migration. The two Manton Bay adults were present, plus two of their three juveniles.

Osprey (adults 5R and unringed female)

Osprey (juvenile 29(10))

Osprey (juvenile 30(10)) - the young fisherman!

My route home takes me down some real backwaters. I was just coming away from Marefield when I spotted an owl-like shape on a bit of farm machinery and stopped my car opposite it, in the middle of the road. It was about 21.30 and so very dark by now, and I had difficulty seeing what it was I was looking at. I tried some long exposures at very high ISOs but got nowhere. I then tried flash, but it was too distant - and still it didn't budge. It was only when I decided to go and park my car and see if I could approach it on foot that it took to the air and vanished as I reversed up the road. Below is the 'record shot' from my first flash attempt. This is only the third time I've seen a Tawny since I started birding about five years ago, the time before this being in July this year. At least now I've got a Tawny image - of sorts!!!

Tawny Owl - record shot

The excitement was not quite over yet. When I was about 20 minutes from home a Barny flew out from beside me and continued up the road ahead of me for a few seconds before going over the hedge to my left. I was surprised at its flying speed. I was probably only going about 40 MPH but it was going faster than this.


  1. Thats 128 between us mate, really well done.

  2. Thank you Paul. Yep! Your 114 makes my 14 look pretty insignificant though! By my reckoning, at this rate, when our combined figures reach 200, I'll have reached 22 and you will be on 178!

  3. Wonderful, the more you find the better:-) The Little Owls seem to be doing well. Lovely images Richard.

  4. Thanks Linda. In spite of some losses at my sites, the LO population seems to be holding up quite well. However, I wish that I could have found evidence of successful breeding at more of my sites.

  5. Very cool Richard. I can really see the advantage of the hide in this situation. Beautiful Owl shots.

    Impressive the speed the Barny was doing!

  6. Yes Glen. I was quite surprised by the Barny's speed.

    I don't know if you've seen them before, but I use one of the Stealth Gear one-man chair hides. These are brilliant, if a little cramped for space. They consist of a folding 'canvas' chair (like the ones you see around with the cup-holders in the arms) to which a folding framework with camo fabric is permanently attached. It takes seconds to put up. You just unfold the chair, sit in it, and then pull the framework up over your head. It then has observation windows at front and sides which have camo 'curtains' that you can unzip to any degree that you want. behind the curtain is camo netting which you can observe through quite well, but for photography the netting can be lowered giving you a clear view. It really comes into its own when you are waiting for a bird to appear at a known location.

  7. Thank you so much Richard. I've never done any hide work and have considered building myself something like this for exactly these situations. It didn't even occur to me there might be commercial options available. I will definitely be looking in to these products.


  8. Hi Glen. I bought mine at the back end of last year. I paid £75 (incl. P&P) for it from Severn Valley Leisure. I see that they are still offering it at the same price - It comes with a rucksack-style camo carrying bag. It's brilliant. Very robust - a friend has had one permanently set up in a field for the last 6 months and it's still fine - he just leaves a rock on the seat to stop it blowing over.

  9. Thank you for the link Richard. 6 months in the field literally is one heck of a testimonial. I'm reading about them now. :-)

  10. Hadn't twigged until now that you were in NZ. Might be a bit difficult getting hold of that particular model of hide down there! Good luck!!

  11. Yes Glen, here we have to think a bit carefully about announcing birds to the world at large. I learned my lesson the hard way. Christmas day two years ago I found a Hawfinch which was feeding on the ground (not a very common bird in UK, and usually only seen in the tree tops) at a location with limited space for viewing. I announced it on Birdguides, and for months I couldn't get near the place again. There were even some punch-ups between birders and 'locals' who liked to watch the birds at this beauty spot. Even now when I go I sometimes find that there is no room because it's fully occupied by bird photographers - the Hawfinch is long gone, but there are other birds there that perform unusually well for the camera, no doubt found by the photographers when they came to see the finch.

  12. Thats sad about the location Richard. I hope the bird wasn't too disturbed by all the attention. But the idea of punch ups over lack of room is a little amusing to me (in a bad taste kind of way.) :-)

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