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Monday, 19 September 2011

Very Late Newborn Owl Chicks - on 18th September, 2011

Went out for an evening's owling last night. My first call was at my LO Site No.09. I heard a bird calling soon after I arrived, but couldn't work out where the sound was coming from. A walk around the field resulted in the bird seeing me before I saw it, and scarpering. No point in hanging around as my time was limited, so I went off to my LO Site No.03 where I had recently rediscovered a bird.

As I parked at the roadside, the bright sun was immediately behind the nest tree and so it took a  few seconds to spot the bird, which was bravely sitting out in a chill breeze. I did a +2 exposure compensation for into the sun and grabbed a safety shot. You can probably imagine that it was not that easy to see this bird with the naked eye when all looked as if in silhouette.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
I'd previously been requested to ask before entering the garden each time, so this I did. On this occasion I was kindly given permission to just help myself in future. I used the same nonchalant stroll past as last time, turning to take a photo only when I was between the sun and the owl. Unfortunately the owl was only just peeping above the broken trunk of the tree.

As the owl did not seem over concerned at my presence, I walked back past the tree, fetched my hide from the car and returned past the tree to the sunny side again. The owl stayed in place the whole time!

My hope was that, if I sat quietly in my hide, the bird might get curious and come round to the sunny side itself into a more exposed position. After an hour, there was no movement to be seen and, at 19.10 it was starting to get dark and I had an appointment down the road at 19.30. I left the hide and took a peek round the corner to find the owl still sitting in much the same place. I had already wound the ISO on my camera up to 1600 because of the lack of light, but the following image was taken at 125th (500mm) with -0.3 exposure compensation.

Little Owl - my Site No.03

It seems to me that, from the above two images, that the owl is slightly cross-eyed! I've just looked at the images that I took here on 1st of this month (see my post of September 5th), and get the same impression!

My appointment was just 2 miles (3 km) down the road at a farm where the farmer has erected a Barn Owl box with a camera in it. I'd had a call in August to invite me to come and see the owls that had taken up residence. I visited on August 15th and the television was switched over to reveal no Barn Owl, but six eggs, scattered in the box. This was slightly worrying on two counts: eggs scattered with no owl in attendance, and very late in the year to start trying to breed.

Barn Owl Eggs - 15th August, 2011
My worries on the first count were allayed when the female owl suddenly appeared outside the nest box, and then entered, rearranged the eggs, and resumed incubation. I left still concerned at the future prospects for these six eggs. I was, therefore, delighted to get a phone call on Monday last week to say that there were now six chicks in the nest, and an invitation to come and see them.

I arrived last night to be greeted with the news that he thought that they were now down to five chicks. I sat down to watch the female adult, who was covering the chicks to the extent that it was difficult to make much out at first. However, she started preening herself and so we got some glimpses of the chicks. One was much much larger than all the others (in the foreground of the two images below), and two were tiny with virtually no body weight or feathering (one poking out just to the left of 'the bruiser'). We could still not decide how many chicks there were.

Having had a good preening session, the female suddenly departed with down flying everywhere and a great cacophony (yes, the camera also has sound!). At first we thought that there was a bit of a ding dong going on outside, but when we switched to the outside camera there was nothing there. It was then we realised that it was the chicks (one in particular - the second largest) that were being so noisy.

The chicks stayed huddled together whilst mum was away, and she'd still not returned by the time I departed. However, we are pretty sure that we managed to count six chicks and not five! I'm still worried about the future for these birds. There was no food in the nest, the male bird had not been seen for three days (although the camera has not been closely monitored during that time), and it seems that the female is now finding it necessary to go hunting.

Barn Owl Chicks - 18th September, 2011

There was a successful breeding in this box last year, but no birds were seen this year until recently. My theory is that one of the birds probably succumbed to the harsh winter, and the remaining bird probably only found a replacement mate recently. Let's hope that, against all odds, they succeed in raising a family this year, even if only two or three make it to fledging. I hope to be able to keep you informed of progress over the next couple of months.

The nest cam is one of the best, and the images on the large television screen are good, but trying to take good images of the television screen with a long lens on an SLR is something that I haven't a clue about. Any tips would be gratefully received!


  1. Personally, I really like the LO popping out from over the bark - it really works as the tree and foliage make for a natural frame.

    Thanks for including your data re. exposure compensation, which is helpful to me as an inexperienced photographer. I'll be experimenting next time out with the camera.

    Very interesting Barn Owl developments. Please keep us posted on further news. Let's hope for successful hunting. I had no idea that they would have such a late brood. I'm learning all the time.

  2. Superb post Richard, I'm hoping to set up a nest cam next year. Keep us posted of any developments.

  3. Thanks guys. Will keep as close to the BO situation as I can (without making a nuisance of myself!) and report back. Spoke to someone on the Staffordshire BO project a week ago, and they said that they'd ringed BO chicks as late as the end of October - so there is hope!


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