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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Short Sighted, but Distant Vision Just About OK! - on 6th November, 2011

Inspired by the fabulous images of Short-eared Owls being created by my good friend and mentor, Paul Riddle, and not having seen a Shorty myself since May, on Mull, I reckoned that it was about time that I did something about it! Not wanting to press Paul for his location - partly because I'd prefer Paul to keep it to himself, and partly because I knew that it was a long way from Paul and diametrically opposed to my position, and so much further for me - I decided that I needed to find somewhere a little closer to home.

As a relative newcomer to birdwatching I'd only seen SEOs in five places, and each of those was where there were rough meadows close to a significant amount of water. For the past week or so I've been checking out some very local locations - so far without luck, but I'm still hopeful!
I'd pretty-well decided that, in order to practise techniques and get to understand these birds better, I'd go to a place a little more distant (but considerably closer to me than Paul's are to him!) where there was a good chance of seeing SEOs. Sunday promised to be bright and sunny all day so after a bit of a late start (sometimes I don't feel like getting up early!) and armed with a picnic, I headed out, calling at three of my Little Owl sites on the way.

Having arrived at my chosen location, I spent a good three hours exploring the extensive complex of lakes for the best location. Eventually I settled on a place between two lakes (one very large and on sonewhat smaller), and hung around and waited. Apart from a family walking their dog, and a young couple out for a romantic stroll, I had the place to myself. I'd only been there just over an hour when I caught sight of a very distant SEO being mobbed by a couple of Crows. They caused it to turn back and disappear in the direction it had come from - at least I knew that there was an SEO around!

Ten minutes later, and I had an SEO much closer to me - just 200-300 yards (metres) away, over the other side of the smaller lake, with the sun behind my back!

My first attempts were pretty-much all dismal failures. The light was so strong that if I got the background right, the underside of the owl's wings burned out like a flashlight. The nearest that I got to success was when a second bird appeared, causing both birds to rise into the sky.

Short-eared Owl

Changing the settings on my camera I started getting some better results. However, at this distance, it was nigh-on impossible to maintain focus - not helped by the bird keeping low amongst lots of stuff that conspired to confuse the autofocus!

Whilst taking these images, I was hiding in some bushes. I was never going to get good images at this distance, so I contemplated moving position to the end of the smaller lake. However, I would have to walk a couple of hundred yards (metres), fully exposing my position to the birds - so I stayed put.  The only 'just about in focus' shot I got of more than one bird at a time was when the two birds started interacting with some Crows - second bird is lower left.

Shortly after this, one of the owls headed over the water of the large lake that was behind me, into the setting sun. No hope of any images over there, but I did get some as it flew across. This next one is one of my favourite from the session.

A few minutes later, the second owl departed after the first to the other side of the large lake behind me. I was ready to pack up as the light was fading fast, when a third owl appeared in the same area.

There was more interaction with a Crow from this bird before it also flew across into the sun and over to the other side of the lake behind me. I'm not sure if this next image is one of those failures that works, but I rather like the way the sun is shining through the owl's wings.

It was now time to pick my way out of my location in the gathering gloom. I am hoping to return here another day in the not-too-distant future, when the weather is 'cloudy-bright', rather than full sun. I will take up a position that will secrete me in a place much nearer to the birds - if they hunt in the same area next time - and hope to get some better images. I don't suppose that I'll ever match those from Paul, some of which you can find on his blog at, but I'll have great fun trying!


  1. Well found mate, some good images and no doubt some brilliant ones to come? Nice to see that the area was pretty void of human traffic/interference, unlike the area I have been watching that is now spoilt as they are like bees around a honey pot! Needless to say the birds don't come close anymore. So keep the location to yourself mate, that is unless you would like to share with ME!!!!!! ha ha.....

  2. Hi Paul. Sorry to hear that you SEO site has been compromised. That's always the danger. Will be in touch later today.

  3. Well done Richard! I really enjoyed looking at these excellent images and the story to go with it. I do like the 'failure that works' - you can see the owl scowling at the crow. There's nothing more satisfying than spying a habitat, waiting and then the owls appearing! Very rewarding.

  4. Thank you Christian - any luck with SEOs in your neck of the woods yet?

  5. I find it interesting that you regard a SEO site as compromised! My own I have to admit (due to blogging) has attracted 30+ observers on some nights but the birds are not remotely disturbed. In fact the bloke who shoots the site for Ducks has them round his head when he enters with his two dogs. The birds have stayed 100-150m distant but if you wait they will come and have a look at you.
    Why would you have to hide?

  6. Hi Richard

    No luck as yet, but I'll keep scanning those territories! Like you and Paul, I have to travel a bit to get there so it might take me a while, but I've got all winter!

    Bye for now.

  7. Hi PCF. SEOs are not commonly seen down here in the Midlands (usually just a winter visitor too), and they do tend to attract a crowd. Past SEO sites, once the news has got out, have attracted large numbers of birders. I agree, that mainly these birds are not overly concerned about people, but there are a few photographers who have not been prepared to wait, got a bit silly about getting close, trespassed, and frightened the birds off. I guess, therefore, that we're a bit sensitive to such things here. I tend to try and make myself inconspicuous in the hope that the birds will act more naturally. Whether or not this makes a difference, I don't know, but I feel happier about it!


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