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Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down !!

I was chatting with my good friend Paul Riddle the other day, discussing owls and photography. It is a natural instinct to try and get the most detailed close-up photo of a bird as is possible - in other words, the 'perfect portrait'. However, it takes more skill to show something of the character of the bird, or to achieve an artistic balance. Now I am no expert, but it is my opinion that Little Owls lend themselves to the achievement of this more than do, for example, Short-eared Owls. Little Owls tend to perch themselves in more interesting places, and even do more interesting things. Most photos of Short-eared Owls, as Paul has mentioned on his own blog, tend to show them flying over grass or perched on a post, and there are only so many images of this type that can be viewed before it starts to get boring. Whilst I don't suppose that I''ll ever achieve anything that I'm satisfied with, I have decided to embrace the challenge to do better. There will still be attempts at portrait shots, but I will try to keep an eye on 'the bigger picture' - if you'll excuse the pun!!

I've just re-read the above and realise that it could be taken that I have issued a competitive challenge to Paul! I assure you that this is not the case - Paul sets the standards that I aspire to!  What I meant to say was that Paul and I both accept that there is a challenge for us to do something a bit different.

So here goes:

Monday 9th January - SEO in a tree

Down to my local Short-eared Owl site, but the owls were not being cooperative. They were showing at 15.00, but keeping their distance. However, the following (taken when it was nearly dark) is the first image of a SEO in a tree that I've managed for nearly two years!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
Thursday 12th January - a not-so-welcome visitor, and SEOs in colour

Mid morning we had this visitor to the garden - a first sighting for the year, and a dubious pleasure. This, I believe, was a young male, and not very adept at hunting (to my relief!). I could show you another image too, but it would embarrass the bird as it shows him in a most un-cool light !! OK, so this is just a portrait, but it was taken through a closed window and I had to crop out all the rubbish.

Sparrowhawk (juvenile male?) - our garden
In the afternoon I returned to my local SEO site, arriving rather late. It had been a sunny day, and the last knockings of sunlight gave some strange colour effects to the sky. I promise that none of the following images has been colour-adjusted in post-processing, although some of them have been lightened. Still 'ordinary' compositions, but I like the light effects.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

As I set off home, the light was even more amazing, and I couldn't resist a shot of the sunset - again not colour-adjusted! Would have been nice if there was an owl in the image!

Sunset - near Ashby de la Zouch
Friday 13th January - Little Owls, and continuing SEO battles

The day started very frosty, but promised to be sunny with little or no wind. Time to pack up a picnic lunch and go out to see if I could find some Little Owls. I set off at about 10.30 and visited eight of my sites, finding single owls at four of them - three of the 'no-shows' were at sites where I've not seen owls for a long while. Only two of the sites produced images which I'm prepared to show here. I don't know if they've become unaccustomed to seeing people around (I certainly have not been around much over the last few months), but the birds all seemed extra nervous - hence the 'peek-a-boo' nature of two of the images.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Little Owl - my Site No.03
At About 15.00, the draw of the SEOs became strong, and I set off for my local site. The owls were out as I arrived, with one sitting on a distant post.  Hopefully the following image has some artistic merits!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
Not long after this, one of the owls was relentlessly pursued by a (Lesser Black-backed?) Gull. Regrettably I didn't manage an image that conveys the conflict, but here are the two together.

Short-eared Owl and Lesser Black-backed (?) Gull
Eventually the gull gave up the aggression, but a short while later, a Kestrel had a go. I'm seeing this conflict between Kestrel (there are several in the area) and Short-eared Owl on a regular basis now. Didn't get an image of contact between the two, but I think the following shows that this was not a happy meeting!

Common Kestrel (female) and Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
After this conflict the owl flew high over my head, calling continually. OK, so this one's just another standard portrait!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch


  1. Great post Richard. Paul has his hands full with the 'competition'! I like the coming together with the Kestrel.

  2. Hi Mike. Thanks for your comments which you must have written as I was editing the post because I realised that what I wrote originally could be taken to mean that I was challenging Paul to some sort of competition. Your comments confirm that this was so!!! This is not the case. I don't suppose that I'll ever attain Paul's standards, and I don't have his dedication. However, Paul, like me, thinks that we could make life more interesting by trying to do something a little different to the norm. I'm sure that Paul will have somewhat more success than me in this respect!

  3. A cracking post mate, some brilliant images but the one of the Little Owl peering through the gap in the branch is magical. Just what the "challenge" is all about!

  4. Thank you Paul - you've raised the bar again with your last post!

  5. We're a bit "short" on owls here in the states, at least in this part of New England but your Shorties and the territorial battles you've captured are spectacular! Keep 'em coming!!

  6. Thank you Phil. These owls are winter visitors, and will move north as the winter fades, or when the voles run out! It also seems to be an exceptional year for numbers of these, so I'll try to make hay whilst the sun shines - as they say!


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