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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Well That Didn't Last Long !! - on 16th January, 2012

I my last post I spoke of the challenge to do something a bit different with owl photos, and I think that I set off on the right foot. However, on Monday, I was at my local Short-eared Owl site and the owls were out when there was still some sunshine to be had. During the period of watching them some observations were made which I shall share with you, and to do this, I can only offer some pretty rubbish images. So, just to offset the rubbish, I'll put in a couple of my somewhat better 'standard' images also captured that day - yep, I've lapsed from the challenge (hopefully only temporarily!). We'll start with the first of these.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
I've commented recently about the increasing aggression between the Owls and the Kestrels on this site, and one female Kestrel has been the main antagonist. However, it seems that all is now not well between the owls. Many times, in the past, I have observed aerial meetings between the owls which results in the birds climbing vertically and then peeling off to go their separate ways. Rightly or wrongly, I came to the conclusion that this was two (or more) birds greeting each other as their paths crossed and then going off to continue their hunting in separate areas - doesn't make sense to hunt together for their usual sort of prey.

This day, however, things were a little different. On three occasions we noted what appeared to be real and persistent aggression between the owls - some of which is depicted (although not very well) in the following images.

Aggression between Short-eared Owls - near Ashby de la Zouch
Those of us watching came to the conclusion that perhaps the vole and mouse supply was running a bit low, and competition for food was hotting up. There is also the possibility that there are new arrivals as we are now seeing four owls and are almost certain that there are five or more. This increased competition for diminishing supplies would also explain the mounting intolerance of the Kestrels. The following image was taken as one of the owls departed from a fracas.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch.
The light had gone enough to prohibit any further sensible photography and we were all preparing to set off home when suddenly an owl appeared and then dropped into the grass, probably less than a hundred metres away. Of course, we stopped to see if it would rise again with prey. It didn't, but then a second owl appeared, and appeared to drop into the same area. This owl rose again almost immediately, and I banged off a few shots, more in hope than expectation! As the owl flew away, we noted bits fluttering down from it. It was only when I came to look at the images that I saw it had got a mass of grass in its talons. I warned you that the images were rubbish!!

Short-eared Owl carrying grass?  - near Ashby de la Zouch
When I came to look at a subsequent image, there was a clue as to what was going on. Can you spot it? - you might have to click on the image to enlarge it in order to see!

Short-eared Owl carrying? - near Ashby de la Zouch
Yes, the owl had caught a bird! Most references that I can find state that birds only form a very minor part of a SEOs diet in UK. I read into this that they prefer voles and mice. This, and the fact that the birds are covering a wider area in their hunting these days,  might also  be a sign that the supply of food is drying up. I hope that this does not mean that the owls will be leaving us soon!

My last image clearly shows that it's a bird that has been caught, with legs, feet, and bill all visible. Oh! - and I should have mentioned something else that we all agreed that we were seeing for the first time with a SEO. Whilst the bird was flying with its prey, there were several times when it brought forward the prey from feet to mouth. Whether it was cleaning up the catch, or was attempting the final coup de grâce, I do not know.

Short-eared Owl with bird - near Ashby de la Zouch
Hopefully, with my next Owl post, I'll have picked up the challenge again!


  1. amazing captures, two SEOs, looks like they might be preparing for their breeding season, owls start early I have heard.

  2. Thank you Linda. It would certainly cause a lot of excitement in these parts if they stayed here to breed!! Not much chance of that this far south, however!

  3. ive observed seo's in norfolk coming in off the sea catching migrating robin's at eating them on the wing, we had the same going on's down sence valley a few yeas ago with the food exchanging and grappling, they even stayed until early may

  4. Thank you "Anonymous" for that info. That's encouraging, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Only saw the one tonight, which didn't show until 16.45!

  5. Its not easy to resist the temptation of posting good images, whether they are "different " or not! Your forgiven!

  6. Thank you for your generous forgiveness Paul!!!

  7. Sorry for the anonymous message my name is Rhys and live in Ibstock, i cant select a character on my smart phone, my local patches are Sence Valley and Longmoor, i noticed your quality pics of the Snow Bunting i found at the latter site in a previous post it was a very confiding bird.

  8. Hi Rhys. Thank you for the update on your identity ! Yes, that first Snow Bunting at Longmoor was certainly extremely confiding. I didn't get back to see the second (male) arrival. I'd been hoping to find Shorties there, but came to the conclusion that the grass was probably too short - how wrong can one be!! Ive since been seeing them in relatively short grass as much as in rough grass.

  9. Hi Richard, you have some absolute stunners there mate. I love the beautifully lit flight image fourth from bottom. i'd be doing cartwheels after getting that one!

  10. Thank you Christian. Unfortunately the image that you like, although it doesn't look too bad at small size on the blog, doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. It lacks detail when viewed at larger sizes - I'm still struggling to get a decent 'portrait' image of a SEO!

  11. I've received another message from Rhys Dandy, but am not publishing it here as it gives relatively detailed information about an owl site (for which I am very grateful - thank you Rhys!). It is my policy to be vague about the location of owls, in order to protect the birds from intrusion. These are not rare birds, but there is a lot of interest in them, and I am concerned for their wellbeing - for example, I see that it has recently been deemed necessary to publish a notice to request people not to trespass in order to get closer to the birds at one well-known Leicestershire SEO site.


I'm pleased to report that the anonymous spam problem seems to be solvable without using word verification. I'm now just using the 'Registered Users - includes OpenID' option in Blogger settings, and I'm not getting any spam - touch wood! I've also not received any contact from people saying that they are no longer able to make comments.