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!