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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Surprisingly Good Finish - late February, 2013

Owling in February did not get off to a good start, with weather that wasn't too helpful, and a holiday in the middle. It did, however, buck up considerably at the end of the month, and I ended up with the most Little Owl sightings I'd had in a month since the heady days of July and August last year (when there were plenty of juveniles to swell the numbers).

My Little Owl Site No.02 on my local patch is by far my most visited site as it's on my way to a number of other places, but I don't post many images from here these days as they're all a bit 'samey'. However, there is an opening high up in the end of the barn where the owls live which faces the footpath. I always look up into the barn if I pass by on the footpath, and have never seen anything - until last week! Through my binoculars I could just make out an owl on a beam. It was far too dark in there to see the owl in the camera viewfinder, so it was with no expectations at all that I banged off 50-60 shots, pointing blind, handheld with a 500mm lens at 1/30 second exposure. Well-over half the shots missed the owl, and those that didn't were blurred or greatly miss-exposed - except one, which miraculously turned out far better than I could ever have dreamed of!! No, I didn't use flash.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
I was having quite a good afternoon for owls, although not photographically. However, at my site LO  No.06, where I'd started to get worried about the owls as I not seen one since October, I found an owl doing its best to hide in the foliage of the nest tree.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
Having taken a few shots, I continued up the field in the hope of seeing a second owl in one of their favourite roost trees. I didn't find one so came back to the nest tree. The owl was still there (or so I thought), although it had moved, slightly, into a place where it was even better hidden.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
I managed to move around and get a better angle on the bird.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
I'd made my mind up that I wasn't going to get a better shot without disturbing the bird and started to depart, turning back to take a last look, and then I saw the second bird! I quickly took the distant safety shots.

Little Owls - my Site No.06
I then tried for some closer images, but if I got them visibly nearer to each other they were in totally different focal planes. Even shutting down the aperture greatly didn't resolve the problem. These next two are the best that I could manage. I'm not sure which of these I prefer (the near bird in focus or the further bird) or whether I should ditch the lot!


Little Owls - my Site No.06
With four owls seen already, I decided to head off for Calke Park. Five minutes away from the park I spotted a Little Owl on a farm building - a new Little Owl site! I called in at the farm, and had a quick chat with the farmer who was concerned that I didn't disturb his owl unduly. I was able, with hand on heart, to tell him that I'd already seen four Little Owls that afternoon, and left them where I'd found them. Permission duly obtained I went to investigate. Regrettably, as I rounded a corner we suddenly became in full view of each other, and the owl only stayed for seconds before departing. I only managed four frames, and with no compositional merit at all.

Little Owl - my new Site No.35
I went back to report to the farmer, and confessed to disturbing his owl, but it seems that I'm welcome to return!

At Calke Park, unusually I didn't see an owl, but I did hear one in the bole of a tree where I've not seen an owl before. I am, therefore, hopeful of making this a new LO site in the future (I don't count it unless I make visual contact).

The above all happened on 27 February. The following day I had a short afternoon out with my pal Titus, doing a bit of an owl recce. It was a most enjoyable time, but we only saw one owl, and it wasn't very photographable. Having dropped Titus off at his home, in the 15 minute journey to my home, I saw three Little Owls in three  different locations! I only managed an image of one as it was nearly dark. My LO Site No.28 is where there were owls nesting in the roof of a house. We managed to persuade the owners to hold off repairs until we'd arranged alternative accommodation in the form of a couple of owl boxes, and I'm pleased to say that they've been in residence in one of the boxes since October. Unfortunately their new residence isn't in the most photogenic of locations!

Little Owl - my Site No.28
Earlier in the same week I'd set up my hide near to where I'd seen a Barn Owl some weeks previously. It perhaps wasn't the best of evenings to do this as the temperatures were dipping below freezing and it kept starting to snow. The owl did show, but landed on a beam with a sapling between me and him! I was at about 80 metres distant, diagonally across the corner of a field from the owl.

Barn Owl - my BO Site No.12
It stayed in this place for a few minutes and then, to my surprise, took off and flew down towards the corner of the field nearest me. The light was grim and this was the best that I could manage.

Barn Owl - my BO Site No.12
To my amazement, it turned at the corner and came straight towards me, passing only about 2 metres in front of my eyes!

Inevitably, when owling, there are some non-owl 'colateral' photos that are taken. These are two such images. The first was at my LO Site No.28 (shown above). Although the owls didn't show on that occasion the Goldcrest busying itself was charming. I was sitting in my car a good 10 metres or more away.

Goldcrest - by my LO Site No.28
This next one was taken on the same day as the Barn Owl images, above. The icicles were all along  the bank for a distance of a couple of hundred metres! This image also gives you a measure of how cold it was - no drips here!

Bbbrrrrrrrr!!!

26 comments:

  1. The Little Owl on the beam at the top of the page is brilliant and very much worth the effort and wasted shots you describe Richard.

    Let's hope we've seen the last of the type of weather in your final image on the page.

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    1. Thanks Pete. Yesterday was fabulous weather here - until about 18:00. Then it got foggy. today is back to being cold, damp and miserable, with a chilling wind!

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  2. Brilliant shots of the Little Owl Richard, those are fantastic, the light and the distance, very well done.

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    1. Thank you Bob for your kind words.

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  3. I wouldn't ditch one of these. It's so difficult to photograph owls due to usually poor lighting, tree branches, etc, but you pulled off many excellent photos! Looks like a successful day.

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    1. Thank you Gail. They were some of my better days - they don't all work out like that!

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  4. oh Wow ..... truly awesome captures!

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  5. WOW!
    I wish there could be sights around my place with Little Owls like that!
    They are so cute!
    Your pictures are brilliant, considering the difficulty...
    About the Siskin males, maybe I will manage to convince you tomorrow! LOL!
    Cheers Richard!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, Noushka. I agree on the cuteness of the owls, but you've got plenty of birds there that I'm envious of!

      I await your male Siskins with eager anticipation!!

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    2. Well you've had the Siskins... but I did not manage to convince you! LOL!
      At least I see you had a visit from some of my blogger friends! ;-)
      Cheers, Richard!

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    3. In spite of your fabulous photos, as you say, I was not convinced! Thank you for the link from your blog, Noushka - very much appreciated!

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  6. I prefer the image where the nearest owl is in focus, but it was a tough choice. Another cracking post Richard and that first LO image is brilliant!!

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  7. Wonderful set of pictures. Any view of a barn owl is good regardless of the light - still not managed to see Barn Owl in Australia yet.

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thank you Stewart. Sorry to hear you're missing the Barn Owls in Oz. How rare are they there?

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  8. Great images Richard, I really liked the concerns of the farmer and "his" Little Owl it's great when hear that, as I often leave a site knowing no harm will come that owl/bird

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    1. Thanks Doug.

      Unfortunately, as you know, not all farmers are as switched on to their wildlife. I was a little in despair on Tuesday when I visited the site that the Barn Owl image above was taken at, to find the farmer dipping in an out of the barn. As he was already making a hell of a disturbance, I went over to him (I'd not usually have approached the barn otherwise as Barnies are a protected species), and said I was concerned that he might be disturbing a Barn Owl. He was very friendly, but totally clueless, saying that he'd not seen a Barn Owl in the barn, and asked what sort of nests they made! He invited me to check it out, but most of the floor space was filled with fertiliser bags by now and no pellets were visible. Also, there was no visible place for birds to breed, and I suspect that this was just a roost for a male bird, although wheather it continues to be so is another matter!

      I called back a few hours later, when it was all but dark, intending to eat my tea whilst watching from the road at about 200 metres distance. However, there were now three vehicles outside the barn with lights blazing, so I went elsewhere!

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  9. Wow we have little owls around us here in France but I have never managed to get close to taking a photo of them. These are incredible. Bravo Diane

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    1. Thank you Diane. It's essential to have a long lens, and a good deal of stealth is required too. However - some are a lot more confiding than others.

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  10. I really enjoy your posts! I apologize for not commenting more often. Your photos are simply wonderful and I really like it that you show the owl's in their environment.

    Thank you for your blog!

    Cheers - Wally

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    1. Thanks Wally!

      I've now taken the bull by the horns and joined Google+. Have added you as the first person in my circle!

      All the best - Richard

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  11. Love the little Owl in site Two,not an easy image to perfect,looks like you were rewarded with a new owl site for your brilliant effort's.Well done Richard.
    John.

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    1. Thank you John. That first image, at Site No.2, is probably my favourite of the year so far - mainly because of my relationship with the site.

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