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Monday, 29 April 2013

Changes and Disappointments - on 27th April, 2013

For a number of reasons, I've not done as much owling lately as I would have liked, and the few excursions I have had have not yielded very exciting results. The birds seem to be keeping their heads down, so to speak. On Saturday I resolved to put in the hours to try and get some results. It was windy and dull, but the forecast was for brighter, less windy, weather later.

I had to go and get some bird seed from my supplier in the morning, and this gave me a chance to check on my Little Owl Site No. 15. On the way out there was nothing to be seen, but the hailstones were falling out of the sky and it was windy! On the way back, however, one of the owls was out, clinging precariously to a 'ledge' on the main trunk of the tree, in the lee of the wind. The field containing the nest tree is under cultivation so I can only view from the roadside, over 100 metres (yards) away.

Little Owl - my Site No.15
I  then had an early lunch, packed a picnic, and set off to do some owling. My intention was to visit some of my more recently found sites, from which I've had little or nothing in the way of photos. My route took me past Cossington Meadows and, as there'd been reports of a couple of Ring Ouzel there, I thought I'd make a quick stop. The birds were still there, but staying very distant and well-hidden, so only record shots were obtained.

Ring Ouzel (pair) - Cossington Meadows - honestly!

Ring Ouzel - Cossington Meadows
My next stop was at my LO Site No.29, but no owl was seen. I had better luck at my Site No.21, where one of the owls was out, sheltering from the wind.

Little Owl - my Site No.21
I next went to check up on a site where I'd seen a Barn Owl a couple of times but, on subsequent visits, had found the farmer and others working round the buildings. My pal Titus and I had checked out this place on Thursday and found a whole mass of Barn Owl pellets had appeared since I first checked it out with the farmer who was working in the building at the time. We'd gone back late on Thursday evening (at about 20:50), and I'd briefly noted a shadowy bird which flew back into the building as we stopped. I thought I knew what I'd seen but I wasn't sure enough! On this Saturday I didn't approach the building but checked that all was in order for a later visit as darkness drew in.

My next stop was at my LO site No.37, but nothing was seen and I'm not sure that I've correctly located the nest tree here.

A few hundred metres (yards) down the road is where I park to visit my LO Sites Nos.34 & 36. I'd planned to set up my hide by No.36 and get some photos, but I was dismayed to see that the field was now occupied by frisky cattle. Instead I sat in my car and watched both the nest trees whilst I had some of my picnic tea. I was a little worried when, ouyt of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a Jackdaw emerge from the nest hole of No.34, but it didn't happen again.

As photography was not going to be possible here I decided to have a look to see if anything was happening a little further on at LO Site No.38. No owl was seen and there was farm work going on nearby. However, just a few metres up the road I spotted a little bird on the fence. It flew down into the field as I stopped, and I did manage a distant shot of a super male Whinchat - my first of the year!

Whinchat (male)
I'd only gone another couple of hundred metres (yards) up the road when I noticed a line of birds on the fence that was going at a right-angle away from the road. It was not until this moment that I knew that Wheatear formed flocks! There were nine on the fence and another two (at least) in the field below the fence. Because of the intervening fence beside me I failed to get a photo before they were suddenly off.

I went to check out a potential owl site (no luck) before heading back. Where the Whinchat had been there were now five Wheatear and a Whinchat. Two of the Wheatear were on the fence beside the road, but they flew off into the field when I was still a long way off. I only got very distant views of all six birds, but here is the best I could manage of a Wheatear.

Wheatear (female)
I continued back to the parking place for LO Sites Nos.34 & 36. This time I had positive confirmation that my Site No.34 had been taken over by Jackdaws. I hope that the owls were just evicted by the Jackdaws, and not killed. There was further disappointment when I saw Jackdaws entering the tree at Site No.36. However, as this tree has several entrances, the takeover is not totally confirmed.

The light was starting to fail by now, so I set off back to the Barn Owl site, parking about 150 metres from the barn. I sat in my car, finishing off my picnic, and waited. Just after 20:00 a Brown Hare appeared, and started messing about in the field. Suddenly it started coming towards me and stopped only about 20 metres (yards) away from my car. I managed to open the left hand side window (I'd been watching for the owl through the right hand side window) and get in a few shots with the camera before it was off.

Brown Hare
I waited and I waited, and as it was getting dark I made up my mind to depart for home at 21:00. At 20.55 a bird appeared on the timbers of the barn in exactly the same place that I'd glimpsed it two days earlier - I was right, it was a Tawny Owl! I took loads of shots in the hope that one would at least be recognisable (I was shooting at a distance of about 150 metres, with the lens at 500 mm, and 1/13 second, ISO 3200, -1.7 step compensation, handheld!). Amazingly several of the images, although not good, were OK for conveying the scene! This is a heavy crop!

Tawny Owl - undisclosed site, Leicestershire
My concern now is for the Barn Owl. Is this change a case of another eviction? Knowing the fierce reputation of Tawny Owls, it's hard to believe that these two species are existing side-by-side.

This story had to end on a high note. Ten minutes later, on my way home, in my headlights I saw a Little Owl sitting on a fence. I stopped and it moved two fence posts further away, and out of range. I moved on again and it was gone from view. This is currently my provisional new LO Site No.40! I shall return to check it out soon!

I arrived home just after 22:00 at the end of an interesting day, tinged with more than a little disappointment.


  1. A most enjoyable illustrated account Richard. Your top image of the Little Owl on the 'ledge' of what looks like a HUGE Oak tree in the lee of the wind is brilliant, as are the Tawny Owl and Whinchat and the rest for that matter.

    Great stuff Richard.

    1. Thanks Pete. That is a substantial old Oak that the LOs are in. Their nest hole is in one of the limbs about 8 metres from the main trunk!

  2. Little disappointments do come our way and where owls are concerned I have many. All in all, judging by your photos, you did have a rather wonderful day with the compensation of the little birds that are so hard to catch as well as that beautiful hare. I enjoyed your narrative as well as the photos.

    1. Thank you, Arija, for your very kind words.

  3. Sounds an interesting day,you still getting a lot of birds on your feeder too? Can't believe how many are still on mine giving the time of year. Like the Winchat, a handsome bird, well done.

    1. Most of the interesting birds have stopped coming to my feeders over the last few days, Doug. Just one Siskin yesterday. Last Redpoll was on Sunday, and the last Brambling was on 17th April. Just getting the more common fare now. They're still getting through large amounts of bird food however!!

  4. Whoa!!! I'm not worthy!!! Tawny Owl! You must have been in 7th heaven! I would have been thrilled to find such a beauty. Incredible shots of all these birds. The Brown Hare reminds me of the characters from Watership Down:)

    1. Actually, Chris, the Tawny Owl is the most numerous owl in UK. However, although they are heard reasonably frequently, they are not often seen. I am, therefore, always delighted to see one. Thank you for your very kind words.

  5. Despite your challenges I still think you came away with some beautiful photos. I know how you feel though when expectations aren't met. I enjoyed reading about your fits and starts throughout the day. I have many days like that, too. Hang in there. You are doing great!

    1. Thank you, Gail, for your very kind words of encouragement.

  6. A very interesting read Richard and I know there were disappointments for you but I am so envious of your owl sightings. As hard as I try it is an area where I fail miserably...I had more sightings of owls when I was a child than I do now! What fabulous photos too especially 4 and 5, really beautiful!! Lovely to see the Wheatear and Whinchat too and the photo of the Brown Hare is superb, they're usually running away in my photos ;-)

    1. Thank you Jan. I was back at my Little Owl sites Nos. 34 & 36 yesterday, and can confirm that both have been taken over by Jackdaws. I'd really hoped for breeding from both these pairs, and the photographic opportunities would have been excellent.

      Sorry to hear you're not having any luck with owls. I don't know what the owl situation is in your neck of the woods, but dusk is definately the best time to locate owls - then, when you've found them, you go back in the daytime in the hope of catching them out and about.

  7. I have to admit that I would be more than happy if I had of come home with just one owl photo. Your pictures are great. I hear the little owl day in and day out but the only time I see it is when it is too dark to get photos. I have also heard the tawny owl a few nights just recently. There are so many barns and large trees around here,all on private land, I don't think I will ever track them down during day light hours. Take care Diane

    1. Thank you Diane. Your photography in your latest post on your PhotoDiary blog is stunningly beautiful!


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