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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Getting Closer! - on 23rd March, 2014

There are very few of my Little Owl sites that I can observe (rather than quickly view) at close-quarters without disturbing the owls. Therefore, most of my close photography is achieved by a stealthy approach, looking nonchalant and avoiding eye contact for as long as possible, before banging off a few shots and then retreating - hopefully leaving the owls in situ.

Once in a while I take my Stealth Gear Chair Hide and set it up near to a nest site, in order to be able to observe and photograph the owls for an hour or so without disturbing them.

I have two Little Owl sites which are on private land and too distant from the road to be able to photograph the birds in any detail. There are plenty of others with the same problem, but both these two sites are in fields which, as soon as the land dries out sufficiently, will be filled with cattle. I'm too vulnerable to accidents in my chair hide in a field full of cattle! Time was, therefore, running out.

My LO Site No.34 was discovered early in 2013, and I had great plans for photography sessions, but then Jackdaws took over the nest and evicted the owls. Now that the owls are back it was time to try again.

The other site was my most recently found site (No.46), and a preparatory session in my hide here featured in my last post.

It was quite bright and sunny when I left home on Sunday late morning, but rather windy. The weather forecast had the wind dropping a little as the afternoon progressed. My intention was to have a session at No.34, and then move on to No.46. Little Owls are not fond of wind, but the prevailing wind direction meant that there was a good chance that the owls might be seen in their sheltered nest openings.

I arrived at No.34 to find, to my delight, that there was no sign of either owl. I quickly set up my hide, unobserved, halving the distance between my usual observation point and the nest tree. I immediately started to doubt my wisdom as the wind was howling against the hide, and the protruding camera lens was juddering, in spite of being on a heavy tripod. I then sat and started to eat my lunch whilst I waited.

It was only about half an hour before one of the owls showed. It had me spotted immediately.

Hello! - what's that?
It very quickly relaxed, taking only the occasional look at my hide, but observing its surroundings.

That looks interesting!
For me, one of the wonderful things about Little Owls is that they seem to be full of character. It's often not easy to appreciate this with a quick and distant sighting, but sitting close to them for a time soon reveals how special they are. I took over 250 shots during this session, and I've retained 43 of them - a much greater percentage than I usually do, but they all show the owl looking different !

No, I'm not going to show you all 43 as, unless you're as passionate as me about them you'd probably be bored silly, but you will get a selection.

The owl was relaxed enough to have a preening session.

I need to get to that itch!
A particularly windy period caused the owl to pop back into his nest cavity. I took the opportunity to answer the call of nature and then move my hide closer, halving the distance yet again. I was now about 15 metres away.

The owl was back again after a few minutes, and clearly saw that the hide had moved, but still didn't exhibit any discomfort.

I'm sure that's moved!
The wind, rather than abating, was getting stronger still, and the light levels were changing dramatically, from bright sunshine to heavy cloud, and then back again. The owl still managed to catch forty winks!

After its nap, it was alert again.

What IS that down there??
It still took the occasional look at my hide.

Did someone cough?
In the end, the wind really got very strong, I was getting rather cold (although the temperature was 9 deg. C, the wind-chill factor was great), and the owl decided that it'd had enough.

Time to go!
I packed up the hide and headed off towards Site No.46, arriving to find that the owls weren't showing, but the wind had veered round so that it was blowing directly at the main nest opening. I sat there debating whether it was worthwhile setting up, particularly as I'd got rather chilled. My mind was made up when a weather front suddenly arrived with the mother and father of all hail storms, and the temperature dropped in seconds from 9 deg. C to 0 deg.!! It was time to go.

I'm now waiting for a suitable day to return. Monday was windy and today has been wet.


  1. Richard I am so jealous, all the discomfort was so worthwhile. Fabulous shots. Have a great week and I hope the weather improves, its not very good here either! Diane

    1. Thank you, Diane. The weather is still a bit mixed at the moment. Hopefully there's better round the corner!

      Best wishes - Richard

  2. Hi Richard. You are lucky! These owls really like you :-)
    Great shots!

  3. I like the bit,where you avoid eye contact Richard,that's worked for me at times.
    Your captures show amazing detail,field craft is only part of your hard work.
    Well impressed.

    1. Thank you, John. Unfortunately, the 'avoiding eye contact' can work either way. These are very crafty birds and know that the safest time to depart is when you are not actually watching them!

  4. Your Little Owl observations and photography are second to none Richard, and as far as I'm concerned....that's official. This particular set is brlliant.

    1. Thank you, Pete. That's very kind of you.

  5. HI Richard ALl the shots are fantastic. The OWl is adorable.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. I sit there mesmerised when they appear!

  6. Great account, Richard. Entertaining and informative, as always. I have to check out one of these blinds you are talking about. I can think of occasions when it would have been very useful.

    1. Thank you, David.

      These hides are quite versatile, particularly if you're not wanting something permanent. They are supplied in a bag with straps that allow you to carry it ruck-sack style, and can be erected extremely quickly (takes a little longer to put it away!). They are relatively weather proof but, as mentioned in this post, not brilliant in wind as they flap a bit (a lot?). Main drawbacks are that there's limited all-round visibility, it can get quite warm inside - inducing sleep, and there's very limited room for personal movement once inside (the call of nature means exiting the hide!). If buying again, I would get the 2-man version - not much heavier, and giving more room inside. I understand that the latest versions have pockets in them for storing items - mine only has a cup holder in one arm of the chair. They are quite robust - a friend left his set up in a field for 6 months without major detriment!

  7. I know what you were experiencing in that wind buffeting hide mate, I have been there many times! Go get yourself a Landie Richard, you won't regret it, apart from that is the running costs that is!! Another nice post with some great images.

    1. I don't know about getting a Landie, Paul, but I might just try a bit of 'off-road' with the Yeti 4X4 that I bought in October. The ground has been a bit too wet until recently, however.

      Thanks for your comment!

  8. I'll tell you what I followed that link for the hide/chair it looks like a very handy piece of kit I was pricing some other hides up for kestrels and kingfishers and the ones I've seen have looked a bit too bulky this one looks about the right size. Thanks for the link.
    I do love the look of the LO in the image "did someone cough" classic image.

    1. Thanks, Doug.

      See my reply to David Gascoigne's comment above, for more detailed thoughts on this great bit of kit.

      All the best - Richard

  9. Lots of Owl images you have got, every one is brilliant Richard.


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