On Thursday I had a day out with my good friend, and Leicestershire Owl guru, Paul Riddle. Paul very kindly invited me to accompany him to one of his Little Owl sites, where he has four confiding juvenile owls. I offered to drive but Paul said that we need the Landrover, so we set off in that. Paul's Landrover has been set up as a mobile hide, with camouflage netting all round the window glass. On arrival at the gateway into the site, Paul very generously offered me his camera support - a Manfrotto gimbal head on a custom-made door clamp, and a superb bit of kit.
We then headed off into the field. As we approached the nest tree, we could see three owls on a log behind a wire fence. I was amazed as Paul drove to within 25 feet (8 metres) of them, and they didn't bat an eyelid! It was a charming sight, and would have made a very nice image if it hadn't been for the fence (as you can see below)!
|Little Owl - juveniles 1, 2, and 3|
From this position we could see a fourth juvenile a little further along the hedgerow. Having taken a few safety shots from where we were, Paul started up the Landrover (birds didn't even notice!) and moved to a closer position to this fourth bird. This time there was no wire fence in the way.
|Little Owl - juvenile 4|
Paul then said he'd reverse up to a position closer to the three birds behind the fence so that we could see them over the fence. This time we were really close - probably only 12 feet (4 metres) away!
|Little Owl - juvenile 3|
It might not be common knowledge that most creatures, humans included, have adjustable irises in their eyes (to cater for varying light conditions) and these work together - i.e. both irises open to the same degree Unusually (uniquely?) the irises in an owl's eyes are capable of working independently so, for example, if one side of the face is in bright light and the other in shade the irises will open to different degrees. The next image, although not a brilliant image, clearly shows this.
|Little Owl - juvenile 3 - showing differential iris apertures|
The next image was of bird No.4 taken from the over-fence position before it departed, not to be seen again in this session.
|Little Owl - juvenile 4|
I took a few more shots of the birds behind the fence, and you can probably get an impression of how close we were by the sense of looking down on these birds in the following images. The first of the following three images illustrates an owl's ability to turn its head through 180 degrees. The third image suddenly struck me as rather strange when I noticed it looked like the left wing had been stuck on to the bird backwards on the right hand side! It took a while to realise that the only explanation is that it has the ability to stretch its wing right over its back!
|Juveniles 1 and 2|
All the while we were there, the owls just went about their business, totally ignoring us even when the Landrover was started up from just beside them. We even had to make noises or movements to get them to look in our direction!
Eventually birds 2 & 3 moved up to the perch vacated by bird 4, and bird 1 moved to an unseen location behind us. The first two images below, taken only two minutes apart of the same bird, are not there for the quality of the image, but because they show how an owl can dramatically change its appearance!
|Juvenile 2 - showing its morphing capabilities!|
Paul then spotted that bird No.1 was sitting on the fence behind us, and so reversed up quickly to a point amazingly close - too close as the following is the only usable image I got (by attracting
the birds attention - and zooming in to 200mm), the others being all looking down onto the top of the bird's head!
Eventually bird No.1 flew up to a more natural looking perch and was joined by No.2.
When bird No.2 yawned, the fairly complex inside structure of its mouth became visible.
|Juveniles 1 and 2|
The owls continued to perform, and Paul gave me some opportunities for real close-up work, although I have found that I don't get such good results when near the inner limit of focus of my lens.
The weather was starting to turn dull, and a bit breezy, so we took the Landrover back to Paul's place and set off in my car for Croft. I've never been here before, but I certainly want to return.
First we climbed the hill to get some images of the confiding Kestrel that is resident in these parts. The light was not easy, and most of my shots that I took in the short time the bird was around were fluffed. Shame because with good light and better camera work this next shot could have been a half-decent image!
|Kestrel - Croft Hill|
In spite of the obvious potential of this area, the dull weather and stiff breeze seemed to be keeping the birds out of sight. When we got to the bottom of the hill, by the River Soar, we found a rather tatty male Southern Hawker dragonfly. It was in a shady place so photography was difficult.
|Southern Hawker (male)|
This pretty much rounded off our day. The close encounters with Paul's Little Owls will probably never be equalled by me, and is a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Thank you Paul