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Tuesday 31 January 2012

Cross-Eyed Short Sighted ?!?! - on 23rd January, 2012

I'm now back on line again after being separated from my PC for nearly a week. I've also managed to process the images from my last outing to my local Short-eared Owl site, and I think that they include some of my best ones yet - although there's still a hell of a lot of room for improvement.

I arrived later than I'd hoped (at 15.40) to find one of the owls out, and very soon a second appeared. There was still some sun around, and I managed a few 'standard' flight shots.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
I had also managed some images with trees in the background, but this is in a newly planted area of The National Forest and the pale green trunk protectors do not look good in photos! However, I'm not complaining as I believe that the young trees provide a habitat that is attractive to the SEOs. Nevertheless, give it a couple of years and the trees may be too far developed for them.

As is usual these days, there was a quarrel between a Kestrel and one of the SEOs. This resulted in both birds climbing high, far in the distance.

Kestrel and Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
After the fray, the owl slowly drifted lower and nearer, and settled on a fence only about a hundred metres away. I started taking a few shots, and made a stealthy approach. In the next image you can see the effect of the green tree protectors in the background.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

I got closer and closer, without the bird showing any signs of concern. It was only when I looked at the next image that I noticed that the owl appeared to have a cast (upwards and inwards) in its right eye. You can click on all these images for enlarged versions.

Short-eared Owl (cross-eyed?) - near Ashby de la Zouch
Subsequent images tend to confirm this, although I do also wonder if the eye had been damaged (in a fight with a Kestrel, for example), as it seemed to sit with its eyes closed some of the time.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
The owl then left its post and flew onto the grass opposite where I was standing, although somewhat more distant. In the first image below it has its eyes closed, but in the second one you can really see that its right eye is 'elsewhere'.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

After this I spent some time just watching the activities as the light was going. I ended up with three owls, and a few more images a couple of which are below.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
Only 45 minutes after arriving it was too dark for photography so I set off towards home. Just before reaching the exit of the site, there was a SEO on a distant post. I couldn't resist attempting an image, and banging off several shots, one of which is not too bad for a 500 mm lens at 30th second handheld! You can really see here, however, what I mean by the detrimental effect of the tree protectors.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Next Step an ASBO?

Before I start on this post - just a quick notice that, as from tomorrow, I'm going to be without a PC for about a week, so if you should be kind enough to post a comment here, I will probably not be able to reply to it until I get my PC back. I hope, however, to be able to 'clear' any comments for publishing by using my phone - although that might be hazardous too as I don't get a signal at home!

This is quite frustrating for me as I think I had what is probably my best session ever at my local Short-eared Owl site yesterday, but will not have a chance to process the images as I'm too busy doing 'housekeeping and backups' on the PC, before I 'lose' it.

On 15th January, I put up a picture of a juvenile Sparrowhawk that had been terrorising my garden birds. This bird is starting to make a real nuisance of itself, although it has still (to the best of my knowledge) not succeeded in catching anything in my garden yet. In that post I said that I'd not publish an image that showed the bird in a somewhat 'uncool' light. Well the time has come to 'shame' the bird, in the hope that it'll be too embarrassed to return.

Sparrowhawk - our garden
More recent images, however, show the meanness of this birds intent!

Sparrowhawk - our Garden
Sparrowhawk - next door's garden

If this approach doesn't work, the next step is probably to serve it with an ASBO!!! - for my overseas readers, an ASBO is a legally enforceable AntiSocial Behaviour Order.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Back to Cannock Chase - on 17th January, 2012

Whilst at my local Short-eared Owl site, I met a fellow photographer and almost immediately discovered that we had a mutual friend through our wives. Martin had never been to Cannock Chase before, so we went there on Tuesday with the main objective being for me to show him a few choice sites both there, and on the way there.

We first made a call at the local SEO site to see if the owls were out in the frosty morning (it was minus 2deg.c ) close to the road (no time to check out the whole site). They weren't, but this juvenile Buzzard was close to the road as we drove away.

Common Buzzard (juvenile) - near Ashby de la Zouch
It was totally unfazed by me stopping the car, winding down the window, and two of us banging off numerous shots. I was even hoping that we might get some images of it taking to the air, but it was still there when we left!

A stop at one of my Little Owl sites (No.15) revealed one bird just visible outside the nest hole  - but as this was in a tree in the middle of a cultivated field, we couldn't get near enough for any images.

Arriving at Cannock Chase, we made for the area which is my favourite for photographing small birds. We could have stayed in the car but, for comfort and flexibility of shooting direction, we both set up our chair hides. Whilst nothing unusual in the way of birds was seen, the weather was mainly 'cloudy - bright' and I'm very pleased with the images obtained, even if the subjects are totally commonplace. When we arrived, there was still frost on the branches.

Robin - Cannock Chase

Blue Tit - Cannock Chase

Nuthatch - Cannock Chase

Long-tailed Tit - Cannock Chase

Bullfinch - Cannock Chase

Great Tit - Cannock Chase

Coal Tit - Cannock Chase.
After a good session here, we explored a few other locations on Cannock Chase, but did not stop for any photography. We also called in at Croxall Lakes on the way home.

Thank you Martin, for the pleasure of your company.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Well That Didn't Last Long !! - on 16th January, 2012

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!

Sunday 15 January 2012

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down !!

I was chatting with my good friend Paul Riddle the other day, discussing owls and photography. It is a natural instinct to try and get the most detailed close-up photo of a bird as is possible - in other words, the 'perfect portrait'. However, it takes more skill to show something of the character of the bird, or to achieve an artistic balance. Now I am no expert, but it is my opinion that Little Owls lend themselves to the achievement of this more than do, for example, Short-eared Owls. Little Owls tend to perch themselves in more interesting places, and even do more interesting things. Most photos of Short-eared Owls, as Paul has mentioned on his own blog, tend to show them flying over grass or perched on a post, and there are only so many images of this type that can be viewed before it starts to get boring. Whilst I don't suppose that I''ll ever achieve anything that I'm satisfied with, I have decided to embrace the challenge to do better. There will still be attempts at portrait shots, but I will try to keep an eye on 'the bigger picture' - if you'll excuse the pun!!

I've just re-read the above and realise that it could be taken that I have issued a competitive challenge to Paul! I assure you that this is not the case - Paul sets the standards that I aspire to!  What I meant to say was that Paul and I both accept that there is a challenge for us to do something a bit different.

So here goes:

Monday 9th January - SEO in a tree

Down to my local Short-eared Owl site, but the owls were not being cooperative. They were showing at 15.00, but keeping their distance. However, the following (taken when it was nearly dark) is the first image of a SEO in a tree that I've managed for nearly two years!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
Thursday 12th January - a not-so-welcome visitor, and SEOs in colour

Mid morning we had this visitor to the garden - a first sighting for the year, and a dubious pleasure. This, I believe, was a young male, and not very adept at hunting (to my relief!). I could show you another image too, but it would embarrass the bird as it shows him in a most un-cool light !! OK, so this is just a portrait, but it was taken through a closed window and I had to crop out all the rubbish.

Sparrowhawk (juvenile male?) - our garden
In the afternoon I returned to my local SEO site, arriving rather late. It had been a sunny day, and the last knockings of sunlight gave some strange colour effects to the sky. I promise that none of the following images has been colour-adjusted in post-processing, although some of them have been lightened. Still 'ordinary' compositions, but I like the light effects.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

As I set off home, the light was even more amazing, and I couldn't resist a shot of the sunset - again not colour-adjusted! Would have been nice if there was an owl in the image!

Sunset - near Ashby de la Zouch
Friday 13th January - Little Owls, and continuing SEO battles

The day started very frosty, but promised to be sunny with little or no wind. Time to pack up a picnic lunch and go out to see if I could find some Little Owls. I set off at about 10.30 and visited eight of my sites, finding single owls at four of them - three of the 'no-shows' were at sites where I've not seen owls for a long while. Only two of the sites produced images which I'm prepared to show here. I don't know if they've become unaccustomed to seeing people around (I certainly have not been around much over the last few months), but the birds all seemed extra nervous - hence the 'peek-a-boo' nature of two of the images.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Little Owl - my Site No.03
At About 15.00, the draw of the SEOs became strong, and I set off for my local site. The owls were out as I arrived, with one sitting on a distant post.  Hopefully the following image has some artistic merits!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
Not long after this, one of the owls was relentlessly pursued by a (Lesser Black-backed?) Gull. Regrettably I didn't manage an image that conveys the conflict, but here are the two together.

Short-eared Owl and Lesser Black-backed (?) Gull
Eventually the gull gave up the aggression, but a short while later, a Kestrel had a go. I'm seeing this conflict between Kestrel (there are several in the area) and Short-eared Owl on a regular basis now. Didn't get an image of contact between the two, but I think the following shows that this was not a happy meeting!

Common Kestrel (female) and Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
After this conflict the owl flew high over my head, calling continually. OK, so this one's just another standard portrait!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch