Entries Tagged ‘Hunting Owl’:

Magical Moments

Filed in Wildlife, Workshops on Jan.20, 2012

During the last several days I have been busy working in my office, the great outdoors, as I call it, amongst nature which is a place I find great peace in, capturing more magical moments. With a couple of one to ones in the Peak District, and a visit to the SWPP conference alongside PhotoTraining4U who had a stand there, my other free time has been put to good use watching and looking at the several subjects I am hoping to photograph this year.  It’s always enjoyable at the same time very time consuming setting up your own work from scratch.  But when it works and you see the subject(s) and capture them going about their lives it’s the best feeling you can possibly have as wildlife photographer.

I have been lucky enough over this time to have had some wonderful close encounters once again with different wildlife, the Short eared Owls are still very much around, hunting in the late afternoon sunlight.  They normally stay at sea level until around late February to early March, but with the warmer temperatures they may just disappear at anytime. They are also very nomadic out of the breeding season and once a food source has dried up in the area that they are staying in they just leave without warning and find another vole rich habitat in which to spend their winter months before returning to their spring breeding grounds.

A Kestrel hovering right above me in the first rays of dawn light was one such magical moment. I got into place just before dawn, hid myself away along a natural gully and waited, as the sun’s rays began to warm me I heard Magpies and Crows calling which can give you your first clue wildlife is around. In most cases they call when there’s a bird of prey around hoping their calls and mobbing behavior will somehow move that bird on. I watched this Kestrel, hunt, then back track on itself, covering the ground in a sweeping motion, doubling back on himself to cover every inch.

He carried on coming forward, searching in vain the grasses and reeds below him, those same reeds that were sheltering me. He then hovered right about me, and in the still of the morning I could just make out his faint wing beats as I watched and captured that moment with my camera. We made eye contact, watching each other which always has a deep impact on me, a powerful feeling I cannot explain. Those briefest of moments are captured here with these images shot with my 1.4 converter on. He stayed for around 15-20 seconds then went. He’d heard me and as I am writing this blog I can see him looking down at me, remembering that moment as though it was seconds ago, that’s the power of nature.

Barn Owls are without doubt though one if not my favourite UK birds, and I have enjoyed lovely moments too over the last several days with these beautiful owls. Only recently I have read with great interest a report on how they hunt. Having been fascinated with this bird from childhood I’ve learned a lot about them and their feather structures having taken them home with great interest having found them on the ground. The way in which they hunt or quarter and their heart shaped faces have always amazed me, the heart-shaped face works in a similar way to humans outer ear , collecting and directing sound toward the inner ears which helps this amazing hunter do what it does best, slightly glide over land hunting in almost pure silence.

The report has found that each of a Barn Owls ears is a slightly different size and shape, and one is higher on the bird’s head than the other. The owls can analyse the differences in the sound received by each ear to automatically calculate the exact position of that sound-source. Which means that they can detect prey below them in pure darkness and hunt with great effectiveness and stealth. In most parts Barn Owls hunt in the dark so visual information is not possible, so their hearing really is their lifeline. Flying in silence helps them listen for movement, prey that’s moving.

Most if not all of the owls plumage is covered in a dense covering of feathers, those feathers produce more lift with each beat due to their shape and design, having a high curvature. This design allows the air to pass through and they offer little turbulence, reducing friction noise between the feathers. The end result is one of the most prolific hunters within the natural world. And the report suggests in time the structure of the Barn Owls wing may provide a guide for the design of quieter and more efficient airfoils for the aviation industry. Proving yet again that so many designs of man-made products are derived from the wonderful world of Mother Nature.

Barn Owls are amazing and they are just so wonderful to watch and photograph, the following slide show shows images taken over the last three years, from several different sites, showing these amazing birds of prey hunting and flying on the wing, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting these images together.


Thank you to my two clients, Mike and John for your company on your one to ones within the beautiful Peak District. I will continue working on my subjects and fingers crossed I’ll have some wonderful images to post on my blog in the coming months.

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Bright Eyes

Filed in Projects, Wildlife on Dec.11, 2011

Winter announced its arrival recently bringing to an end one of the warmest autumns since records began with gales, icy winds and snow in parts of the UK. While the seasons change from autumn into winter there seems to have been an invasion of Short-eared Owls to various areas around the UK. These birds come down from the moorland and higher ground during our winter months to spend their time at sea level before departing back to the higher breeding grounds come February and March. The numbers of this most striking of owls has been up on last years and at this rate looks set to match the brilliant numbers of 2009.

Many of these birds are being seen across the whole country at present indicating a fantastic year for their main food source of voles and small rodents. One of the many things that is good about these beautiful birds is that they hunt in mainly daylight, particularly from mid-afternoon onwards and they can stay in an area through the winter months providing the voles and other small rodents in which they feed mainly on remain at a good level.

This year has been a bumper year for voles with the warming temperatures making it ideal conditions for these small mammals to breed. Birds are coming from the continent also to take advantage of the plentiful food source experts have recorded. Over the last couple of weeks I have visited several places of which I have photographed these owls in the past and as mentioned 2009 for me was one of the best years, but this year may just beat that as numbers and sightings continue to rise each week.

Bright yellow eyes that look at first glance as though they are frowning if they look at your directly.  With their pale faces acting to enhance their most striking of features, those bright eyes. Hidden away I watch and scan the marshland and rough grazing grounds that these owls love to feed and live on and being a ground dwelling bird they blend in so well with their plumage colours.

Their feathers a mixture of bold bands and rings forming a wonderful pattern that renders them invisible once they are on the ground. Sometimes you hear them before you see them, a loud short “bark” like call echoes across the area. They are normally late risers, starting to hunt from lunchtime onwards but I have noticed after a period of wet weather they can come out from first light, as they need to feed and recover lost time and build up those supplies of food that will see them through the cold weather.

Once in the air you witness their broad, stiff wings flap with great purpose almost in a slow motion fashion, covering the ground well with each rise and fall of their wing beats. Once they leave the sky and come down low you almost lose them among the vegetation colours, until you see their white under wings as they pass by. The distinctive black bands and bold barred tail standing proudly as they glide in between their wing beats.

I have had mixed fortune with the weather so far, after one of the mildest autumns since records begin the weather has changed getting colder with windy and wet weather a lot of time, with the odd break in the cloud sometimes, warming the areas in which these owls are at present. In weather that all owls dislike and choose not to hunt in, survival is by feeding on their larder of food which they stock pile when the goings good and keeps they going until hopefully the weather breaks. If the weather doesn’t change I have known Short-eared Owls to leave an area, vanish to warmer climets way before the late February get away, back to their breeding grounds.

Their bright yellow eyes are surrounded by smudged black makeup, set in a large round, disc like shaped face which is stunning to the eye as they glare at you before flying past. They always seem so startled by the world around them as I watch them hunt or perhaps that’s defiance, but they are full of character and self belief and watching them hunting and comb an area for prey is a magical experience to witness.

They fly warily around each other, closing and drifting apart, rising and falling, slowly spiraling in wide circles, as they drift across the marshland. Notoriously during the breeding seasons they are very territorial and fiercely defensive of their area. But during the winter months as they glide around our countryside almost in a nomadic manner are very tolerant of each other.

I am hoping the cold weather of the last two winters doesn’t happen this year as along with the Barn Owl many Short eared Owls died due to being unable to feed and break through the frozen ground that at times was covered in snow for days even weeks at a time making the whole process of finding food a real contest of pure survival.

I will be concentrating my efforts in the sites I have known for many years over the next several months and I hope to capture a few more images and spend some time filming and watching these beautiful owls. I will update my blog on how I get on during that time and fingers crossed the weather doesn’t betray them, forcing them to move on to other areas.

WWT Photography Competition 2011-2012

I am delighted to have been asked for a second year to become one of the regional judges in this brilliant photography competition. Over the last week I have judged two categories which I was assigned from the Martin Mere wetland centre. Choosing my selection from the autumn heat which then goes onto the final. When the competition closes on 31 August 2012 all regional heat winners will go through to the grand national final to be held in autumn 2012. Then the Portfolio Photographer will be chosen and awarded the grand prize of a trip to Antarctica.

The winter heat is now open until the 29th February 2012 so click on the following link for more information and details of how to enter this brilliant competition. I visit Martin Mere quite a lot, and during the winter months they have the beautiful Whooper and Bewick Swans as visitors, as they spend their winter months with us before heading back north to their summer breeding grounds. The image above was taken at Martin Mere showing three Whooper Swans flying in against the cold winter sky on a frosty day.The very best of  luck to everyone that enters.

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