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A few days with the Short Eared Owls

I was recently told about the location of a small group of Short Eared Owls and was quite excited to finally try and get some shots of these beautiful birds. I spent four days visiting the location to make the most of some spare time I had. I took quite a few shots so thought I’d share a selection of my favourite on here.

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/320, f6.3, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/320, f6.3, ISO 1600

Unfortunately, SEOs don’t reside in this location and are only there for the winter. I wish I’d found out about the site sooner as it turns out the first sighting of them was as early as October so I’ve missed out on an entire winters worth of photo opportunities! My last visit to the site resulted in me being there from 830am until 530pm with only one SEO sighted all day, compared to 4 on previous visits so I think they may be on the way home now.

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f5.6, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f5.6, ISO 1600

The weather was a mixed bag, typically the first two days spent there provided the best photo ops but the worst light…very overcast days resulting in a loss of saturation and contrast in the landscape and worst of all, no light to keep the shutter speeds up with lower ISO! It was a good test of the D300 I just picked up though, and I’m happy to say the performance was excellent in terms of focus tracking etc, although as it’s a backup to my D3 the noise isn’t a welcome addition at 1600, where a lot of my shots where taken.

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1600, f7.1, ISO 800

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1600, f7.1, ISO 800

Anyone who has tried to photograph these birds in the past will know how tricky they can be to get near too. If your not in a car or hide the best option is generally to find a spot with some cover, like a tree line, and just camp out and wait for them to come to you. Photographing them on the ground can be even more of a challenge as once they are down, they are very hard to spot. Often you’ll find yourself walking to a new location and one will suddenly fly up from the ground not 15 feet away! A keen eye really does help with this well camouflaged bids!

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1000, f7.1, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1000, f7.1, ISO 1600

Thankfully my third day (well, that was just an afternoon) and the final day had some good bright conditions at times, although less owls on show so I just got on with making the most of the situation.

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/500, f5.6, ISO 800

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/500, f5.6, ISO 800

It’s been a great experience though, and far more rewarding than the one other time I saw this species. That was a couple of years ago at a field in Oxford where I had three sightings and they were all flying away from me! I was hoping to get at least one more visit to see these ones before I fly out to Florida but if my last visit was any kind of indication, I fear I’ll have to wait until next winter now to see these beautiful birds. Unless another set of Short Eared Owls decide to take up residence a realistic distance from my house that is…!

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1000, f5.6, ISO 500

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1000, f5.6, ISO 500

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f7.1, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f7.1, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1250, f8, ISO 250

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1250, f8, ISO 250

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f5.6, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/800, f5.6, ISO 1600

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1250, f8, ISO 280

D300, 600 + 1.4x, 1/1250, f8, ISO 280

About the author

Richard Peters is a Surrey based professional wildlife photographer, Nikon Ambassador, and one of the few British photographers to receive the accolade of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year. He is known for a style that often favours dramatic use of light, runs wildlife photography workshops and, from camera clubs to big industry events, holds talks about his work.

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