Tuesday, 15 May 2018

North Norfolk

Visiting North Norfolk has become an annual tradition, one that allows my father and me the chance to get some much needed fresh air (for him mainly as I'm out all year round) and to celebrate our birthdays in an area we have both grown to love. This year, as with previous ones, had been a late decision, as last summer he'd suffered a heart attack, and after such a hard, cold and miserable winter, he hadn't been entirely confident in his fitness to be able to enjoy such a trip.

Thankfully he agreed in time for me to book somewhere suitable to stay, and we were blessed with a week of weather more akin to mid-summer, than early spring. By the end of it, temperatures had reached 26C and being able to sit outside a pub in hot sunshine, was just the tonic.

For me, I usually have three targets for wildlife from this area: barn owls, brown hares and marsh harriers. The locations for each seem to change with each visit, so early starts and late finishes, coupled with lots of touring round the area simply searching, usually yields some sort of success.

The hares were pretty easy to find, though there were fewer than on previous visits, something confirmed by a local birder I spoke with, who had been witness to one of the many organised shoots of these mammals, something he said was a harrowing sight. I'm glad I didn't see it. But the shooting estates in the area manage almost all the wildlife that lives on their land, and hares breed rapidly without foxes to naturally control their numbers, so the gamekeepers see fit to cull them too.

One of the positives, if such a comment can be made from this management, is that without ground predators, and the abundance of game-birds that shall we say, aren't the best at crossing roads safely, these estates and surrounding farms are now excellent areas for ground-nesting birds to thrive, and also for birds of prey to find food.

The number of red kites, a bird known for its ability to clean our lanes of roadkill, has grown enormously, and whereas before when a large raptor was spotted from afar, it'd almost certainly be either a buzzard or marsh harrier, now a third option is on the cards. And to help prevent these raptors from becoming statistics for road casualties themselves, the land managers and locals often move the roadkill away from danger and into the adjacent fields.

One does wonder though, when the number of these raptors reaches a point where the land managers / gamekeepers will need to control their numbers too, via a hushed licence from Natural England or by other means...

But in the meantime, I was just enjoying the sight of so many birds of prey quartering over the fields each day.

Often, if I spotted a pair of marsh harriers swooping down into a crop field, and rape seed seemed a popular choice for nest sites, then I would also see perhaps a second or even third pair using the same field.

And it was interesting to see that marsh harriers, like red kites and buzzards, are quite content to walk about the fields in search of food if necessary. Too far for images, I watched all three species pottering around one field, like a meeting of raptors to discuss the fine weather, perhaps.

Closer to me, and well within range of my camera were the hares. Early on in the week, when the vegetation was damp from overnight showers or a heavy dew, the hares would look bedragged. But the males at least, had no time for personal grooming - they were on a mission to chase down females, and if not in direct pursuit, they could be seen following scent-trails around the meadows, sometimes comically going round in circles before picking up where the trail led.

I even managed to get some X-rated views of a pair that mated several times, before she kicked him into the air and bolted off at pace!

While I had some close encounters from my car with the hares, the closest was on one morning, when I was watching a barn owl. More on that shortly, but unbeknown to me, where I had chosen to stand was right beside a route used by the hares for crossing fields, and squeezing under a fence. Dressed in some camo, and remaining dead still, I had not been spotted by the owl, nor it would appear, the local hares, and a rustling sound from by my feet made me glance down at the ground.

Sniffing my ankles, was a brown hare. I didn't move a muscle, though stifling the grin from forming on my face was tricky. The hare tilted its head to one side, to look up at the rest of me, then ambled very slowly out of the hedge. It paused again, to have another look at this unusual sight, before climbing under the wire fence, and off into the field. It was only then that I allowed the huge smile to form on my face!

And the same thing happened several times that morning, as more hares crept through the hedge beside me. Alas I was only armed with my 500mm lens, and didn't want to move too much in case I spooked the barn owl hunting nearby.

As is so often the case, finding barn owls involves chance encounters. Sure, I know of territories of these ghostly hunters around the area, but some are more fruitful than others each time I visit. One morning, as I navigated the twisty main road from the village where we were staying, I clocked a barn owl perched on a post beside the road. Great you might think. Unfortunately it was between two blind bends, on a short stretch of the road, in a 60mph limit. And there was nowhere safe to park.

I drove past, turned round, returned and parked up past it, at the entrance to a field. Switching off the engine I listened. Silence in terms of traffic, so I chanced it. Typically, the owl refused to look in my direction and no sooner had I parked, it flew away. I didn't wait for it to return!

And on another morning, I spotted one hunting beside some woods, and there was somewhere safe to park up. I grabbed my gear and waited, but it had vanished. I scanned the fields, the woods, and even the roadside with my bins, but no sign of it. Bizarre, so I packed up my camera, turned round and sighed as the barn owl flew right past me, and off into the woods.

But my luck would change for the better, and late afternoon, I saw a familar white bird flying along another road, allowing me to follow, at a safe distance to watch where it went. Turned out that there was a pair using some rough meadows for hunting grounds, and there was sufficient cover for me to use to watch them without disturbance.

My fortune seemed to waiver over the initial encounters. I had some good luck when one of the pair started to use a line of fence posts to perch up on, and it landed pretty close to me. But there were small stalks of dead wildflowers between us, so the closest images weren't ideal. Still, it looked gorgeous on the posts further away.

Another occasion, the owl spent over an hour at the far end of the meadow hunting, and didn't seem like it would ever come closer. So I chose to move, and hadn't gone more than 20 metres when the owl suddenly appeared at speed, and flew right past me, to perch up on a post right beside where I'd just left!

But persistence often yields results, and where I had been watching the hares chase, I would have a close encounter of the barn owl kind. Using another line of fence posts, the owl was perching up and watching for movement. Then it flew closer to me, and I chose not to take an image of the owl in flight, hoping it might land closer if I didn't give my location away. It did.

The light was golden, with barely a breath of wind. The owl looked stunning, and was looking right down my lens. I cautiously took a shot. The owl continued to study me, but didn't seem bothered. It looked away, and back to the ground around the post it was perched upon. I took some more images. Then it took flight, and landed even closer!

Now, I have been photographing wildlife for way over a decade, and while I wouldn't say that I'm numb to such encounters, I would like to think that I can keep a lid on my buzz of excitement having been there, done that, got the printed t-shirt. But this experience reignited the flame again, and I had to adjust my stance to stop me from shaking. The owl still didn't seem to notice me, and continued to scan the area for movement or sounds.

Finally it took flight, and moved further down the fence. Awesome. I had frame-filling images of a barn owl, in perfect light. I couldn't ask for more. But more came, and the barn owl again flew towards me, and perched up on a post to the side of me, so close I could only fit half of it in the frame.

Because I had had to move the camera round a bit to point it at the owl, and because it was so very close, it wasn't a huge surprise that after just three images, the owl decided it wasn't sure the shape infront of it was something it wanted to be close to, and flew a bit further off.

Amazing encounter, and one that will live with me forever.

Aside from the main targets, I had hoped to see some cuckoos, but the weather patterns of late had prevented them from reaching the UK in time for my trip. Wheatears had started to arrive though, and Thornham harbour proved to be a good spot for seeing one. After watching where it was favouring to hunt for insects, I moved in, spooking it initially, but after half an hour of sitting still, the wheatear returned, and I was able to get some great shots as it perched on some old weathered wood, to watch for grubs.

Shooting such images against the clear blue sky should have been a cause for celebration, but I noticed an overexposed line across the top of some of the shots. It wasn't always there, and varied in thickness. An internet search confirmed my fears... the shutter was on the way out. Another expense to add to the recent woes with the car (Xenon headlight, thermostat and then turbo failure). But the old workhorse, like the car, continued to work long enough to serve its purpose, and thankfully the images of the hares, harriers and owls weren't affected.

When we left Norfolk, the temperature had just started to fall from the heady heights, and while we were sad to leave (we always are), we had enjoyed a fantastic week of weather and wildlife, bagged many images, enjoyed quite a few pints of ale in and outside some fabulous pubs, met up with old friends and made new ones, and Dad had gone from barely able to walk a few metres, to being almost back to normal walking speed again. And was noticeably happy with life, which is more than I could have hoped for from the trip.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Winter Workshops In The Scottish Highlands

Since turning pro, each winter now means a trip north of the border to Scotland, to take paying clients out to see some of the wonderful array of wildlife to be seen there. And each year, I seem to be spending longer up there, which is great as it means I meet new clients, and also any excuse to spend more time in Scotland, especially the Highlands isn't a bad thing.

In 2019, I am planning to spend the entire month of February in the Scottish Highlands, but this year, I set off on the 9th of the month, with some trepidation, as my normally reliable car was struggling with an engine fault, something it had developed just a few days before the trip, leaving me no time to address it. Thankfully, it was an issue I could largely ignore, and had a means to correct it, should it manifest itself, which it did on several inclines during the journey north. But I got there, and didn't need to rent out any vehicles during the stay either, thank goodness.

Unlike the previous winter, there was a lot of snow around this time. Too much in some cases, and meant I had to abandon plans to take clients to see the ptarmigan. On the days when the road to the area was open, the snow was simply too deep to walk through, and often the wind at the summit was too dangerous to risk the client's safety. And from experience, I also know that the ptarmigan are very flighty in windy weather, so aren't approachable anyway. Hence my guiding this winter was with the mountain hares, red squirrels, crested tits and red grouse.

Of course, all the snow meant most of my clients enjoyed seeing the "classic" and "most wanted" white hares in snow when they came out with me, though it did involve a slippery ascent to the top of the hills, where most of the hares were being seen, and the majority of the snow remained. I think perhaps the cold conditions did limit the hares' behaviour, as it was simply too cold for them to be considering chasing any females around.

I saw some boxing action during the days spent on the hills, but mostly at a distance, and the only spat seen close by, happened behind a large boulder! Typical...

As with last winter, there were quite a few photographers wandering around, clearly having no idea of how to approach the hares, and displaced them constantly. This can actually work in your favour as some of the hares will scamper past where you're lying or sitting, providing images of moving hares.

But it can also be annoying, especially when photographers ignore the unwritten rules of not approaching hares with photographers already "on them", and end up spooking the hare away. Immensely frustrating if you have spent maybe an hour crawling closer to a hare, only to have some muppet scare it away in seconds.



After a few days of not seeing any, I was overjoyed to spot both golden and a white-tailed eagle soaring over the hills. These were about the only time I regretted not taking my 500mm lens up to the top, but this year, after suffering with back pains from the previous trips, I chose to just take my new 100-400mm lens up the hills, and hence not need a tripod either. It is such a good lens, focusing as quickly and accurately as my prime, and giving stunning images too. And it allowed me to compose different images of the hares without having to move myself around.

Perhaps the most remarkable and memorable moment with a hare came before any of the guided days had started. I was out with Andy Howard, just for an afternoon, to wander up the hills and learn from him about which of the current crop of hares were the best to approach, when we happened upon one in the car park. When it ambled across to some heather nearby, Andy and I followed, and it quickly became clear that the hare, busy feeding, wasn't concerned with us being close at all. So much so, we chose to abandon the usual telephoto lenses in favour of a wider view.

To be lying with a wild mountain hare, merely 50cm in front of me, was incredible. We assumed it wasn't well maybe, or exhausted from the cold, but it was feeding constantly, and there were no apparent injuries. When it finally scampered away from us, we left it alone, and it was still munching away when we drove off.

In addition to the guided workshops, I dragged myself up the hills to photograph the hares by myself, and on one day it was probably a bad idea. With howling winds, snow blowing around and a temperature of minus 17C, it was difficult to stand up on the exposed summit, and the cold made my face and hands go numb in seconds. Finding white hares against the snow is hard enough in good conditions, but these were diabolical. I eventually settled on the side of a hill that offered some shelter from the gales, and where most of the hares had relocated to. But even when I was relatively close to a hare, it was obvious to me that I wasn't going to get anything new from the experience, apart from frostbite. It's days like these that make you respect how hardy these creatures are. It was absolutely perishing up there.

As well as hares, I take clients to see both red squirrels and crested tits, making use of sites that Andy has created over time. The red squirrel site was worked on again back in December, when I helped install a 15 foot long reflection pool, so I was keen to make use of this myself on this visit. Of course the problem with a pool during the winter is the cold, and I had to time my personal visits to days when the temperature was above zero, and hope the breeze wouldn't be an issue.

Thankfully, one afternoon, the breeze dropped and the sun lit up the area at the back of the reflection pool beautifully, and my luck was in when one of the squirrels paid a visit.

My fortune continued on another visit when I had rigged up my camera on the tripod outside of the hide, to get the best line down the jumping area as was possible, taking images using a wireless trigger. This is very much down to luck and timing, and a group of squirrels that are happy to leap over for a hazelnut treat. The problem with this sort of remote set up is that you're never sure if you are getting a focused image. So I was overjoyed when reviewing images later that evening, when I spotted one where the focus was bang on, and the squirrel (Tippy) had performed a nearly perfectly symmetrical jump. Bless her.

A benefit of the cold weather is that insects are harder to find, so the crested tits rely more on food put out, and visit the peanut feeders more frequently. Most of the time when I am guiding clients on such days, I don't get out my camera, but when large flakes of snow started falling from the skies, I dug out my gear, and grabbed a few shots of the "cresties" as they perched up in the blizzard.

This also helped me to suggest angles for the client to try, showing them how my shot had turned out, to tempt them to go for a similar result.

When I first visited the Highlands several years ago, one of the sites I would always visit was Burghead harbour, as it was a fabulous place to see winter wildfowl. Eiders and long-tailed ducks, plus scoters occasionally. Sadly I fear the harbours all along that coast have been dredged, as these wonderful ducks no longer seem to be fishing in the harbours, and only catch food out on the open water.

With each visit, I constantly say that I must take advantage of the birds that visit the garden where I stay (Andy and Lyndsey Howard's house), so this time I did just that. Parking the car just outside their gates, I moved some of the feeders around and captured images of the less common birds visiting. I was particularly happy to see tree sparrows, which are a bird I never see at home in my garden.

A bird that I didn't expect to see one day though, was at a grouse moor where I rarely see any birds of prey other than buzzards and occasionally a merlin or kestrel around. It appeared from a wooded area, and flew towards me, annoyingly against the sun. So as it flew over the car, I blasted some shots off and in doing so recognised the flight of a goshawk! A juvenile, first winter bird, which quickly crossed the moors, and then circled over some trees on the horizon for a few moments. Hopefully it will move away from the area, as grouse moors are notorious for making such raptors disappear.

But the grouse are of course welcome, and they were starting to show signs of battling for the females. I found a spot where a male was defending his territory, and waited. Cue lots of strutting, posturing, a brief fight and a bit of flying. All of which made for an interesting couple of hours.

As well as the guiding, I managed to spend some time out and about with friends. On one day, Lyndsey Howard joined me for a walk around Farr where we were treated to some brief views of dippers on the stream that runs through the centre, and then even better views of a female goosander.

Laggan was the destination on another day, when Andy and I were joined by Derek, a retired headmaster who I have met before up there, and we all enjoyed several hours photographing red deer on the snow-covered slopes of the hills around there. After a pitstop for cake and coffee, we spent the last hour or so at the RSPB Insh Marshes reserve, and were treated to a distant view of a female hen harrier quartering the meadows.

Perhaps the best session with friends came at the end of the trip. With snow forecast, we joined up with a client who had been stranded by the bad weather and lack of trains, and visited the Alvie Estate deer feeding station. This is something I have wanted to do for some time, but never really had the chance to do so. So I was understandably overjoyed to be standing on a snow-covered track in a woodland, photographing majestic red deer stags as they approached through the trees, with snow falling all around. Magical.

And to share the session with Andy, Lyndsey and Sarah made it even better. Absolutely fantastic.

Alas it was time to leave, and with the railway network still crippled by the bad weather, I offered Sarah a lift back down south (which she eventually accepted) to Preston, where she could catch a train home from. Worked out well, as she was home and drinking some Yorkshire tea well before I got back to the Midlands. Despite a few more scares with the car, it made it back, and I'm now awaiting some horrendous bill to fix it.

As mentioned at the start, I will be running more winter wildlife workshops in the Scottish Highlands throughout next February if anyone would like to come along. Prices and details are listed on my website as usual.

Roll on spring now, and a bit of warmth...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Little Owls - Review Of 2017

July


My adventures with the little owls started a bit later this year than before, as I had wrongly assumed that the introduction of a pig-pen into the area right beneath the entrance to the owls' nesting area and favourite tree, had spooked them into leaving. I had visited several times since the porkers arrived, but failed to see any of the owls.

Whilst cleaning away the mud, cow and sheep poop collected on my car from the Mull Photo Tours one Saturday in July, one of the lads from the farm parked up at the end of my driveway, and informed me he'd seen the owls recently. The cleaning was rapidly finished off, and I trundled over to the farm with some intrepidation to see what was going on. Were they really back? What had I missed? Had the pair bred again?

Within seconds of me parking up beside the barn, one of the adult little owls swooped down from the oak tree, scuttled along the roof and then stared at me, as if to say "Where the hell have you been?"

I had to laugh - I know they're wild but I'm pretty sure they recognise me from the other people around the farm.

The pigs had been and gone; replaced by some of the growing flock of sheep at the farm. I was unable to park as closely to the barn as before, but as normal, the farmer was quick to say if I wanted to move or rearrange things, I could. And as I moved the car around the fencing, so I could see more of the end of the barn where the owls normally look out from, I spotted it... a small grey ball of fluff, perched on the felt roof of the pig-pen, and it was staring at me. An owlet!

My excitement levels were going into hyperspace mode - I love these birds, and to realise they'd raised another young owl was wonderful news to me. As I'd not been there, and hence not been supplementing their need for food with what I put out, the adults were in full flow with hunting, and it was eye-opening to see how quickly they caught food, especially small rodents. As well as perching high on roof-tops, the owls would use the powerlines to watch from, and swoop down on to voles and mice as they strayed out into the open, such as crossing the track across the farm.

After a quick run to the local exotic pet shop, I returned with some food for the owls, and in that short time away, one owlet had become two! They were perched in the oak tree, hissing away, demanding to be fed by the adults. Not only had I missed them branching from the nest area, I'd also missed them mastering flight, which was shown when one of the youngsters swooped down to the roof where an adult was, to collect a meal directly.

And after being fed, it remained on the roof, scuttling round in search of food for itself. Not short on confidence or mobility already.

Of course this all meant I could re-open the Little Owl Workshop for the season, and it was a race to get the site presentable for visitors, some of whom had been patiently waiting for news on the owls since the winter months.

By the end of that first frantic week, not only had I reconfigured the site for visitors, let all the punters know it was open for business again, but also realised that the owls had managed to raise three owlets this time, and all had successfully reached the safety of the tree.

Unlike last year, where there was only one owlet to feed, it was interesting to watch the adults provide food, and distribute it fairly between the three hungry fluffballs. Two of which were obviously older than the fluffiest one; perhaps the runt of the nest. But it had made it out, and was as demanding as the others. However, it tended to remain alone, whilst the other older chicks often sat beside one another.

I didn't think the adults could work harder after last year, but with three beaks to feed, as well as their own, they seemed to be all over the place, bringing in food from all corners of the farm. This also allowed me to test out some ideas for getting images of them, introducing props and perches, gaining both running and more flight shots.

The latter are never easy, as the owls don't fly in a flat line, more of an undulating path, which is a nightmare to track in the camera.

With more than one owlet, I was able to observe interraction between the youngsters, as well as with the adult owls. On quieter days, I picked up different calls from the owls, between the almost constant hissing for food of course.

And the alarm calls, surprisingly, came from all of the owls at times, highlighting their ability to make adult calls from early on in their lives. Admittedly though, they weren't able to determine what a real threat was most of the time, and they scuttled and flew to the safety of the barn at the first sight of wood pigeons, jackdaws and gulls. Thankfully they also recognised the local buzzards as a threat and vanished whenever they flew by.

August


Into August, and all of the owlets were confident enough to start visiting some of the perches I had put out for the adults to collect food from. Also by now, the two adults had become one, and just the male was left. This happened last year, when the female (I assume, as the male tends to hold on to breeding sites from what I have read) left just after the young branched, leaving the male to do the remaining work. Perhaps the effort of creating and laying the eggs, followed by intensive brooding in the nest, and then the frantic, relentless gathering of food takes its toll on the female, and she leaves to allow herself time to recover. It must be an incredible effort for her each year, and by the time she departed last year, she looked like she needed a break.

Over the next few weeks, I was joined by some clients who enjoyed fantastic views of the owls, taking thousands of images of them and their antics. During the workshops, I don't tend to take any images myself, but still enjoy the days, as I simply observe the owls, making mental notes of anything they might do that strikes me as unusual.

While the owlets were confident in landing on perches, and running around the roof or along branches, they struggled on some perches, often having to fly off again after failing to balance properly, though one incident showed how much grip and strength they have in their feet and talons.

Also interesting to me was how wary the owlets were of me. Last year, the sole owlet of the brood was very tolerant of me, and would perch only a few feet away, when I was walking around the patch of land by the perches. It even landed on the windscreen wipers of the car once, to peer in at me through the glass, though I suspect it was more interested in the wriggling mealworms on the seat beside me. This year, perhaps because I hadn't been there as much, or maybe because the owlets had each other to grow up with, they behaved more like the adults, and were quick to move away should I push my luck at all.

As the owls grew up, so did their levels of confidence, and it was intriguing to see how they behaved when other birds approached. Frequently corvids such as jackdaws or carrion crows would land on the barn roof, to investigate the food on offer. Initially the young owls would flee, but within just a week or so, they had learned that these birds weren't a threat, and would just keep a watchful eye on them. The local robins would live up to their name, frequently "robin" the food put out. Sometimes the owls would just watch them, but other times, they chased them away. And appeared angrier than usual, if such a look is possible.

Birds such as wood pigeons, pied wagtails and blackbirds were all largely ignored, but magpies had to be watched closely, as they often harrassed the young owls, even pursuing them to the entrance of the nesting area, if they fled. It was clear to see the difference between the adult and the young here, as the older, wiser owl would stand its ground and if pushed, actually chase the magpie away.

By the middle of August, my thoughts turned to Mull again (holiday this time), so I would be leaving the owls to their own devices for just over a fortnight. This wasn't a problem for the owls, as I ensure that my additional feeding isn't something they rely on, and without it, they would simply target other hunting areas, and prey, more often.

The older owlets were already showing signs of adult plumage, but the runt, was still very fluffy indeed, even if it had already mastered the angry glare of the adults.

I wondered what I might miss during the weeks away...

September


While I was gutted to leave Mull in early September, I was keen to catch up on the little owl family on my return.

One observation I had made during the workshops before going to Mull was that one of the owlets, perhaps the oldest one, was following the adult across the farm to where he was hunting from time to time, and I wondered if perhaps the others might be doing the same on my return. The owls were dotted about the yard when I first parked up, with one overlooking the orchard area, and another further along the line of oak trees, watching for movement in the grasses of the meadow below. After reintroducing some food to the area I watch, they slowly came back over a period of several hours. Perhaps after seeing the adult drop down for some of it first. But I could only count two owlets.

Initially I hoped that I was simply just seeing two of the three each time, and that I'd eventually see all three together, but the longer I watched, the clearer the picture became. One owlet had gone. I wanted to believe that it had already fledged, become confident enough to leave the nest area, but in my heart I knew it hadn't, and that like one of the previous year's brood, it had met an untimely demise.

The farm is of course inhabited by a number of predators of these small owls. As well as the buzzards, there are tawny owls and perhaps even the barn owls from down the hill may have strayed up to the area where the little owls hunted at night. Add to that the possibility of cats, stoats, foxes and maybe even badgers when the owls are on the ground feeding on worms and grubs. Or maybe it was hit by a vehicle on or near the farm. I will never know, as I didn't find any sign of feathers or a body, just a gap on the branch where there were once six taloned feet perched.

I know these owls are wild, but it's hard, when spending so long with them, not to become attached to them emotionally. They're not pets, and the young will disperse at the end of the breeding season, but it is upsetting at times when Mother Nature shows her harsher side.

The remaining owlets were quite different in their appearance. One remained fairly fluffy, with signs of the large defined "eyebrows" forming, as well as some adult feathers coming through on its breast area.

The other owlet was well on the way to looking like an adult, with the flecked feathers covering its head, the pale down all but gone.

The adult was starting to look rather dishevelled, mainly from the moult kicking in, and feathers were missing or hanging loose from all over him. Not that it affected his ability to bring back food for the youngsters, though they were more than capable of collecting their own, and often beat the adult to any put out.

Amusingly, with history somewhat repeating itself, during a heavy rain shower, two of the owls chose to wash their feathers, and I was on hand to record the moment via my DSLR. Last year, a clip of the owlet doing this went so mad on Social Media, I had to turn off my phone to stop it alerting me to activity, and ended up being watched over 250,000 times online. This time it was the adult that stole the limelight, and as I type, I'm still getting "hits" on that clip.

Aside from danger alerts, when each of the owls would call out to alert the others, there was a noticeable change in the behaviour between the adult and the youngsters. Initially it was just between the older of the owlets and the adult, and they'd not be happy being close to one another at all, but within just a few days, the same traits were apparent with the youngest owlet too. Perhaps the first indication from the adult that he wanted them to think about leaving, to set up their own territories?

By mid-September, the older of the two owlets was hard to distinguish from the adult; the paler yellow iris being the most obvious difference. The youngest owlet still had some downy feathers around the back of its head, giving it the impression of perhaps wearing a Parka jacket!

But that had all but gone too, by the end of the month, and the adult's tolerance for it was being stretched. When perched close to one another on the roof, one would make quieter chirruping sounds, but as sweet as they sounded to my ears, they weren't friendly, and the adult would chase the youngster away.

October


As with last year, the start of October saw the departure of the owlets. From what I have read, this is fairly typical for them, and I was pleased that this season, my grumpy-looking feathery friend had managed to increase the local little owl population by two. His hard work done for the summer, now he can relax and concentrate on surviving the colder months, before rekindling his relationship with the female, for next years' brood.

I have visited the site several times since the young departed, and have seen both adults present, which is promising for next season. When the snow arrived for the first time in years, I made my way to the site in the hope of some views of the owls perched in it. But owls are said to be wise, and they wisely stayed out of the biting wind, and in the relative shelter and warmth of the barn, refusing to venture out for me to photograph. All I saw during three visits to the farm was one feathery head peek out of the barn for a brief moment, glare at me, and then vanish once more! I honestly don't blame them - it was perishingly cold.

If you're a fan of little owls, and would like to join me for a workshop of little owl photography, please drop me an email (info@petewalkden.co.uk). I will be adding new images over the winter from any visits I make, and sharing any news from the site, via Social Media.

Images from the year (and last year too) are available to purchase on a wide variety of media via my website and also my Facebook page, from the Online Shop.