Ghost Owl recovery
Perhaps it may be a little early in the season to announce a full recovery of the local Barn Owl population but there are definitely signs for optimism. Judging by my observations over the past couple of months and talking to Richard (the warden at Tophill Low) and to local farmers, I am hopeful of a significant increase in the local population. A mild and dry winter would secure this position, so fingers crossed!
It’s been a good season for me as well. The Barn Owls have been hunting most evenings and I have managed to capture some wonderful images. The young will be fledging in the next week or so and I suspect that their activity will soon abate. This year, I have been extremely privileged to witness their feeding routine and extraordinary flying skills. I have experimented with lighting and have concluded that photographing these Owls against the setting sun (contra-jour) and this has given me my most memorable images.
However, it is important to remember the welfare of your subjects. I came across a post entitled “Bird Photography Ethics — what is your standard?” on the NatureScapes forum which made for interesting reading. This reply from photographer Ed Erkes sums up my approach to Nature Photography…
My own personal guide is to cause no physical harm to the bird or its nesting success. To think that we can photograph birds and other animals without causing stress at all is, IMO, naive. In my area of the country, I obviously stress a lot of birds just scouting around, because almost every great blue heron, kingfisher, red-tailed hawk, or wood duck that even sees me in my car or on foot at a great distance flies off. The only way not to stress them is to stay home. Birds and animals are used to disturbances. It is a part of their daily life. Fishermen, bicyclists, hikers, hedge trimmers, picnickers, predators, rivals, weather, etc. all cause stress and disturbance. The problem is not disturbance or stress itself, but repeated and prolonged disturbance that prevents the normal behavior of animals in feeding and raising young. Care must be used to minimize disturbance, and if the birds do not accept you, you must be ready and willing to back off. Also, in heavily visited areas, one has to be conscious of the potential cumulative effect of other photographers, birders, etc.
I agree that prolonged and repeated disturbance should always be avoided. I resisted the temptation to photograph the Barn Owls on consecutive days and limited their exposure to me and my camera to a maximum of two hours, often much less. I maintained a safe distance from their nest. I am fortunate to own a long lens (500 mm) and several tele-converters. This allowed me to obtain reasonable magnification at an average distance of 50 metres. Patience, camera skill and luck determined whether or not I returned home with a good image or two.
Barn Owls are such a delight to photograph and an important and valuable natural resource. Let’s appreciate their beauty, be mindful of their welfare and raise a toast to a successful breeding season.