Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

History Lessons – Short-eared Owls

SEO_1Two Short-eared Owls (1/3200 second @ f 6.7 IS0 1250)

My photograph above of two Short-eared Owls is the subject of my fourth ‘history lesson’.  It’s one of my favourite owl pictures taken during the winter of 2011/12. I had made the long journey to Hempholme meadows, on the outskirts of Tophill Low, several times during December of that year and had been lucky to have seen a pair of SEO’s and a Barn Owl during each short visit.

The owls appeared to frequent a part of the shooting estate that was covered in scrub and small birch trees—making the photography very challenging. The pair of SEO’s hunted singly and I never seemed to be able to get both birds in the same frame. In fact, I was always delighted when I managed to achieve a positive focus lock on any of the owls as they flew between the branches.

I’d arrived at the perimeter of the field in the early afternoon of 15 December 2011. The sky was a pale blue and the low sunlight turned the dead grasses and branches a rich golden colour. I had my 500 mm lens on a gimbal on my Gitzo tripod with my Nikon D3S attached. I was also using a 1.7x tele-converter on this lens giving me a focal length of 850 mm and an effective aperture of f 6.7.

I photographed several Roe deer while I was waiting for the owls to show. Just after two-o-clock, two SEO appeared and began hunting. Within twenty-five minutes they had both moved on to another field. Pity, as I had been enjoying myself. The light was good and I had managed to get several photographs of the owls during that short period.

The best of the photographs were my last ones of that day. The two Short-eared Owls met briefly as they rose in the sky above the scrub to venture onwards. At that moment, I managed to capture four consecutive frames of the pair and of the four, this one I considered the best. The chances of both owls being in perfect focus in the same frame were immense but I’d had a very lucky day.

Here’s a few other of my photographs from the same afternoon…

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The next episode in my series of photographs from Tophill Low will follow in a few days.

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