Sunday, 4 December 2011

Prestwick Carr Shorties

Prestwick Carr has gained a bit of notoriety for its Short Eared Owls, though I’ve had little joy in having much glimpse of them whenever I have been there.  I’ve seen all the British resident owls, but this is my favourite – that amazing stare it has and piercing eyes – so it was this that made me spend from dawn to dusk on a cold and windy day in the hope to get more than just a glimpse and maybe a decent photo opportunity.

I knew that most of their activity was mid to late afternoon, but I new also knew that this was when they were likely to attract the audience of onlookers and I was hoping to watch and photograph them under more ‘natural’ conditions.  The sun was just rising on an almost completely clear, cold morning and as I approached their main location, I could see in the distance one of them was at least active, but out of nowhere the wind picked up and it started to rain!  By the time I had reached that point there was no sign of them flying – obviously the brief down poor had driven them to cover as I could see two of them sheltering in a pine tree.  They'd probably already been hunting during the dawn so that would probably be it until the next usual appearance.

It wasn’t until just before 1:00pm that saw the next SEO activity as one of them flew low from nowhere and landed on a fence pole.  After a minute or so it regurgitated a pellet and dropped to the ground, disappearing into the long grass.   However, for a while at least I had forgotten the cold and my enthusiasm had been recharged.  I was though, starting to think this was going to be another day of just glimpsing them and it certainly wasn’t going my way in my chances of photographing them.

At early December the sun was low in the sky, shining directly into my eyes and camera lens creating a harsh light and despite the sun being out still didn’t give me a very high shutter speed without upping the cameras ISO. 


With dark clouds gathering in the south west, threatening to block out what little light there was and possibly even bring rain, I was not raising my hopes but kept telling myself to wait just a bit more time.  I was rewarded with my patience a couple of hours later by the sight of, at first one owl flying around, followed by another until there was eventually around 5-6 of them flying past (though at some distance), hunting over the long grass, performing aerial acrobats between each other and landing on the various posts or the ground, though never really getting very close.

Typically with their appearance it became cloudy (only where the sun was, clear sky elsewhere!) and was intermittently raining and at best, I was only getting 1/800th of a second which with a 500mm lens plus extender, I was working borderline with camera shake (no IS on the Sigma).  From the start I was focusing manually for the best results as a combination of poor light and extender meant, even on the 1D series camera, it was struggling with the twisting and turning of these owls.


Not great images but my best yet of this owl and will no doubt have to make another trip to Prestwick Carr.  Even if none of them turned out, it was still worth the wait just to watch these beautiful and idyllic owls flying and hunting in the dull light of winter.


  1. Some lovely images Frank, which you did well to get considering the conditions.

  2. Thanks Christian, hope to get some better ones soon.