Seldom Seen

Seldom seen, the Long-eared Owl is an elusive bird to find, but in Staffordshire, there are small isolated pockets of perfect habitat where several pairs thrive and raise young each year. My annual excitement for June and July is photographing these chicks and I count myself very lucky to know the whereabouts of these owls and there is one pair that allow for jaw-dropping views. As you navigate yourself through the darkness, following the shrieks of the young, it can become a daunting task to find them as you tread through the thick undergrowth and more often than not it can become a wild goose chase. It’s not an easy task to keep yourself sane as you stare into the pitch black, it’s a scary place, but being in the company of the owls and the anticipation of creating the next image keeps you going. The call of the chicks echos through the dark and this year one pair of Long-eared Owls that I have access to have had a brood of two. Their calls go back and fourth from one another and it’s always a tricky decision trying to decide which to head for. Over the last weeks I have made several visits to see the chicks and in that time I have easily had my best encounters with these amazing owls - I have even managed a quick glimpse of the very elusive adult female as she delivered food and that memory will stay with me for a long time! Once you find the chicks the photography side of things is easy, as the settings are always the same and have been for me ever since I began photographing owls at night - 300mm, F6.3, ISO 500, 1/200. By knowing your settings and dialling them in beforehand, you can really take the thoughts and worries away from the technical side of photography and really enjoying shooting, another plus being that if you need to be quick - which you have to be with these owls - you can. Once you’re stood there, submerged in photographing something so beautiful, you really are in awe as Long-eared Owls are hard to come by and you rarely see them as they are masters of camouflage. From the first time I saw these chicks in early June to the last time I visited which was several weeks later, there was a massive difference in appearance. They had transformed from balls of fluff to almost adult-looking owls in no time and it just goes to show how quickly they can develop. The best thing about seeing these owls is by far their eyes, there is nothing better. It makes you question are the cute, or evil? As their burning orange eyes stare through you... They really are gorgeous. I only get to see these owls several times a year which makes each encounter very special and I am already looking forward to next years visits where I hope the same adults have another successful brood! 

Midnight Long-eared Owl Chicks

It’s nearing midnight and I find myself in my car heading out to photograph owls - am I mad or just desperate? Either way, Long-eared Owls are worth it. As I step out of my car on location I hear the distinctive call of a chick. With a smile on my face and a spring in my step I head into the pine woodland in hope of capturing something magical and within minutes, I find myself face-to-face with a wild Long-eared Owl chick. As I stood in awe, a little gobsmacked, I had only one issue; I didn’t have the chicks attention. For sometime it continued to look in the other direction, oblivious to me and before I knew it, the chick flew off into the darkness and it was gone. I sat waiting to hear a call, to see a glimpse, anything… but nothing. A distance screech so far away you could barely hear it caught my attention and as I walked fast - eager to see another owl - shining my torch through the bracken and scanning my surroundings for the call that’s getting louder and louder. There it was. I once again find myself in the presence of a Long-eared Owl chick, perched no higher than a metre from the ground looking me in the eyes. With my heart beating from my chest everything fell into place and thus began an extraordinary forty minutes. Flying wasn’t this owls forte, it hadn’t quite mastered it yet and as it took short flights from branch to branch I captured these images. Still in awe I left the owl to continue on its business. It’s nearing 2am and I am heading home, joyful and tired, however a late night is well worth it when I am able to capture something many people wouldn’t get the chance to…