Tawny Owl Diary - Every New Beginning Has An End

As a wildlife photographer I find it hard not to get attached to the species I photograph, especially species that I put all of my time and effort into finding. Tawny Owls have always had my heart and seeing chicks, hearing their call and being in their company has always been special to me, ever since I found my first one several years ago. I have been lucky over the years to find and photograph several chicks and this year has been no exception, as towards the beginning of May I was lucky to find two in a new location. The smaller of the two chicks was a real poser, preferring to roost low down in the trees, whilst the other was really high up, almost always out of sight. In all honesty, these were some of the best views I have had of Tawny Owl chicks in daylight and throughout all of my time I spent there I was smiling, I was just so happy to be there in the moment photographing something so precious. I guess it’s hard to explain to someone the feeling I felt if they’ve never been in a similar situation, but it really was magic and these encounters are memories that will certainly last a life time. Unfortunately, this blog takes a sad turn, as with all wildlife, you cannot stop the inevitable and sometimes you have to accept whats happened and move on because thats nature. Every new beginning has an end and the end for this chick came far too soon. As perfect as this chick was sat for photography, from an owls perspective it was unsafe. Below the branches it was precariously balancing on was a small stream and it was sat above this stream every time I was there, either snoozing throughout the day or at night it would be calling and moving from branch to branch over it. The last time I visited it was moving around the trees, it looked as if it was trying to move higher up. It was calling and flapping its tiny wings as it tried so hard to move and at that point it was getting late as my plan was to photograph it the following morning, hopefully in better light - so I headed home to get an early night ready for the morning. My alarm rang at 4.30am and I was back to the chick just before sunrise and I noticed straight away the chick wasn’t where it had normally been sitting for the last few days. I wasn’t surprised as I assumed it had moved higher up in the trees to join its sibling. I began to search and found the bigger owlet and as I searched harder I had no luck. Weird, I thought, I didn’t want to give up and I checked every inch of every tree before throwing in the towel, something I didn’t want to do. I still had hopes and thought it was well camouflaged but when I returned a few hours later to have another look I saw something that almost brought me to tears. Face down in the stream was the Tawny Owl chick, I can only imagine it passed away from drowning or the exhaustion of trying to get free. I was deeply saddened, but nature is nature, sometimes it is raw, eye-opening and not at all how you had hoped, but most importantly I was lucky to see this chick alive and photograph it in all it glory before its end…

Tawny Owl Diary - Peek-a-boo!

As the rain lashed down and the wind picked up, it looked to be a very stormy night and perfect owling conditions. I decided to head out at around 8pm to hopefully find Tawny Owls and I had a good feeling I would. Within 2 minutes I found myself looking through my viewfinder at the first owl of the night, it was the gorgeous rufous-looking owl that nests in the woodland behind my house… After I took a few images I moved on and drove my usual route around the country lanes. I headed in the direction to where I have had success with an owl many times before, so many times before in fact the owl is now known as Mylo…  As I drove no quicker than 20mph down the favourable road for Mylo, scanning every tree I passed, I had no luck. I came across a runner on the same lane and assumed that they would likely scare any owl off. I kept driving in hope and as I neared the end of the lane something caught my eye… I quickly reversed and there was Mylo, tucked up hiding behind a tree trunk. My eyes often play cruel tricks on me when looking for owls but I am thankful I second guessed myself on this occasion! I could just about see Mylo’s head popping around the tree, it was by far the one the most difficult places I have found Tawny Owls - luckily I was alert! As I hung out of my window in awe at Mylo, the runner I had driven past further up the lane had soon caught up to me and was just about to pass us, ‘great!’ I thought, knowing that the runner would spook Mylo. However to my surprise he tilted his head more around the tree to check them out and was not bothered in the slightest. At this point I was shocked but continued to photograph and wound up with one of my best Tawny Owl images. It always amazes me how individual owls react differently in situations. Every time I have encounter Mylo he has always been relaxed and easy to photograph. That same year he went on to raise two chicks which successfully fledged and made it into adulthood and I can’t wait to share those images in another Tawny Owl Diary!

Tawny Owl Diary - An Introduction

Tawny Owls have been the be-all and end-all species for me, not necessarily a blue-chip bird, but a bird I have spent countless hours and sleepless nights documenting through imagery; from fledging chicks to hunting adults, they never fail to amaze me. Each owl is unique and every encounter is more thrilling than the last. Photographing them in their habitat, completely wild and free, no bait involved is something I am very proud of and my portfolio of images really shows the beauty of Tawny Owls. Because they are my most photographed subject and I work extensively with them I thought it would be a good idea to create a Tawny Owl Diary - a section on the blog where I will post about my previous and future Tawny Owl encounters with tips and tricks on how to photograph them, how to find them and talk about individual owls I have come to know over the last few years. I am starting the Tawny Owl Diary with an image that is easily one of my favourites and a favourite for many reasons. Tawny Owls are polymorphic species. Meaning that throughout Strix aluco there are visible differences in colour between individual owls and they vary between morphs of brown, grey and rufous. This image shows a prime example of a rufous owl and I plan to talk about the other colour morphs in another Tawny Owl Diary post but I feel like this is what makes them so unique. It is also what helps me recognise them as individuals alongside other characteristics. I have only photographed this owl once and the image you see below is the result of that encounter, however recently I have been seeing him/her in roughly the same place. Unfortunately now it tends to fly off before I can grab a shot, but I am happy I get to see it and more often that not it is sheltered up against the trees making it difficult to spot. What I love most about this image is the pose of the owl, it is perfect… perfect head angle and most of all the talons are on show and they look impressive. It is an OCD of mine to photograph owls and any other animal with their legs / feet / talons on show but more so with owls as its their business end, their weapons, their means-to-an-end and for me it’s what makes this image work so well… Photographing owls at night is a real joy and I hope that this section of the blog helps inspire and motivate people to stop using hides and bait and start using fieldcraft and knowledge to photograph Tawny Owls naturally within their habitat! I hope to write a how-to on photographing Tawnys at night and it’s something I am looking forward to doing.