Tuesday, 25 December 2012

What a Wonderful Year for Owls

Nobody in my family is surprised that I am not a great lover of Christmas. I find the hype too much to bear.  Particularly now in recession people rushing about spending money they have not got and feeling they have to keep up the ridiculous tradition of over indulgence.  I do at least admire those religious souls who celebrate for the right reasons.  Bah Humbug!

Short-eared Owl

As the year comes to an end it is a good time to reflect on the previous year and in my case what have been some of the ornithological highlights.  My immediate thoughts go to Owls.  These are difficult birds to see let alone photograph but this year has been good to me.  It all started in May at Elmley National Nature Reserve in Kent.  Reserve Manager Steve Gordon got me nice and close to a Short-eared Owl sitting on a post in steady rain.  This bird was part of a great influx into the UK during the year.

Great Grey Owl

Later in the summer in July I was staying with my son Jeremy and his family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  This was my second visit here and I was anxious to catch up with some the owl species of the area which would be new to me.  The local birding blogs are shy to provide details of owl sightings but one posting escaped the censor and I got a clue where to look.  I tried the Grand Valley Road north-west of the city on three occasions without success.  I was on the point of giving up when my Yankee pal Bob Abrams suggested I go at dawn.  I did and enjoyed over an hour at close quarters with a marvellous Great Grey Owl.

Juvenile Scops Owl
Towards the end of July I was at our place in Lanquedoc, France.  Susan Wallis our friend from the neighbouring village of Oupia called me to say she had found a young Scops Owl on the ground close to her house.  I was quick to respond and when I arrived there was this tiny bird still covered in down with piercing yellow eyes.  Susan her husband Tim and neighbour Rod Leslie had taken a shoe box and placed it in a fig tree with the owl in place.  Later that night the adult came to feed the bird and all appeared to be in order.  It was an amazing opportunity to observe and photograph one of the most difficult owls to see.

Great Horned Owl
By the end of August I was off with friends to the Pantanal in Brazil.  A tropical wetland of which covers an enormous area you would not necessarily think of owls.  However we were fortunate to encounter a pair of Great Horned Owls in a grove of trees on the Transpantaneira.  They were calling constantly and provided reasonable views considering it was the middle of the day.  Later on the same day we found another as we watched late afternoon wetland birds.  On the same trip we moved north of the Pantanal to a dry area of forest and grazing land north of Cuiaba.  Here we met up with a wonderful pair of Burrowing Owls.  This species is active in daylight and provided great photo opportunities as they sat on fence posts alongside a rough track.

Burrowing Owl
The more recently in December I had an unplanned opportunity to be in Canada again  To the east of Calgary I came face to face with Snowy Owls.  They come here in winter in good numbers and sometimes can be persuaded to pose for a picture.  What a privilege to be so close to such a confiding bird.

Snowy Owl

If you add to these experiences my best ever view of an European Eagle Owl (sadly the light was too poor for a photograph) in France then my year with owls was almost complete.  Christmas Day is looking up.

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