Wednesday, 21 July 2021

North Oxfordshire :: 15-17 July 2021

Over the past couple of weeks, one of the guys on the Banbury Birders WhatsApp group had occasionally been posting photos of a family of little owls that he'd encountered. While I'd seen a few in various locations, none had been particularly helpful in providing a good photo opportunity. So, I got in touch and asked if it might be possible to know where to go for views as good as he had posted. I was in luck, and he was actually watching them when my message got to him, and he replied immediately. With my wife out playing tennis I dropped any plans I'd had and made my way to join him.

On arrival I found he was just about to head home but indicated that he'd seen one relocate from the 'usual' tree into a much larger one on the opposite side of the path we were on. He wished me luck and left me to see what I could do about a decent photo. It took about 20 minutes but then a bird appeared in the hole of a branch and sat there watching me watch it. A few minutes later another flew across from the back of the tree to the other behind me but too low and much of the flight below the hedge, for a flight shot.

Little owl

As the sun dropped it became obvious that getting great photos was going to be a challenge as the sun was relatively behind the tree and casting the owls into a partial silhouette. They were great to watch and were becoming more and more active as sunset approached. Just as the sun was dropping out of view the finder reappeared and joined in taking some photos. Once the harsh light was out of the picture it was a little easier to see features, although the ISO settings continued to increase. We watched them catching the May bugs flying around the treetops and set off home happy. A plan had formulated in my head as I now realised that the sun would rise behind the path and flood the tree with rays - early morning would provide a better opportunity and I now knew where to come.

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

I arrived in the morning with my now regular birding partner Kevin Heath. It was just a little after sunrise and we could see a little owl on the branches as we approached. Already happy. We watched and had good views although initially the birds were on more distant parts of the tree. The later the hour the more they stopped on the front of the tree and bathed in the morning sun. As we watched and looked up and down the field we saw another little owl on the further end of the field - we went to investigate and found another bird on the downslope and a further 100m away; perhaps there is another group as this individual never came back to the tree and we already had 2 adults. Something to investigate at some time - a previous year's young setting up an adjacent territory?

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

On the Saturday morning I met up with Dan and Trish Miller - they hadn't ever encountered a little owl and had spent many hours in the spring trying to connect with some in Oxford, without success. Again, just after sunrise we found the birds initially static as before but as the morning wore on, they started to perform. We were benefiting from the fact that the farmer had been hay baling and this proved to a reason for the owl to visit the ground and the bales on a frequent basis. We watched them as they fed and counted four individuals. I could still see another far down the field - someday I will investigate further.

Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl
Little owl

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