Photo gallery: Little wonder - it’s a family affair
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk wildlife photographer STEVE PLUME has captured these astonishing pictures of little owls on an East Anglian farm. Here's his inside story...
My friends Heidi and Barry invited my camera and I over to their farm to photograph a pair of little owls (Athene noctua) that have been using a tree for the past three years to set up home and raise a family.
When I first visited we had no idea how many eggs were laid and how many survived, so Heidi had set up a hide in a position that would allow her to watch the site but allow the owls to go about their business (a reminder again that good fieldcraft is vital for wildlife photography).
I'll pick up the story on my first visit... it's clear that the eggs have hatched as the parents are bringing food to the nest, worms, insects or rodents that will be stripped and pieces fed. Sitting in the hide watching the antics of the parents its easy to see how fragile this situation is: with stoats and foxes on the farm - and which use the area frequently - a parent could easily be taken or the nest discovered and raided. And might a patrolling sparrowhawk cause chaos?
With that first visit over, Heidi kept me informed with regular updates on what she was seeing. Using a trap-cam she could scan quickly each night's activities to see what had occurred. About a week later and I received a text, an owlet had been seen in the entrance hole, later another, it was two. I couldn't wait to go back, so on the next visit using a few well-placed snacks (meal worm), the parents happily used the easy meal and as expected the hungry young came to the entrance to take the offerings - a superb experience.
A few days later came another text, it was three owlets! Leaving the owls to go about their business I waited for Heidi to let me know when the first exploratory steps for the owlets were made. It wasn't long and the following week I was back to see the little downy-covered fledglings make more visits to the outside world. 'Mum' of course, was keeping a careful eye out for her young, and at the first sign of a problem she'd make an alarm call and all the owlets would pop back into the nest.
Over the next week Heidi discovered there were actually four owlets and as they had grown so much two had decided to set up home in a disused rabbit burrow next to the nest site. This type of behaviour isn't unusual but does lead to a more active feeding schedule. At the time of writing this I can tell you that the family are doing very well and this year's brood is now actively flying around the area, strengthening their wings and improving their flying skills.
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Being able to shoot at around 300mm keeps the equipment to a minimum and on the last occasion I was able to set up a remote-triggered camera on a wider angle lens (24mm), to get some up close images. As you can see, my camera was occasionally used as a perch and caused the subjects to be more than a little curious! The biggest challenge I faced was the light, as the position of the nest and limited places to erect a hide made for less than suitable lighting at times.
I can't thank Heidi and Barry enough for the kindness and access to their farm and I'm really looking forward to 2015 when I get a text saying the little owls are back and courting...
Further images are available at www.ukwildlife.me.uk