Night of 1 to 2 May -- Nestbox owls (cont.)

The next pics were taken in the early morning of 2nd May. They show Mrs Owl coming in to land. I had the camcorder running because for the previous five minutes there had been a chorus of Blackbird twitting (or pinking, to use the accepted term). This started on the far side of the wood and came gradually closer, so I knew I'd better be ready. After all the harassment Mrs Owl scrambled into the safety of the box as quickly as she could.

TOP LEFT: She lands in typical owl fashion, almost in a seated posture, with legs outstretched and head forward. Beneath her, just visible aginst the trunk behind, her tail is acting as an air brake. It looks as though she is using the wooden lip that goes across the base of the door as a stop --she doesn't make her landing on the outer edge of the ledge. TOP RIGHT:a couple of frames later her wings are folding and she makes her way in. BOTTOM PICS: exactly that, I suppose. She has pale underparts, as some later pics will show.

Oh what a beautiful owl you are, you are . . . After a check to see that I'm behaving myself she turns to gaze across the wood. She invariably positions herself in this corner as that's the best place to hear her mate and call to him. The nestbox was put up facing northwest -- the direction of the fields where her mate is hunting.

When I first saw this footage of Mrs Owl leaving the nestbox I really thought she was making off with a half-eaten wing -- and the wing looked like an owl's! Could these birds be cannibalistic?

Well, no, as a frame-by-frame examination showed, Mrs Owl just has her own way of getting out of a nestbox (top left).

So here's a rather fetching sequence of an owl launching herself into the air. It also gives a further indication of the paleness of her underwings and lower body, including her Turkish trousers, as we suspected.

How nice to be able to launch oneself into the air like this . . . ! Look at those sturdy legs and great claws.

Later she flies back in . . .

(Warning: the large popup version is a 350kb file because of the complex background.) The pics go across and then down.

Looking at this sequence should give anyone who's flown a plane or used a flight simulator a distinctly queasy feeling!

There's a frame by frame commentary below for anyone who's got time . .

PIC 1: She appears in the right of the frame, wings in braking mode, sweeping air forwards.

PIC 2: Wings right up to start a downbeat, she continues her approach. Her body is nearly upright, but she's not yet using her tail as a brake. Legs swinging, probably to aid in balancing during the tight turn she's about to make.

PIC 3: A bit indistinct, but she wants to come round the left side of that branch so she's banking steeply to her right and we're now looking up the line of her back. She's brought her tail forward as a brake and probably to do some steering.

PIC 4: A little further into the turn and one can now see she's banking at nearly 45.

PIC 5: Wings beat down as she continues the turn.

PIC 6: Still in the turn, the wings fold as they're raised for the next downbeat.

PIC 7: Delicately round and past the branch, which is now right next to her -- you can see in this and the next pic that her right wing is still on the camera side. Legs coming out and she's upright again, having finished the turn.

PIC 8: Legs fully forward for the landing, pull the right wing up slightly to avoid hitting the branch, and PIC 9, she's made it.


To get sharply focused photos of scenes like this would need more expensive and elaborate gear than I have. Eric Hosking, the late great photographer of owls, commented on the cost and complexity of the setup he and his son used to photograph flying owls. Basically you need a strobe flash, a camera that can take a series of pics very rapidly, and an infrared trip to detect when an owl is in view and set the equipment off. In fact I think that some of these photos show that one can get quite good, illustrative shots of owls in action with a domestic camcorder. The main problems are the length of exposure of each frame, resulting in blurring, and the limited exposure range of the CCD back.

No, I am not even going to mention Hosking's eye.

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