Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor

Watching out for the Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor

I’ve become *slightly* obsessed in the last few weeks by the notion of spotting and photographing a Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor, in more than a blurry camera phone fashion.

And I haven’t had much time for longer walks or indeed whole days away on a hike of late, so when I head out on what are essentially longer dog walks, it’s been great to have a bit of a focus.

The reason my hiking time has been curtailed is because Anita has been completely stuck indoors since before Christmas, having had a bad leg break. She now has bits of Mecanno in her lower leg and ankle area.

So I’m tied to the kettle and the hoover. Yes I’m laying it on a bit thick there.

But although time outdoors has been in short supply, I’m very lucky to live on the edge of the Marsden Moor National Trust Estate. A path from the back of the house takes me and the hound onto it within about fifteen minutes. And from there we have miles of accessible moorland to yomp about on, even if only for a couple of hours at a time just now.

So .. Owl hunting we go.

Like the Mountain Hares on the moors, I’ve seen a few Short Eared Owls in the past but always at a distance.

But a recent fly-by I hastily captured on my phone, at the side of one of the roads that cuts through the moors was a close encounter. It’s not quite up to David Attenborough standard though! The short bit of video is in slo-mo so you can see the Owl in hunting action. The slowed down sounds are from the radio I had on the car when I spotted the Owl.

The short bit of video is in slo-mo so you can see the Owl in hunting action. The slowed down sounds are from the radio I had on the car when I spotted the Owl.

They sound a bit like a fighter plane cockpit or something – quite appropriate? Anyway, not great film so I resolved to get some better images of these beautiful hunters.

This weekend I finally got close enough to one of the owls and with the ‘big’ camera, grabbed some shots. Brodie dog and I were on a path home when I spotted an Owl rise silently from some of the moors grass not far from us. They have disruptive colouring for the

Brodie dog and I were on a path home when I spotted an Owl rise silently from some of the moors grass not far from us. They have disruptive colouring for the moors, if it hadn’t moved it would have been pretty invisible. It

It headed slowly away and down towards a clough I know isn’t that deep. So off-track we went to follow it. Just off the path was a freshly killed vole.. still with fresh blood on it anyway. I guess we had disturbed the hunter. After a few minutes of

After a few minutes of trudging, we got close enough again to perturb the Owl. There are some rocks near the clough and I was hoping I could sneak up and see it atop one of them. But no, it was down in the grasses / heather again and I didn’t see it until it rose in silence (anything compared to the usual panicky, grumbling Grouse is silence). I had the camera ready for just that moment and grabbed some shots.

I had the camera ready for just that moment and grabbed some shots.

Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor
The best of the shots, with it swinging back for a better look at hound and I.

Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor

So, inevitably I’m now determined to get a better photo if possible. I’m pushing the limits of my DSLR, zooming in with it hand held. I have a 55-250mm clone telephoto lens for my Canon 450D .. I’m not overly technical on cameras but I know that a better and longer lens, even if hand-held, would give me sharper shots at a distance. That’s for another day maybe. In the meantime, a-hunting we will go.

BUT (important point, kids), Short Eared Owls nest on the ground, so for them and all the other birdlife on the moors, I always keep the dog on a lead. She is tethered to my belt or rucksack with a big carabiner (keeps my hands free but her close to me). Out of

She is tethered to my belt or rucksack with a big carabiner (keeps my hands free but her close to me). Out of bird nesting season (and out of lambing season) I do let her off when I’m 100% sure there’s no sheep (on the moors, never on Farm land, btw) or ground nesting birds around. E.g at nesting (for Short Eared Owls that’s end March to

E.g at nesting (for Short Eared Owls that’s end March to mid May) or lambing times, dog stays next to me. The rest of the year, she’s mostly on the lead still but grouse, owls, kestrels et al can and do totally fly rings around her.

I didn’t realise Short Eared Owls (Asio flammeus) are both nomadic within the area and whilst some are resident, a lot are migratory. There appear to be more than usual about just now and apparently this could be linked to a period rise in the vole population.

There appear to be more than usual about just now and apparently this could be linked to a period rise in the vole population.
For more info on them have a look at a couple of great sites:

– Young Peoples Trust For The Environment, Short Eared Owls
– RSPB site, Short Eared Owl

And for the kind of photos I wish I’d taken, have a look at Facebook and Flickr compadre, Malcolm’s great shots of the Short Eared Owl, captured in the same part of the world as me (his album also has some other raptors in it).

 

4 thoughts on “Watching out for the Short Eared Owl on Marsden Moor”

  1. I once sat in a snowy field (about 4 inches deep), under a bag hide for 3 hours to capture a few photos of Short-eared owl local to me (very rare winter visitors in Milton Keynes), my dedication paid off, as it did for you 🙂

  2. Thanks Suz. There was a bit of luck for me in it turning around to check us out 🙂
    I’ve been out a few times recently to try to capture some little goldcrests that have been flitting between bushes on the footpath behind the house .. but the time they behaved and sat still.. no camera. Of course.
    I’m sure you’ll get that that Shortie one day 🙂

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