I wouldn't normally write a blog post on a visit to Worlaby carrs as I go there fairly regularly in the winter months to try and get photos of the Short-eared owls and anything else that happens to be around at the time. However, I thought as it was the first time I have succeeded in getting any photographs of them this season I would share my few hours on the carrs with you.
As you will probably be aware, owls are generally more active in hunting their prey in the late afternoon or evening. This makes getting photographs of them, especially in flight photographs very difficult, as by the time they start hunting the light is more often than not fading. I arrived at the carrs around 12:45. It's only a ten minute drive for me. It's very rare for any of the owls to show before mid afternoon but just now and again it can be earlier.
It's always a good chance to catch up with fellow local photographers as well, as I did today. It was good to see a few of my old acquaintances and friends and catch up with the latest news and gossip. (It's not only women who can gossip, Lol)
The best tactic at this site is to sit in your car until any owl movement is seen. Sometimes they will perch up on the fence posts along the lane that runs down the carrs. It's pot luck if you park in the right spot. Many times I have had other photographers get photographs when they have been parked a few yards in front or behind me and missed out myself.
Back to today, it was around 14:40 before any owl movement was spotted and then a couple were seen hunting, but a fair way away. To explain, there is a single road down to the carrs but no access to the carr land itself, so the owls have to come to you. There is no way you can go searching for them which is a good thing really as this minimises disturbance to them. If they decide to fly near to you or perch up near to you then you get the photographs. It's as simple as that. You can move position up or down the road, but inevitably if you move position they are likely to turn up where you were so I generally pick a spot and stay put.
By around 15:00 it was clear that there were seven owls on site hunting at various times. Eventually a couple came close enough to attempt some in flight shots. I was using the Canon 500mm F4 IS lens hand held for in flight shots, and to get a half decent shutter speed in the poor light I had to shoot at F4 with an ISO of 1250. Even then the shutter speed was only 1/500, but I did manage a reasonable shot of one of them. I like it because you can see the owls eyes are focussed on the ground looking for it's prey, which is usually voles.
Throughout the next forty five minutes several different owls came within range, although not as close as I have had them in the past. I managed a few more in flight shots. It's always difficult to judge on the camera LCD screen if the shots are up to scratch and it's not until you get them on the computer later that you can really see if they are good enough. A Kestrel also came reasonably close, hovering looking for prey but I didn't manage any decent shots of it. A Hen harrier and a Barn owl were also said to have been seen but not by me. During the last fifteen minutes of shooting I had to up the ISO to 2000 to get the shutter speed up as the light was fading fast.
Short-eared owl shot at ISO 2000
At around 16:00 the light was so bad any further in flight shots were going to be nigh on impossible with the Canon 7D. It's not a bad camera in most respects, but it's not the best in low light conditions. I was happy with my efforts today, and as mentioned it had been good to catch up with a few old friends. Sometimes as you drive down the lane on the way home you can be lucky enough to come across an owl perched on a fence post and if you are very careful in your approach by driving very slowly up to it you can sometimes get a few shots by having the camera on a bean bag on the car door. It wasn't to be today though.