In past winters photographing Short-eared Owls has also been difficult because the birds haven’t normally been active until quite late in the afternoon. By that time the light has faded to the point when we need to resort to high ISO settings and our Canon 50D starts to produce some fairly unsatisfactory, grainy images.
Recently, though, we’ve started to see the owls out hunting much earlier and we could even persuade ourselves that they have started to become accustomed to seeing us and our car. Certainly they seem to be coming closer to us and when they’re perched they haven’t seemed concerned by our presence.
When we’re waiting for the owls to perform there are inevitably a few distractions. There’s a Little Owl that sits on the roof of one of the buildings. We’ve seen it so often that we feel we know it personally! On several occasions recently we’ve seen a Hen Harrier passing through the area which we suspect has been going to roost on the nearby Ilha de Tavira. It has flown by quickly, staying low and perhaps hoping to surprise an unwary Little Stint or Dunlin. A couple of weeks ago a Merlin was seen that presumably had the same intention and it isn’t unusual to see a Black-winged Kite hovering or perched on top of a distant tree.
Yesterday, however, was exceptional! By 2.30pm the two Short-eared Owls had already had a fly round and had found resting places less than 100m apart where we could see them both. We were watching and waiting to see what they would do next when an Osprey appeared carrying a fish. It landed on top of a pole about 250m away where it really didn’t look very comfortable, but it didn’t matter as after just a few minutes it was disturbed by a passing cyclist and took flight. Fortunately, it came towards us and we were able to get a series of flight shots before it disappeared.
Very soon after that we were hoping for repeat success when a Marsh Harrier came into view. It was quartering the saltpans in typical fashion and just for a minute it threatened to come within camera range. Soon, however, it was like all the other Marsh Harriers we see here and heading off into the distance!
Then, suddenly, the Marsh Harrier was forgotten as we became aware of two large birds having some sort of skirmish high above us. As we have seen it happen before, our immediate thought was that the two owls were having a territorial dispute but we quickly realised that only one of the birds was an owl. So, what was the other? The Osprey returned? No, it was a Booted Eagle! Their disagreement didn’t last long and the eagle quickly went on its way but it rounded off a remarkable couple of hours for us and we were left reminding ourselves that this is December in the Eastern Algarve!