Most owls tend to be active at night and are generally seen perched during daylight hours. However, the Short-eared Owls start their feeding activity in the late afternoon when most of us have a better chance to get out to watch (and photograph) them. Such was the case for my wife and I who heard about these owls flying the fields of Hamlin, NY, about 30 minutes west of Rochester.
We drove out to Hamlin last Sunday and this past Wednesday and, sure enough, between 3:30 and 4:00 PM they came out in droves. Well, there were about seven on Sunday and three on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the sun was obscured for most of the time on both days so the viewing was not as good as it might be.
As my wife watched through her binoculars, I photographed free-hand on Sunday with my 100m-400mm lens at 400mm. The photo quality in the low-light was not great, so I shot using the tripod on Wednesday, with better results.
The birds were fabulous, sometimes with two or three engaged in aerial maneuvers with each other — letting out a scratchy bark during these engagements. However, most of the time they were flying low over the fields looking for food, sometimes competing with Harrier Hawks.
There is conservation concern for these owls, as their numbers have substantially declined over the past 30 years, due to the loss of open-fields where they both feed and ground nest. We plan to return another time when the late afternoon sun is out to improve photograph quality.