I just had to look at the map and measure the distance: the closest nest to my home was a merely 3,5 kilometer away! What a situation! OK, I had seen Short-eared owls in winter in my home region, but breeding, who would have expected that??
When I came back from my last trip, I wanted to take it a little bit easy, and start to edit some pictures of the last months. I had seen my share of taking pictures from hides, getting up way too early, too short nights, hardly no time to do any back-ups, … during the last months, so now I thought it was time to stow away the 600mm lens for some time, and start to fight with all the exploding external drives hanging around my computer.
But no, as soon as I got home, I got the news that the owls, that had started breeding already since June, were still hanging around, and some were still even feeding their chicks. And this was just a few kilometers away from where I live… I couldn’t believe it. Short-eared owls are very very rare breeding birds in Belgium, and breeding numbers like this (almost 20 nests that have been discovered, but probably more have not been noticed) are super-exceptional. OK, vole population was extremely high; everywhere you see holes and tracks and you could hear them squeaking everywhere.
So I know what I had to do. Fill up some more external drives. For the next 3 weeks I spent most of the evenings and mornings in several hides that I had put up in fields with the permits of the local farmers. After a few days even the cows didn’t notice me anymore, and the owls treated me with a great show.
I had been searching for Short-eared owls in Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Poland, but with no great success. I soon knew that this was going to be another hard species to get, and definitely to get to experience some quality time. But I like to believe that I got what I wanted, I was able to follow two families for more than two weeks, and I got to see the progress of the chicks. I still have a few pictures in my head that I didn’t got to shoot, because I missed the start of the breeding period, but I can’t complain, who can say that they had breeding Short eared owls in their ‘backyard’?
It was a stressful time however… the owls decided to build their nests in production grasslands and cereal fields, that all needed to be cut during the last weeks… Several sessions in my hide ended abruptly when I saw the farmers approaching in their tractors. Luckily they were surprised to hear about the owls in their fields and helped us to protect the chicks. Thanks to these farmers most of the chicks survived. But I do hope they choose a safer spot next year!