Highland Diary

Photographing Tawny Owls


For a number of years a pair of Tawny Owls have bred in a nest box situated in a large oak tree close to the garden fence. This year with restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown photographing the owls seemed like an ideal project.

For a couple of weeks I monitored the site with a trail camera until I was sure that the birds were well established and feeding young. I then set up a trigger with the beam aimed vertically just less than a metre in front the box on the flight path of the birds. As the tree was growing on quite a steep bank I was able to place the camera and flash setup on the up-slope and only be a little below the level of the box. Using a 100mm lens on a full frame DSLR it was possible to get the birds to trigger the camera both on arrival and again when leaving.

As soon as I started to get pictures it became apparent that the male and female were markedly different in their plumage. She was a much greyer bird than her more rufous mate. Prey items taken in were mainly wood mice and voles. Other prey included a fledgling robin, a Chiffchaff, a frog, an earthworm and a number of moth larvae. The latter were all taken in by the female and appeared to be Merveille du Jour larvae. In the last days of May two young started to appear at the nestbox entrance to be fed. Within a couple of days both were caught by the trail camera making a rather ungainly exit.