‘Between Dusk and Dawn’ – Indian Scops Owl

An Indian Scops Owl peeks from its cavity. (SS – 1/60s, ISO – 3600, f/11 @ 700mm)

I was the first person to enter the sanctuary on this cold, foggy morning. It was my last day in Bharatpur and there was one species I desperately wanted to spend a bit more time with – the Indian Scops Owl. I’m a sucker for raptors, in general, and owls are at the top of the list. My first encounter with this cryptic bird of prey was, unfortunately, cut short by the arrival of a couple of tourists; they promptly spooked it, of course, and went on their merry way. I’m still salty about that…

Anyways, things would be slightly different this time. Having arrived on location way earlier than I’d anticipated, I had the owl all to myself. Here’s how it went.

Blue.

The sun was yet to rise thanks to the low-lying mist that hung above most of the sanctuary. Figuring this would be the perfect opportunity to get some ‘blue hour’ shots of this species, I grabbed my 500mm and slapped the 1.4x tele-converter onto it. Crouch-walking slowly so as to not disturb the roosting bird, I inched my way towards the cavity, pausing intermittently to observe its body language. Once I felt I couldn’t get any closer without causing any unnecessary disruption, I stopped.

I was looking for a clean and simple composition this time around. I just had to be wary of stray leaves and branches at the edge of the frame – definitely easier said than done.

There’s one more minor detail, however, which held the key to shooting this beautiful owl – the use of silent shutter. If there’s one thing I learned from working with Egyptian Nightjars (another nocturnal species) over the course of the summer, it’s that they react quite negatively to a camera’s shutter slap. Owls are, obviously, highly sensitive to external sounds so it just makes sense to minimise or, preferably, eliminate mirror slap when capturing them up-close. It was a great learning experience, to be sure. Ethics and respect come above all else, regardless of species or rarity.

I spent about 30 minutes photographing this individual, and left as soon as I spotted a few incoming rickshaws on the horizon. I did not want to draw attention to this elusive bird; when I returned a few hours later, it was nowhere to be found.

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