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Short-eared owl at Forvie NNR. ©Ron Macdonald/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Owls put on dramatic show at North East beauty spot

13 February 2019

Dramatic scenes of short-eared owls swooping on prey at North East beauty spot this winter have been captured by former Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) manager, Ron Macdonald, at Forvie National Nature Reserve.

The reserve is managed by SNH. A group of five to seven owls have taken up residence at Forvie since October.

“Short-eared owls are a dream to photograph,” said Ron. “Because they fly in daylight, often slowly and perch on posts, they make fantastic portraits. They can be tricky to photograph when flying against the background of heath and dunes but with some basic field craft and photo skills, you will soon get the hang of it. They also become more comfortable with people over the winter, becoming familiar with the visitors hoping to capture their good looks and interesting behaviour.”

Ron has been following the Forvie owls for the last four months. And he’s not alone: many wildlife photographers have been attracted by the photogenic owls. Although owls are nocturnal, some owls – like short-eared owls – are more active during the day than most other owl species.

Ron is enthusiastic about these charismatic birds: “The short-eared owl is a beautiful bird, with golden yellow irises and black pupils set against black mascara-like feathers, making their eyes stand out. The effect is a piercing stare that literally stops you in your tracks.

“Understandably for a bird that hunts primarily by locating its prey by sound, I come across them much more frequently when winds are lighter and it’s dry. Presumably, it’s both the sound of the wind and rain and the rustling of the vegetation that’s the reason. Anything beyond 15mph or a light rain and it’s likely there will be a no show.”

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