Author Bryan Benn was, in February 2011 a non-birder when, with a friend, he visited the Isle of Sheppey and saw a Short-eared Owl for the first time; immediately being captivated by it. With no detailed books available, Bryan started a still continuing journey to find out as much as possible about these enigmatic birds, and documents all of that in the book he has now published.
And what a journey it has been, so far covering 68 locations from Kent to the Outer Hebrides, and from Land’s End to the Orkney mainland. With extensive observations revealing that these owls were mainly nocturnally active; had a wide, and at times, very noisy range of calls; and, when needed, could hunt successfully in wind and rain when most other creatures had taken cover. All this makes it an owl that, when studied in great detail, defies a number of the labels often attached to Short-eareds.
After chapters setting the scene with a description of the owls; their locations and movements; and their habitat, the book moves on to cover hearing, vision and voice. The book is richly illustrated throughout, with photos supporting the detailed text, and wherever possible, showing the owls the text relates to. That feature of the book becomes more obvious in the chapters covering food and hunting, and then breeding. That latter chapter is the longest in the book and includes data (rather than consigning it to appendices) with relevant photos alongside it.
A chapter on the daily life of Short-eared Owls describes their incredible flying skills and then covers several years of extensive observations of a large over-winter roost in Kent. A further chapter covers the dangers and early demise these owls face at times, but also touches, more positively, on conservation efforts being made for the species. Finally, as a celebration of the wide coverage of Short-eared Owls in Britain in the book, a mainly photographic chapter features some of the locations visited during the ten-year study. That chapter, and the book, concludes with descriptions and photographic coverage of some of many very close encounters enjoyed with the owls.
1. Description 17
2. Location & Movement 39
3. Habitat 69
4. Hearing 91
5. Vision 109
6. Voice 125
7. Food & Hunting 153
8. Breeding 195
9. Daily Life 269
10. Conflicts, Mortality & Conservation 323
11. Around Britain & Close Encounters 353
Index: General 420
Index: Tables, Diagrams, Charts & Maps 429
"This book is a remarkable achievement. It describes one man’s study of Short-eared Owls over 10 years across different parts of Britain. While the main strengths of the book are those personal observations supported by a collection of stunning photographs (again the work of one man), Bryan Benn has put these into context in a series of carefully thought-out chapters. Subjects covered include appearance, habitats, behaviour (including breeding, hunting and social), movements, voice and conservation. While some observations are placed successfully into context, only a limited amount of literature appears to have been reviewed. As a result this is not a definitive monograph but as Short-eared Owls remain poorly understood, it is a valuable source of information. I will certainly be using it repeatedly. It is even more remarkable when you consider this is the result of one man’s work, not just the observations and photographs but notably the determination to write and self-publish what is a very attractive book. Not only a valuable addition to information about a poorly understood species, this book also demonstrates many things that others could aspire to – tenacity to study a bird, meticulous recording of observations and determination to make it all accessible."
– John Calladine, BTO book reviews
"I’ve never been one for monographs… but I can easily make an exception for one of my favourite birds. Owls have been feared and loved by different ages and cultures but never ignored. They are simply magical… perhaps it’s having a forward facing ‘face’, or the silent hunting or proximity often allowing excellent views… owls are just so damn photogenic as Bryan demonstrates with his many admirable pictures. [...] Bryan paints a picture with words and his camera to bring us facts a plenty, all grist to the owl lover’s mill."