The eastern screech owl is a subject that I’ve wanted to photograph for many years, with no success whatsoever. Although I’d heard their eerie and distinctive song many evenings, I had never even seen one in the wild until this year. In late January I discovered one using several wood duck boxes on my pond as roosts and nocturnal feeding stations. The only photographs I took were of the owl asleep inside a nest box. My luck finally changed in April when I spent six nights over four weekends photographing an eastern screech owl nest at a local refuge where I do volunteer work. The nest was located about 100 feet out in a swamp, where the water depth was two to three feet. On four of the six nights that I spent with them, I used a Phototrap infrared beam tripper, three flashes and two cameras to photograph the owls. As the owls broke the infrared beam, the flashes would fire and the images automatically recorded by the two cameras.
To ensure that the equipment did not interfere with the nightly routine of the owls, I stayed awake the entire first night and used a red-filtered spotlight from a distance to monitor the owls. The flashes did not seem to disturb the owls. They even returned to the nest on two occasions when I was changing the batteries in my cameras about 20 feet away. On the remaining three nights of Phototrap use, I either sat in a lawn chair or took naps in a sleeping bag at the edge of the swamp.
During the nights I photographed the owls, they visited the nest about every 30 minutes on average. The interval between feedings was much longer when larger prey were delivered. Prey items included insects and insect larvae, fish, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs and mice.
On the final two nights of photography I used a blind to try to photograph the nestlings at the cavity entrance. The first night I had to abort due to a severe thunderstorm that collapsed my blind. The second night I did have some success, capturing images of the nestlings and parents at the nest.