Eureka! Owl

N. Shiva Kumar
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On March 11, 2012 two experienced birders, Arpit Deomurari and Ramki Srinivasan, known for their spectacular photographs of wild birds in India were on the hunt in the Naliya grasslands for the endangered great Indian bustard. They were using extra long lenses as the bustard is tall bird standing at about four feet and is akin to the ostrich, but is capable of regular flight unlike the ostrich.

While birding in these dense grasslands of the Kutch region of Gujarat, they came across an owl which flew from one tree to another. As owls are usually well camouflaged and only experienced birdwatchers can detect them, the instinct of the duo told them it was no ordinary owl. Cautiously they approached the big owl perched on a branch, which gave them a close encounter from about 10 feet. Fortunately, birders who are also good photographers need not take notes. Instead they did what they do best -- they captured on camera the owl that was brownish colored with streaks on its breast and belly. It had extra long ear tufts with buff brown facial disk and orange eyes. This perfectly made a candidate for the rare Long-eared Owl (Asio otus).

Owls with their silent flight, nocturnal habits and very large eyes have fascinated man from time immemorial. In some cultures they are symbols of wisdom, while to others they spell doom and death. But they are certainly the best friends of farmers as they eradicate harmful vermin like rats, rodents, and reptiles.

Owls come in all shapes and sizes and the female Long-eared Owl species has an average length of 37 cm with a wingspan of 100 cm. The males are smaller in size and lighter in colour.

Very few birdwatchers, a fast growing tribe, have seen this bird in the Indian wilds, let alone photographed the specimen. The presence of the Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) has been reportedly sporadically but no photographic evidence was ever there. This wonderful image of the Owl in all probability is the first photographic record from India.

Last Sunday birders in the Kutch grasslands photographed the rare Long-eared Owl in India, perhaps for the first time



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