At least 200. With space for a Short-eared Owl. Well, at least if you are in the little Hungarian town of Hortobagy in Winter.
We were in the steppes of Hortobagy earlier this year and our guide – Balazs Szigeti – couldn’t wait to get us in to the quaint village of Hortobagy to show us all the owls in the garden of the National Park Info Centre. I immediately saw a few owls peeking out of the gaps in the little conifer, but the more I looked, the more little faces and camouflaged forms we found.
But it was only when a passer-by flushed the birds out of the tree that we really got a feel for just how many owls were about. Literally hundreds. Everywhere we looked, there were little owl forms trying to blend in. But with those great big bright eyes – how on earth did they expect to blend in to anything?
But almost the highlight of our little owling trip was when a Short-eared Owl came cruising in from the surrounding steppes to land in one of the trees with a dozen or so Long-eared Owls. This made for great studies of both species alongside each other.
In late January and early February of 2012, Central Europe had been plunged through a dramatic cold spell with daily temperatures hovering between -10 and -20°C (-4 to 16°F) for three weeks. This icy cold drove many birds of the region in to survival mode and evidently this was the reason why the Short-eared Owl had taken flight in the little grove in the village. As far as I understand, this only really happens when it gets seriously cold out in the steppes.
What an incredible experience to see so many owls in such a small place – I just wish there was some way to capture the experience of the abundance of owls. Maybe a video would have done the trick.
All images digiscoped with a Swarovski Optik STM 80 spotting scope, TLS800 digiscoping adapter and a Canon 7D.