National Geographic : 2012 Jun
e young hunter was stalking moose in a frigid Estonian forest when he found himself locked in the sights of another creature: a Ural owl. He looked into her ebony eyes and so ly fringed, heart-shaped face. Sven Začek was smitten. He soon returned to the woods armed for a di erent kind of shot. He pulled his hood tight, fearing the owls' reputation for clobbering in- truders' skulls. But the next female he met was aloof, matching his advances with equal retreats. A er two months of silent stando s, she dared to dive for a vole right in front of his lens. " at was the turning point," says Začek. With the blitheness of a reality TV star, the owl let him record her domestic dramas for over three years. Courtships unfolded. Rodents were gobbled. Chicks chirped and wobbled their way to adulthood. In 2010 she disappeared. Začek blames nearby logging, which culls the rotten- at-the-core trees that Ural owls use as nests. e species numbers a few hundred thousand in Europe, with millions more in northern Asia. Začek knows he will nd others, but says none could replace his lost lady. ---Amanda Fiegl e photographer's favorite subject---the female Ural owl that appears in all the photos except the one on page 92---found a natural nook to conceal her nest. Nature photographer Sven Začek's latest book looks at his native Estonia from the perspective of its national bird, the barn swallow.