At first light

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Last winter I started work on a long term project on British owls. Much of my time was spent focusing on one of my favourite species, the Barn Owl at a well known location in North Norfolk. I’ve calculated in fact that over the period I must have racked up  over 6,000 miles travelling back and forth from London up the M11.

It was hard work at times, particularly with the weather being unkind in the latter half of winter. The prevailing conditions always seemed to be overcast, which made for flat lighting conditions for the most part. And on those days when the light did finally break  through the Barn Owls more often than not proved elusive. Isn’t it always the way? There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting in a hide for hours and hours looking at an empty field.

On those rare occasions that everything came together though the disappointments were quickly forgotten. To watch a Barn Owl hunting at first light  spectacularly backlit against the rising sun stirs the soul, making it for me one of Britain’s most memorable wildlife watching experiences.

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On buoyant wings they fly, quartering  over fields and reeds. Occasionally when they spot or hear movement they hover silently, fixing their gaze before dropping with unerring accuracy on their prey.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

And when the light wasn’t there I enjoyed the challenge of looking to create something that conveyed the place that these ghostly hunters occupy in British folklore and legend.

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Those of you that regularly follow my blog will remember that at the start of the winter I began photographing one particular Barn Owl, a beautiful young female bird. I continued to follow her fortunes throughout the winter. Being a clever girl she would regularly hunt from posts thereby conserving energy and this old rustic post was one of her favourite perches. Sadly, someone for reasons best known to themselves decided to remove the post. This image taken in early morning light was the last image I took of her on it.

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With her favourite perch gone, my good friends Danny Green and Nigel Pye got involved and together we put in a replacement post for her where she wouldn’t be disturbed.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

It was really nice to get this shot of her preening on the post demonstrating just how relaxed she was. Ironically it always seemed to be the way that we each got our best images when the others were not around. So whilst Danny got some cracking flight shots on a day when I couldn’t be there, unfortunately he lucked out (for once!) on these portrait shots.

I’m pleased to say that the following couple of shots  were taken when we were both around. It was nice to have some company with so many long hours spent waiting in the hide. It can be lonely at times otherwise.

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Towards the end of March, with winter all but over and the breeding season almost upon us it was time to say goodbye to the Barn Owls of North Norfolk for now. So on a cold and frosty morning I set up the hide for the last time and sat in with Pressie who loves the owls and has also kept me company on many an occasion, which is always very welcome. No disrespect to Danny but she’s better looking!

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

Click on image to enlarge

I’m now back working on Barn Owls with a friend closer to home down  in Kent. I’ll be returning to North Norfolk later in the year, photographing at locations a little bit further from the beaten track to try to come up with something a little different. It feels like I’ve made a start at least, but there’s a long way to go.

If anyone is interested in photographing Norfolk’s Barn Owls this coming winter, I would really recommend contacting local photographer Nigel Pye. He has one of the best Barn Owl portfolios out there and love and knowledge for the species and area is second to none. He can be contacted via his website.

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6 Responses to At first light

  1. Mark hamblin says:

    Cracking set of images, Jules. A real testament to your hard word and long hours in the hide. I know all about that recently but when you get results like these it certainly makes it all worthwhile. More tempted than ever to make a visit to Norfolk next winter but of course unrealistic for me to hope to do them real justice in a short space of time.

  2. Ian Haskell says:

    Hi Jules,

    Cracking portfolio of images from this site. Looking forwards to the new images your going to take this year. British wildlife rocks! I’ll be interested to see these wonderful birds from a new angle…!

    Ian

  3. Impressive images, Jules !!

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