Winter Owls

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This winter I decided to set myself something of a challenge. One word. Owls. To try and photograph all of the UK’s resident species of owls. So that’s Barn Owl, Short Eared Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl (hmmm, may struggle…) and Long Eared Owl (forget it!). However unlikely it is that I’ll be able to put together a portfolio featuring all of the above, I’m having a great time trying.

For this first blog, I’m focusing on Barn Owls. One of my favourite birds. My dad has a framed picture I sketched for him when I was 17 sitting on the mantle piece in his study. Something of an iconic species amongst British Birds with a haunting, almost mythical quality.

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The last few weekends I’ve spent up in Norfolk spending time with these beautiful predators. On my first visit up there in the midst of the recent Big Freeze they were showing particularly well, hunting all day. This presented some great opportunities to try to capture them in flight. Easier said than done, although I have managed a few shots so far that I’m reasonably happy with.

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Last weekend it was a balmy seven degrees and they proved a little more elusive. It’s still very early for them to be so active during the day.

The whole weekend may have ended up being something of a wash out in fact had it not been for 30 minutes of pure magic on the Saturday. Driving around the country roads I caught sight of a barn owl perched at the edge of a field, sleeping. So we parked up. And waited….and waited. 3 hours later and Pressie was also fast asleep in the back of the car and the batteries on my phone were all but drained playing Pro Evolution Soccer.

So it was just as well that our owl chose that moment to start hunting. She (for it was a she, a beautiful first year immature female. We could tell from the spots on her chest) quartered the field a couple of times just out of photographic reach, before catching a vole. She made off with it flying directly towards us and over the car. And then she was gone. And I still didn’t have a shot to show for our patience. By this time Pressie was awake and we decided to give it another ten minutes in the vain hope she  might come back. I just had this feeling.

And for once my hunch paid off. Ten minutes later she was back, gliding silently over the fields. Again she flew towards where we were parked. This time  slowing as she did so. And then, in a moment that will always be burnt in our memories, she landed. On a post right in front of us. I couldn’t quite believe it. It was almost like a dream. Careful not to spook her, I let her settle before gently squeezing off a single frame, that made her look intently in our direction. I half expected her to fly at that moment. Instead she nonchalantly decided just to ignore us.

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We were privileged enough to be able to spend half an hour in her  company, as she sat, perfectly relaxed only a few metres away. Of course she knew we were there. She could hear the shutter going off in short burst  but didn’t seem to mind.

Amidst all the travel, long hours of waiting and adverse weather conditions, wildlife photography occasionally throws up the odd moment of  pure unadulterated joy and happiness that makes it all worth while. This was one of those moments, up there with photographing Otters in Mull with Danny Green last year and diving with Great Whites even.

And this was in a week that had already thrown up many such moments elsewhere in the country.

But that’s another  story, a Christmas story more appropriate I think for next week’s  blog. In the meantime, I thought I’d leave you with this final image. Stunning isn’t she?

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One Response to Winter Owls

  1. Wolf says:

    Gorgeous image!
    beautiful light, pose and I love to see the habitat!

    Congrats
    Wolf