Thursday 7 June 2012

Lovely Jubilee...

As normal, the (extended Jubilee) Bank Holiday weekend brought miserable weather and only the presence of a wood sandpiper, a bird I've not photographed for years, tempted me out of the shelter of my house to the Flashes at Upton Warren for a look. June, and I was cold, despite wearing 3 layers and a woolly hat, and the driving rain made looking out of the windows of the new hide rather unpleasant. Even the upper tier was chilly - I think I might have developed hypothermia downstairs after too long. 

Thankfully the sandpiper kindly flew close to the hide after a short wait, and I was able to get some reasonable images as it fed in the closest channel. The view from downstairs would have been preferable, but the grass is a bit long now for a clear shot (hardly surprising after all this rain). 

When a family of mallards spooked the bird further off, I didn't need to think hard about returning home!

The Bank Holiday Monday proved to be better in terms of weather, with sunnier spells promised and only the odd shower. I had planned for a very early start, but after a mammoth shift for work over Thursday and Friday, the alarm at 5am was met with a loud grumble and duly ignored. I eventually dragged myself out of bed when I spotted some sunshine, and after chatting to Ian about one of his favourite haunts in Lincolnshire, I was soon driving east, pretty much on the same route I use to head to Norfolk.

Ian couldn't meet me until later, so I had a look around the area. Plenty of birds, with common terns following the waterways, great crested grebes fishing below them and large numbers of swans gliding gracefully by. The skies were full of swallows, martins and swifts, with the occasional hobby thrown in for good measure. The fields were alive with the song of buntings and larks, and any pathways winding through the crops were being used by pheasants, red-legged and grey partridges and annoyingly distant hares.

The first bird that caught my camera's attention was a hovering kestrel. As though it had been glued to the sky, it remained fixed in place, looking down into the grasses below, wings flapping furiously. The light was a bit difficult, but with somewhere to park nearby, I managed some full frame shots of it in action.

Singing from the tops of the bushes were yellow wagtails. Being windy though (the weather, not the birds), it made getting a shot trickier, but they're such a vibrant delight to see, and they have quite a song too.

There seemed to be kestrels all over the place, and I managed a quick shot or two of one perched near the road, before a passing car scared it off.

With all these kestrels around, you'd think there might be owls. Well, yes, and this is why I had come all this way. You see Ian comes here for shots of barn owls, and despite having numerous shots of them in flight, I was yet to get anything remotely decent of one perched up. When Ian arrived, he quickly pointed out the nesting locations of several pairs of barn owls, and we simply then had to watch and wait. By late afternoon, we were beginning to wonder if they weren't going to play ball, but while I was off driving around, Ian spotted one flying alongside the waterway, but it vanished from sight before a shot could be taken.

I arrived back but before I could get annoyed at missing one, I saw another, hunting over the fields. Fantastic. It didn't come close though, and headed away over the crops and towards the roads behind. As I was still sat in the car, I chose to blast over that way and hope. Got to where it had been, but nothing. Turned around and was about to return when up it burst from beside the road, flying off away from me, along the verge until it reached a road sign, where it chose to perch up.

Ok, it's not exactly the picture-perfect posing perch, but beggars can't be choosers, and I parked up as close as I dared to get some shots. It didn't move, so I approached a bit more. Still didn't go, and for once, there were no cars to prevent me getting a shot.

A kestrel however, spoiled the show and chased the owl off, across fields where I couldn't follow.

Ah well, back to Ian again. Still no action by him, so off I went again. Further down the road I found another pair, but they just wouldn't perch close, and repeatedly flew out of sight across the water. Then a text came through. "Got one on a post". Was I too late? A hastily executed 3-point turn and I was hurrying back to where I'd left Ian. Slowing down as I spotted his car, I caught sight of a gorgeous barn owl, as stated, sat on a post not far from the road.

Before I could get a shot though, you've guessed it. It moved off. Ian quickly pointed out that if we were careful, chances are, it would find another perch close by, and he was proved correct, as it settled on another post slightly further along the edge of the field. This time I did manage to get set up and finally took some shots of one of these wonderful, ghostly owls, sat still.

With its acute hearing the owl frequently looked up at what was making the clicking sound, giving me great views of its heart-shaped face.

Movement beneath the post seemed to interest it, and it would often bob its head around and peer downwards. Eventually, it turned its back to me, showing off those wonderfully marked feathers, before it took off, and headed back to its roost nearby.

By then though, I had taken a fair few shots and was grinning rather a lot. Which in turn made Ian laugh, though he was already smiling from photographing the same owl. Superb!

We saw several more owls over the following hour or so, including ones hunting near us, but they never landed so close again, and when the light blossomed to that gorgeous evening glow, none were to be seen whatsoever! It was getting late and we had to drag ourselves away, though the drive home was brightened by a flyover from another barnie, out hunting near the route home!

Tuesday was back to the gloom of wet and windy weather, and I spent a few hours trying to get shots of swifts over the Moors Pool. Managed one half decent shot (using the 7D and 100-400mm) playing with varying focal modes. And witnessed a hobby swoop to try to take a sedge warbler in front of the hide, but it missed.

More rain arrived and removed what little light was available, and I abandoned the day in favour of a warm cuppa and some home comforts.


Max Silverman said...

Excellent shots Pete.You are still the Owl man.

Millhouse Photography said...

Classy shots of the Barn Owl Pete and I happen to like the warning sign perch - a warning to all the voles in the area!