Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Owls & Dragons.

I took the opportunity given by the warm humid conditions last night to head out into the Northumberland Badlands north of Stobswood. It used to be said 'there be dragons' but I tend to find that most of them are indoors drinking LCL Pils after eight. Once again my target was Long-eared Owl the only one of the five regular owls that has managed to avoid me so far this year. After parking conspicuously by the side of the road to make life easy for any local security guards who may wish to leave me notes I wandered off along a footpath as the sun set.

Northumbrian Badlands Sunset.
First up was a twilight flying Barn Owl that I watched ranging over a kilometre across meadow and young plantation, occasionally dropping down but not having any success in the ten minutes or so it was visible. It never came too close so still with short lens the shot below is a big crop with some noise reduction. This individual looks to me like a female as the ginger wash comes right down the side of the head forming a very clear facial disc. Later in the evening in much poorer light I had two flying about 50m apart in the same area.

Barn Owl.

After walking a while I was approaching a good size pine shelter plantation when that familiar 'creaking gate' call started from one corner of the wood. I settled back nearby into the side of the hedge at a gate and waited. A pair of Meadow Pipit flew back and forth with food presumably feeding young and a Jay flew silently into another nearby plantation to roost. All the while the young Long-eared Owl kept up it's hungry cry. Moments after it stopped a grey shape ghosted through the wood amongst the dark pine trunks away into the dusk. With the light fading I headed back to the car.
Approaching the car I could see an owl on a post not 10m away from the car, unfortunately it saw me and moved off about 60m further down the road before alighting again. Now as I know there are younger readers I must give you that age old advice "don't try this at home kids." I have years of practice birding whilst driving, using binoculars whilst at the wheel during bird races, juggling map/field guide/hot tea/cigarette whilst spotting something feathered that needed further investigation. I have perfected that birder technique of extending my peripheral vision so that I can watch the road ahead at the same time as looking at the raptor in the tree we just passed. I knew I would only have one attempt at approaching the owl and grabbing an image after that I felt I would be just hassling it when it was trying to feed young. This was why I bought IS (Image Stabilised) lenses, it was time to put them to the ultimate test. Could I get a decent shot of Long-eared Owl from a moving vehicle, a smash and grab raid?
This is how a Long-eared Owl might look to a dragon after a night on LCL Pils.

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