The Barn Owls return !

18th July 2012
Sadly my local Barn Owl population seemed to take a particularly bad hit in the severe winters at the end of 2009 and 2010 and the following springs (a countrywide issue of course). This came after me spending a lot of time (over 4-5 years) returning some local fields near me back to better managed habitat for voles (no harvesting the hay, letting grass "litter" develop and where appropriate even spraying to eradicate certain horrendous infesting weeds etc (all done with advice from local and national experts). This has proved very successful with a large healthy population of voles and mice now in residence but over the winter apart the Barn Owls sightings have been very infrequent. Then this spring a local pair did hunt intermittently in my fields but I seemed to be on the very edge of their territory. Now just in the last 2-3 weeks what appears to be a fully fledged chick has started using the area a little more with a degree of consistency. Obviously it's tough to tell but it's initially poor hunting technique and high failure rate seemed to suggest it. However in the last few days I am seeing the Owl be more successful and indeed for a short time a few days ago I watched as a second owl joined it briefly on the edge of the field. Could this be a parent helping to teach it or maybe another fledged youngster? Parent birds do force the youngsters out by failing to feed them and perhaps pushed this one out to my location. If anyone has a strong interest I'd recommend Colin Shawyer "The Barn Owl" book for a huge amount of details of their habits and lifestyle.

Another factor that seems to have worked quite well is a wildflower meadow I planted 4 years ago which attracts a huge number of insects of every conceivable type (another photographic project in there me thinks !!)
I deliberately didn't follow normal practice by cutting the meadow down to ground level after flowering last year partly as an experiment and also as I knew a lot of mice were living in it due to the bad quality of grass in the remaining field. This year it seems packed with rodents and happily the Barn Owls have just discovered it so it's creating some nice , slightly different and more colourful photo opportunities.

The challenge for me this time is that the owls seem to turn up only within 30 minutes of dusk so I am really having to stretch the capabilities of both me and my camera. Having recently upgraded to the new Nikon D4 I can only sing it's praises. For the technical types out there I am using ISO's between 4000 and 8000 to enable a sufficient shutter speed. By using camouflage clothing I am hiding away in between trees and bushes and with the owls coming quite close the I am also being able to use my 70-200mm f2,8 Nikkor lens which is the best and quickest (fastest focusing as well as aperture) lens I own and I think I'd have very limited results if using my 500mm (mainly the flexibility as well as sometimes the owl being too close ...a nice and very rare problem to have !!)

Finally, after hours and hours of trying I managed to get some front on pictures of an owl with it's prey. I'd love to have a nice evening sunlight on it but perhaps I'm asking for too much ! (for now!!).

Here, the owl had just lifted off from the ground and it showed the value of the camouflage gear as he flew towards me apparently unperturbed. I wasn't in a hide as they can quite restrictive, but I was using camouflage gloves and head veil (as well as coat/boots/trousers) so no bright flashes of skin were visible.

An few evenings later, and after a no-show the night before , one returned, and moving in what to me is a classic Barn Owl pose, the bird almost circled me at about 25-30 yards away and headed across to leave the field when he turned and............

...he definitely heard the camera and using the ISO so high and the darkness closing in I think I managed a 1/125th shutter speed as he heard the shutter and glanced over to stare the apparent green bush making strange clicking noises.............

Taken a few evenings before the others, this was seriously late and I had almost given up after an hour of waiting when the Owl glided across the field to my left. I am deliberately underexposing by c.0.7ev of a stop on most of my Barn Owl pictures to compensate for the brightness of the feathers...

I hope you enjoy the images as much I enjoyed the rewarding, if sometimes frustrating, efforts to photograph them. But as one of Britain's best loved and iconic birds it's simply nice to see that perhaps their numbers are starting to recover from the crash of the last 2-3 years.

Leave a comment

Your Name
Your Email
Your Comment
No info required here, please press the button below.