I made the most of my day off of work yesterday by re-visiting the north Norfolk coast. I was on the road for 5am with the intention of being there for first light. Barn Owls were the initial quarry and if everything went to plan I was hoping a hunting bird could be located before it got too bright?
I'd recently been in contact with Doug McFarlane regarding the Norfolk Barn Owls as he is a frequent visitor to the area and knows it well. For some reason the local Barnie's tend to be seen out hunting in the daylight hours on a more regular basis than here in Leicestershire? Doug had very kindly given me the heads up on some likely locations (cheers mate) so after plotting them all on a map off I went. The roads en route were empty and good progress was being made, the sat nav was telling me that I was due to be at the first site a good 30 minutes before dawn, excellent that allowed me enough time to stop off for a hearty, (but not very healthy) breakfast!
I was in situ at the first location just as the sun started to creep over the horizon, although chilly it looked as though the light was going to be in my favour first thing. Wow, the area looked just perfect as the early golden light lit up the whole area, there was lots of waste/scrubland, a meandering river and total solitude, all that was needed now was a Barnie!
I'd been there huddled against a hedgerow surveying the area for around 20 minutes and no owls were seen, although by now it was very bright and excellent for photography it was also bitterly cold. The wind was harsh and cutting straight through me, I needed to warm up so it was back to the car for some shelter. It was at this point that I reluctantly gave up with this location and moved on to another of Doug's referred sites. The story was the same at the second, it look great but no owls? Maybe the high winds were putting them off? On the way to the third site I took a wrong turn, and how fortunate that turned out to be! As I was conducting a three point turn in a gateway my first Barnie of the day was spotted. It was distant but looking a the terrain I calculated that if it continued to hunt the marginal edge of this vast field it could make its way around to me? I got myself prepared and again I crouched down low in the hedgerow and waited. Everything then worked to perfection, the owl got nearer and nearer and eventually it was with range of my 300mm. It was so pre-occupied with hunting for prey it didn't even give me a glance as a few shots were rattled off!
Its next move was to go up and over the adjacent hedgerow, a tentative glance around and I could see that it had landed on a post right next to where I'd parked my car. It perched there for a few minutes whilst scanning the nearby scrub for prey, I hesitantly moved very slightly and crack, a twig broke under foot, instantly it turned its head and looked straight at me. I didn't try to get any nearer for fear of spooking it so I settled for this distant shot, sadly it was in the shade, doooh!
It didn't seemed bothered about my presence and carried on surveying to ground around it, I think me being backed into the hedgerow helped? Eventually it took flight and came back into the field I was in and continued to hunt the field margin. It was now flying away from me but after 10 minutes it made its way around the whole perimeter of the field and now a second pass by was on the cards. Only this time it came even closer and just as it came within range it lifted up a little higher and turned midair, it caught the golden sunlight just perfectly.
It was an all but too brief encounter really but excellent whilst it lasted. Seeing these magnificent creatures out in good light is a very rare occurrence in deed, especially where I live in Leicestershire! Another "daytime" hunting owl was located later in the day at a different location but before I could nail any images it drifted too far away. I will deffo be making a re-visit to Norfolk and these two new sites as soon as circumstances allow, its just brilliant!