White Wings

  • April 24, 2019 7:19 pm

Change is part of life. Every new day is an opportunity to begin again. The seasons turn, the tides change, the sun rises and sets. We humans assume we can always remain the same, but we are part of nature, and therefore change is inevitable for us too. Something I have discovered only too painfully. The changes in my life some 16 months ago turned my world upside down and continue to affect me now. I have barely been able to pick up my camera, let alone write. But. Here I am. New, beginning again. Because that’s what nature does, begins – over and over again.

Enough about me. You’re here for the wildlife, and so here it is!

In my first ever solo holiday last year, I visited the amazing county of Yorkshire, a place I’ve never been before, but now a place I love and hope to return to again. The beautiful rolling hills and magnificent views. The sweeping curves of the roads at which I smile involuntarily as I change my grip on the steering wheel to ease my little car around another arc of tarmac. Over the next hill the glitter of the sea is visible on the horizon, and rugged heath and heather rolls out either side of the road. I explored to my hearts content, finding fossils of ammonites on the seashore, and weird and impressive rock formations rising out of the moor.

I travelled to the famous RSPB Bempton Cliffs, home to around half a million seabirds between March and October when they come here to these spectactular chalk cliffs to breed. At the end of the season, when I visited, mostly just the Gannets remained, but the sight of these beautifully pre-historic looking birds cruising the cliff edges was incredible. Soaring past on steady wings at eye level, I couldn’t help but be captivated by these stunning birds. I spent all day with them, watching them surf the updraft at the cliff edge, and listening to their deep raucous laughing calls. Giving myself vertigo imagining being with them as they tipped themselves off the cliff edge into a steep dive, trusting their huge 2 metre wingspan, then pulling up in a glorious arc of air, banking into the sea breeze and circling back to the cliff.

Back home, the other bird I’ve had the pleasure to photograph more recently, is a beautiful local Barn Owl. I’ve always wanted to photograph a wild Barn Owl, so to find one hunting in a regular spot on the way home from work was an absolute delight. This lovely bird was completely unconcerned by my car, allowing me to get some photos that I’ve only ever dreamed about!

When I watch a Barn Owl hunting in the last light of the day, I tend to hold my breath. Is it the mesmerising silent flight? Or maybe the slight disbelief that that beautiful creature just flew so close to me? The rest of the world seems to hold it’s breath too. There’s something about that buoyant and soundless animal that seems to absorb attention, and become for a moment, the centre of the universe. Until, that is, the owl sees the centre of it’s own universe, a vole, and after a brief second of hovering, he hits his target with such power that it seems disproportionate to his gentle flight. After looking around carefully for the marauding Kestrel, he heads home for his dinner, as I do too.

 

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Paddy

  • April 7, 2013 8:11 pm

Since my last post, I’ve been spending a lot of time down at the Fen which is teeming with wildlife at the moment. Hoards of Teal and Snipe can be found throughout the reserve, but I’ve been unsuccessful in photographing them. The Snipe are simply too well camouflaged, I’ve lost count of the number of times one has erupted from the vegetation virtually beneath my feet, and the Teal are far too nervous for a close approach.

This morning was no different, and the wildlife watching started in the car park. As I opened the car door I spooked a large dumpy brown bird, it took flight and I spotted the long bill, another cryptically camouflaged creature – the Woodcock.

I hurried to set up and wait for the Barn owl, which managed to elude my camera once again. Whilst waiting I spotted the pair of Roe deer that I’ve been seeing regularly in this area. They took no notice of me, but were too far away for photos, so I took this video:

Roe deer at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

There are a lot of deer on the Fen, the smaller Muntjac is more often seen, sulking along woodland paths and bouncing away flashing the white underside of their tails when they know they’ve been spotted. Roe are more wary still and if discovered they may prance away barking loudly to warn their comrades of danger. These two look fairly relaxed though, and as the sun rose higher they melted away into the reeds.

I decided to go for a walk, and soon came across what at first glance appears to be a rabbit with no ears. I was unsurprised to find that it was in fact the Black-tailed Prairie dog, who has affectionately been named ‘Paddy’. This long term resident and refugee from a local exotic animal collection, has set up home in the fields adjoining the Fen. Native to the great plains of the USA, he is quite happily living on the short rabbit grazed meadows, but with only the bunnies for company he seems a little lonely. I watched him enjoying the warm sunshine, when suddenly he drew his barrel shaped body up to it’s full height, threw back his head and uttered the most mournful squeal. He dropped back to all fours and listened. When no answer came, he pottered around his burrow, before standing up and calling again.

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Prairiedog070413DM7049

 

Walking on I find another Barn Owl hunting, but he doesn’t come close enough for any good photos.

Barn owl, Tyto alba, in flight, hunting at first light, Norfolk, April

As I head for home, spring seems to be tentatively beginning. A pair of Long-tailed tits are prospecting for nesting materials and a trio of Treecreepers chase each other up a branch. There’s still no sign of the summer migrants yet, but I’m sure they’ll be arriving soon.

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Hush Wing

  • February 8, 2013 2:02 pm

It’s 7.30AM and it’s snowing heavily. I’m questioning my reasoning behind stepping outside with my camera this morning, but with my new found determination to do more photography this year, I know I have to. I’ve been watching the Barn Owl’s on the fen and I know they’ll be out hunting at this time of day, but in the snow? I settle down on the base of a tree and wait. The falling snow patters softly around me, and the swiftly moving clouds open to reveal a glimmer of light. White wings in the distance, and before I know it Mr Barn Owl is hunting in front of me.

Barn owl, Tyto alba, in flight at dawn, Norfolk, February

He swoops in silent flight and I watch, there’s nothing more mesmerising than the sight of a hunting Barn Owl wafting through the air. He floats away out of view and another snow shower moves through. After some time, a movement catches my eye, looks like Mrs Barn Owl is awake.

Barn owl, Tyto alba, perched in tree at dawn, Norfolk, February

She begins to hunt and is chased briefly by a Kestrel, she ignores the squawking falcon who starts his own hunt on flickering wings before being moved on by a pair of Carrion Crows. The Barn Owl glides past, this is my first photography session with them, and I was concerned about how they would react. I needn’t have worried though, both ignored me and hunted as normal, not even looking in my direction.

Barn owl, Tyto alba, in flight at dawn, Norfolk, February

She perches up as another snow shower approaches.  A jogger runs past and the owl and I watch, unconcerned. We’re both waiting, listening, watching the world, she high in the silver birch, me at the base of the oak. Does a Barn Owl stay out in the falling snow?

Barn owl, Tyto alba, perched in tree in falling snow, Norfolk, February

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