Barn owl, Kirkheaton
I’m guessing here but I think most people would put the barn owl at the top of the list of their ‘want to see’ owls. They are generally nocturnal but can often be seen hunting just after dawn and before dark, particularly in winter and often during daytime when they’re feeding young. Unmistakable for their light brown colour, showing almost white in poor light, their beautiful heart-shaped face and their easy, slow, flight as they listen for field voles in the long grass.
Two years ago, we were driving out of Kirkheaton towards Lepton when a ghostly image crossed in front of the car. The sighting was over in a flash but it could only have been a barn owl. Despite my best efforts, I never saw it again.
When I want to photograph a barn owl, I go to Norfolk where they are plentiful, or Beverley where I’ve also had some success. I know there are some nearer home. My friend has a pair nesting in a neighbour’s field near Selby, another pair nest in a barn at Hepworth and I’ve seen one near the canal at Wakefield, but no definite sightings in our immediate vicinity. That is, until this summer when a couple of neighbours said they had seen one in the fields in the Gawthorpe, Laneside areas near our home.
Last week, there were more reliable sightings in the quarry near our house so I set up to check them out. It didn’t take long. The first morning, I didn’t see anything. The first evening, I saw the unmistakable shape of a barn owl quartering the ground south of the quarry. It then disappeared for a few minutes only to reappear flying directly towards me.
On my frequent forages around the quarry early morning or late afternoon, I’ve seen it almost every time. Yesterday morning it was sitting on a fence post next to the ponds within 50 metres of our house.
I am so pleased that our village now has its very own resident barn owl to add to the tawnies and little owls and the large variety of other animals we already have here. The land around the quarry is perfect territory for this bird with rough grassland capable of sustaining field voles, mice and other rodents, and there are a few suitable nesting sites within a few hundred metres. There’s also a barn owl nest box in my garden. Maybe she’ll find it.
These images are my first efforts to photograph our owl but were taken in near darkness and, therefore, not of the best quality. The trick is to find it in nice light, early morning or just before sunset. I’m working on it.