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A heart for a head

It’s moulting season for birds and everything has gone quiet, so for the past couple of weeks I’ve had a little project with some birds that are still raising their young – barn owls.  These are the ones that look white when you see them at night. They’re the ‘farmer’s friend’ because they catch and eat so many rodents which might otherwise damage their crops. They’re most people’s favourite owl because they are stunningly beautiful with their heart-shaped faces and, more often than not, turn up unannounced through the car windscreen or when you’re out for an evening walk. Now I know we have one or two around our Kirkheaton/Gawthorpe area but I’ve never been able to pin them down to a territory specific enough to be able to find them easily.  In fact, it’s ages since I saw the one I last saw in the quarry and although friends occasionally see one in the Gawthorpe area, I’d never seen it myself until a couple of days ago when, at 5am, I was driving through Gawthorpe Green and one flew in front of me.

A fellow photographer told me about a family when I came across her looking to photograph the barn owls in my previous post. The area is a 15 minute drive from home so I’ve been paying a few visits while we have had nice light in the early mornings and evenings.  Barn owls are predominantly nocturnal but, particularly when they are feeding young, they’ll hunt during the daytime. The best time to look outside the hours of darkness is in the couple of hours before dusk and the couple of hours after sunrise although, with a demanding family, they might be out anytime.

I’ve been as happy as Larry watching these birds.  The adults have been hunting and the youngsters have been practising their flying skills by floating down to the ground, sitting about for a while and then flying back up to their box.  Occasionally, there are too many bodies in the entrance and the incoming bird has to cling on for dear life to the edge of the platform until he/she can work their way into the family group.

Watching them through binoculars is one thing but getting a decent photo is another.  I’ve been learning their habits, where they hunt and the best places to set up the camera.  I have to be in a different position in the morning to the evening when the sun is in the opposite direction.  It’s important not to approach the nest site or disturb them but find a good viewpoint, sit or stand still and they’re not bothered by your presence.  I’ve found a couple of spots where I can toss my camouflage bag-hide over a fence and sit behind it or else I’ll climb into the hide and blend into the background.  Only the youngsters spend their day in the nest box.  The adults seem to be abandoning them to their own devices at bedtime and finding a nice quiet spot to have some peace.  

I’ve been blessed with some lovely light during this heat wave we’ve been having but I’ve taken a few of the images as darkness is fast approaching.  It’s a challenge to produce a decent photo in these conditions but it’s a shame not try to capture the mood.

If you want to see the fruits of my labours head to the post ‘Owls a-plenty’, click on the featured image and you’ll find a load of other images in a slide show.  Click again to make the images bigger.

Last night, I decided I have enough shots for the time being but as this evening approaches, I might just feel the need to have another session.  After all, there’s always a better picture out there and, frankly, there’s no better way to spend a beautiful summer’s evening than to watch nature in action.

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