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Friday, 8 May 2015

O-M-G !!! - on 7th May, 2015

I'd intended that my next post would be a report on April's owling adventures, and this would have been quite a lengthy item. However, I just felt that I had to substitute this post instead. I'm not usually given to using modern 'text speak' but 'OMG' seems to be appropriate in the situation I'm about to describe. Here's the story:-

Yesterday I was booked to do a turn of duty on the Osprey Project at Rutland Water. For the first time in many years I was on the 13h00 to 17h00 shift. My pal Titus, who is usually with me on these occasions, is unable to be available at this sort of time, and so I headed off on my own. The day didn't start with much promise as I only saw one Little Owl en route, when I'd usually expect to see 4 or 5 at this time of year, but the weather was a bit showery.

Shortly after my arrival at the Lyndon Visitor Centre at Rutland Water, there was a heavy rain shower which lasted about fifteen minutes or so, and as I wanted a word with the Centre Manager, I was later than intended in setting off down to the hide. However, en-route to the hide I had my first sighting of the year, plus some fair images, of Yellow Wagtail.

Titus showed up at around 14h00 and the turn of duty was pleasant, but uneventful - with one notable exception - after around 16h00 people were arriving saying they'd seen Otters at Tufted Duck Hide, less than 10 minutes walk away. This is particularly exciting news as, although there are believed to be two breeding pairs elsewhere on Rutland Water, the report of three Otters in this area indicates that we possibly have a third breeding pair. Titus told the couple that had the good fortune to see the three at once (with one of the Otters only 5 metres away!) that they were now banned (in good humour, of course!). When a second couple admitted to having seen them, and taken photos, they were banned too!

We spent half an hour at Tufted Duck Hide at the end of our shift but to no avail and so we set off back to the car park. So as not to be tripping over each other at our usual owling points on the way home, I set off homeward immediately, leaving Titus having his tea in the car park. However, he was arriving as I was leaving at the first Little Owl site on our route. 

I didn't see Titus again that evening and I did manage to pick up just another three Little Owl sightings on my way home. 

Now we come to the nub of my story. There's a point on our route where it makes a transition between country lanes and fast roads. This is the point where we usually stop to sort out the cameras on the way out and put them away on the way back. On this occasion, as I had an empty seat beside me, I didn't need to put the camera away, but I did need to 'answer a call of nature', so I stopped. I got out of the car and was heading towards a gap in the hedge when I saw a Barn Owl working its way down the road towards me. I quickly forgot my need, returned to the car, wound down the window and picked up the camera. Sadly I'd forgotten that, fifteen minutes earlier, I'd taken some shots of a distant Little Owl against a grey sky and my camera settings were totally inappropriate.

The owl passed by me, went a little way down the road, and then came back on my side of the road. My settings were a little better by then, and I was standing beside my car waiting for it.


Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10 (yes, I have seen an owl here before!)
Unfortunately, it dipped behind the hedge before it got to me, and I spotted it again further up the road, near where I'd first seen it. It then turned round again and came back behind the hedge but didn't show until it was past me. I took a few wasted shots of its backside disappearing down the road and my heart sank as it turned right and headed out into the field - but it came back and started a fourth pass up the road. 



Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
When it got about 30 metres from me it transferred to the far side of the hedge and disappeared. 'Ah' I thought 'it's avoiding me'. How wrong was I? Suddenly it came up from behind the hedge and settled in the tree directly opposite me - between 6 and 7 metres away!!!! This was a real OMG moment. It wasn't avoiding me, but checking me out! My first shot was pretty poor as my set up was more suited to flight shots, but it does show that the owl knew exactly where I was.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
It only spent a few seconds looking at me standing beside my car, and then totally ignored me! I can tell from my photos that the owl was there for at least 50 seconds. That doesn't sound a lot but it allowed me to change my settings three times and still rattle off 62 frames! If only the light had been better! I've had to do some colour correction as the images were very blue with the failing light. Here's a few of them, all shown in strictly chronological order so you can see how relaxed this owl was with my presence.







Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
I'd had to wind my zoom back to 380mm to get the bird in frame, so when the bird eventually took off I couldn't hold it in frame, although I tried, but my settings were geared towards a static bird anyway, so would have been poor if I'd succeeded.

I've not told Titus about this, and if you see him, please don't tell him. If he was going to ban those poor folks for seeing the Otters, I reckon it's a lifetime ban for me!

I know I've been rather self-indulgent with the images, here, but my excuse is that I'm unlikely to ever have another intimate session like this with a wild Barn Owl. 

Thank you for dropping by. Have a good one!

27 comments:

  1. 50 seconds is a lifetime for a encounter with such a shy bird. Absolutely stunning portraits Richard. The flight shots are good too especially that last one....you're now banned :-)

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    1. Thanks, Doug. I've not heard from Titus yet. Perhaps he's not speaking to me!! ;-}. More likely he's managed even better shots half an hour after I'd left the area!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

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  2. What an absolutely amazing encounter, Richard. Sometimes in life we just get lucky, but I always figure that the more time we spent in the field the better chances we have for this kind of encounter; firstly because we are just there more frequently and secondly because we get to understand the landscape and all its relationships more intimately. But then again, it's sometimes just being in the right place at the right time. That seems to be what happened this time and thank goodness you had a camera at the ready.Congratulations of a fine series.

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    1. It's probably a bit of all three factors, David. I first saw a Barn Owl at this location in May, 2012, but not again until May 2014. There was then a gap until April this year. Titus spent a whole evening sitting here a few weeks back, with no reward for his patience! We've alway got our eyes open in this area - we'll be passing this way during your visit, all things being equal.

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

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  3. An excellent day and well exploited.

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  4. Oh my!!
    What a glorious story and fabulous pictures!
    Why does it have to happen to others???
    I was never that lucky... considering we have a whole family on our property but deep in the woods and there's now way I will disturb them!
    Geee, I would be over the moon to have such an opportunity! :)
    Great stuff, Richard!
    And oh yes, I would have loved to be there too in couple of months, meet you too and David and Miriam again!
    Ah well, some other maybe...
    Cheers, enjoy your WE!

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    1. Now that's an interesting thought, Noushka - all of us getting together somewhere!

      My very best wishes to you both for the week ahead - - - - Richard

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    2. Oh gee, I missed a couple of words in my comment, but you're clever enough to have understood ;-) LOL!!!
      I had to drop by again and admire this fabulous post.... With much envy too!!!!
      WOW, just brilliant!
      Enjoy your WE, Richard :)

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  5. Richard, what luck you had. Read your story like I was reading a triller wanting to know what will happen next. It sure was a triller story for you as well. The captures are amazingly beautyfull. Noticed that you will get some great visitors in the weeks ahead. Hope you will have a great time.
    Regards
    Roos

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    Replies
    1. It certainly was a lucky encounter, Roos. Thank you for your kind comments

      I'm very much looking forward to our special visitors in July. We've got some great trips planned!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  6. Wonderful story, wonderful images....OMG indeed Richard.

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    1. Thanks, Pete. Two days down the line and I'm still reeling from the experience!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

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  7. You hit the jackpot Richard,OMG ,sums it up.
    Very,very jealous.
    Well deserved.
    John.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, John. We all get our lucky moments from time to time. There's nothing like this sort of experience to give one encouragement!

      Hoping your having a great weekend - - - - - Richard

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  8. WOW, the only barn owl I have seen was flying from our neighbour's barn and my camera was in the house :-( Never seen it since! Fantastic shots and I am very jealous, Diane

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    1. One day, Diane, your turn will come. Dusk is a good time to spot owls.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  9. Agree with Doug, you are definitely BANNED
    Super images you lucky beggar.

    John

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    Replies
    1. I'm going to celebrate your first ever comment on my blog, Titus, in compensation for you banning me just as I thought you would. Don't worry, your turn will come - and you can read into that what you will!!

      See you soon - - - Richard

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  10. Always good to chance upon a bird when you least expect it, especially when it's a Barn Owl. Great post Richard accompanied by some brill images, well done!

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    1. Thank you, Paul. As far as owls are concerned, you continue to set the standards that I aspire to.

      With my very best wishes - - - - Richard

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  11. What? No otter pictures??

    --JUST KIDDING--

    There are only a few truly special moments in our lives and to be able to encounter a creature as shy and elusive as a Barn Owl is one of those times for any birder. But to be able to have one perch within sight, check you over with those magnificent binocular-eyes and feel comfortable enough to pose for photographs - well, O-M-G!!!!

    Congratulations on a very special moment, Richard! And thank you so very much for sharing your spectacular photographs with the rest of us mere mortals. We are not worthy ...

    Cheers from a jealous Yank.

    --Wally In Hot and Humid Florida

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    Replies
    1. Hang on, Wally - the photos aren't THAT good! And all the credit must go to the owl - I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and had my camera with me! I wouldn't be surprised, however, if this turned out to be my encounter of the year.

      It's dry and sunny here with no wind and a very pleasant 11 deg C, set to rise to 16 deg. Guess who's going out owling soon!

      Best wishes to you both - - - - Richard

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  12. What a wonderful moment for you Richard! Lovely pictures. I'm afraid I tend to be a bit lazy with my camera, I have it on Auto :-)

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    1. It certainly was a special moment, Linda.

      Part of the enjoyment of photography for me is being able to tweek settings in order to get a better image. I've still got a lot to learn and probably always will have. I don't think they'll ever come up with an 'auto' function that will totally take away the desire for an ability to tweek. For example, without putting in exposure compensation, there's a tendency for cameras to try and make 'dusk' images look like 'full daylight' images. I usually (but not always!) like to be able to reflect the actual conditions at the time of taking the photo.

      Thank you for dropping by. Best wishes - - - - - Richard

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  13. OMG indeed! What a bird - and what a great set of pictures. I have never seen a BO with a camera in my hand! We get them here, but I have never seen an Australia one.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Stewart. For reasons that I'm relatively sure are connected with the breeding cycle, May seems to be a good time to see Barn Owls over here. Sorry to hear that they are so elusive down under.

      Best wishes from UK - - - - Richard

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