Barn Owls are a bird that stir a great fascination and emotion for me, I have loved them since my very early teens. I have had a truly magical time on my Barn Owl project over the summer. As we enter the season of Autumn I just wanted to update you on whats happened since my last blog covering this project that you can read here.
A few images from a project that I’m working on at the moment. It’s an old coal mine which dates back to the 18th century but there are reports that coal may have been mined there from as early as the 14th and 15th Centuries. The whole place is protected now and stands empty and decaying, a visual sign of the past. It has been taken over by nature now, and pair of Barn Owls live within the ancient ruins of this building. A whole array of other wildlife shares the site from Kestrels, to Pigeons to many other birds and animals.
As a young child my primary school use to run school trips there and I can remember going on one and going underground which was amazing. It’s part of my local heritage as coal was mined in my hometown for hundreds of years before it all stopped in the mid to late 1980’s. When they all closed it decimated whole communities that were reliant on them for work and income.
I’m hoping to bring you more images from this project over time. In the meantime here are a few images of the owls and kestrels that live alongside each other.
The project as a whole will be one I hope that will show my own heritage within nature with my love of Barn Owls but more importantly my hometown. That since the late 1980’s has had its heart ripped out with all of the industries that once breathed life into this area taken from us resulting in wastelands upon wastelands from the past that nothing ever replaced to this day .Showing the power of nature to recalm and take back what was once theirs and injection life back into a place that died a longtime ago.
The Barn Owl chicks are around three weeks old now. They have been coming out more sand more recently, exercising their wings then they go back into the safety of their nest. They have down feathers still on their backs too, but look really health. Wonderful to see these young and here are a few images taken showing the 18th Century building once an old coal mine, that is now their home
Please support the work of the The Barn Owl Trust the only charity that looks after and cares for our native Barn Owl. One of my favorite living animals these birds need all the help they can get. For information, education, events that help these owls and products, prints you can purchases please see their website, many thanks.
My one to ones are designed to help you improve in all the aspects of wildlife photography, while learning about the environment and the wildlife that it supports.They are designed to the very highest standard, enabling every participant to get the very best from my photographic knowledge and fieldcraft expertise, where all the locations chosen offer unrivalled photographic opportunities.
The winner of the Cover Star section will see their work used on the cover of Bird Watching (subject to approval), and will win a bundle of photographic accessories. Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too. Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Both winners will have their work showcased in Bird Watching and displayed at Birdfair 2015, and there are mystery prizes in each section, too.
Please submit original unedited jpgs – all images must have been taken since the beginning of 2014.
Send your images by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (but not more than one email, please), by file-sharing services, or on a disc (which won’t be returned so please make a copy) to Bird Watching, Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough PE2 6EA.
The deadline to the competition is 31st July 2015 and your image along with others will be displayed at the British Birdwatching Fair where I will be presenting the prize to the winner on the Bird Watching stand. For all the competition information see inside June’s issue of this magazine where they have a special photography section. For full details of this competition then please see the following link .
The weather has been testing to say the least since Christmas, with driving rain, gales, and flooding to many areas of the UK. On top of which mild temperatures with little sign of cold or snow on the horizon. I have had to put back and re-book many one to ones and workshops just because the weather has been so unpredictable.
More alarming though I’ve started seeing birds acting as though its Spring almost , singing and defending territories in readiness for their partner and nest building. It was almost the same pattern last year until alot of wildlife got caught out around March/April time with snow, frost and freezing temperatures. I only hope nature doesn’t get caught out once more.
I have managed a few one to ones over the last few weeks though,and this cute, soaked Water vole was one such day. His little face here really is a picture as he kept my client and I company for an hour or so on a rain-soaked windy day last week.
And my Dippers are in full song on many of the rivers I visit throughout the Peak District too and my client had a wonderful day watching, learning and photographing these amazing birds.
I have been lucky enough though on some days to be in the right place with the right weather, or should I say a break in the weather. My Barn Owl project was ground to a halt with the conditions but over the last week or so I have seen both adults around and managed a few photos this being one of my favorites.
Barn Owls are having a tough time of it of late, with several cold winters, now with wet weather and flooding fields and also poisoning issues around the country this beautiful, iconic bird of the UK has its back against the wall and seems to be in real danger. To find out more about what you can do to help the Barn Owl Trust click here. Its a charity I help with my images, a number of which are in their current handbook that helps farmers and landowners to manage their land better and live with Barn Owls.
Another firm favorite owl of mine and one I was luckier enough to see in the last few days too is the Short-eared Owl. This perch had been put in a few days ago by another photographer and the owl had started to use it to land on. I placed my hide not far from this perch in an attempt to get a nice close up portrait. As the sun came up this owl woke and started to hunt and I was very surprised as I was all set for the long wait because they mainly hunt in the late afternoon.But as you can see by the angle of the light this was the morning, with the light low on the bird which tells you what time of day it is.
I don’t no who was more surprised, me to see him or him to see me here. I shot through the dense reeds to hide alot of the imposing branch that was there and this was the result, giving a defused effect to the foreground. He stayed for a few moments, once I took a couple of images I just watched him as this was close and its often nice to watch rather than take photos I believe. I love his crazy looking eyes, bright yellow as he looked straight at me, such a handsome owl.
I really hope for all wildlife concerned that the weather improves and there’s not a nasty sting in its tail resulting in a spell of bad weather when nature least expects it. I wish you all luck in whatever you photography and please dont let the weather put you off as one minute its raining the next the sun comes up so always be ready. This Mute Swan was feeding in the dawn light, when I arrived at this site it was raining within fifteen minutes it had stopped and the sun came out so you never no, good luck.
A major sign for me that the onset of Autumn and Winter is around the corner are the Spring Tides that happen around our coastline at this time of year symbolising the changing seasons, as we leave the Summer and enter into the lovely, warming colours of Autumn where the trees lose their coat of leaves, left exposed and bare to the elements, to the frosty Winter mornings, with the winter sunset proceeding over frozen landscapes where things take just that bit longer to awaken.
No where does this amazing spectacle happen better than on the North Norfolk coastline, an area that supports thousands of Waders, Geese, and other birds during our Autumn and Winter months.
A brief explanation of these Spring Tides is when the gravitational effects of the Sun and the Moon combine, resulting in these Spring Tides which have nothing to do with the season of spring. The term refers to the action of the seas springing out and then springing back. These are times of high high tides and low low tides. A spring tide occurs when the moon is in its second and fourth quarters, more commonly known as the new and full moon phases respectively.
You get them all year but their numbers are greater during our Autumn and Winter months resulting in this amazing experience, accompanied with the sights and sounds of nature you’ll never forget. I have spent the last three days there with clients who booked these Spring Tide/Barn Owl days I run.
Birds start to take off as the others wait on the ground for their turn to join their group and return to the sea. Peeling off , perfectly timed formations take to the air back to where they belong, the power and force can be felt as you sit in the hides. With the photograph above I wanted to convey this moment, a truly amazing site within our wonderful wildlife in this country.
Knot, Dunlin and other waders were arriving each day, their numbers increasing all the time forming their customary aerial flocks where they fly inches from each other, twisting and turning, a breathtaking site to witness. My clients captured some great images and have taken away valuable advice and tips, and techniques that I use and apply to my own photography, where I show and teach not only these but concentrate on fieldcraft, the habitat and the environment of the subject, reading what is happening around you.
All of these skills can be taken home by the client and applied to their own photography where hopefully over time they will help to increase and improve their overall photography skills, techniques and images, as this is the main aim of all the one to one/workshops that I do.
The weather during this time would be best described as a mixed bag, the sun broke through and rose in the east lighting up this beautiful yet bleak place on a couple of the mornings. We had a amazing sunset on some of the evenings, alot of the time though it was overcast but the clouds did clear after a few light showers. The light is amazing just after rain, where the atmosphere is cleansed and there is a clearer light perfect for taking photographs. The numbers of Oystercatchers were high where they like to form large flocks on the land, constantly calling with their piercing call.
I always say to clients that there is always a shot to be had so while we were waiting for the larger flocks I wanted to show and demonstrate the effect of using aslow shutter speed and what it can produce, where a sense of movement in the subject is frozen and captured giving the image a sense of impending movement. Adding a little drama to a photograph, as shown below with a flock of Knot altogether on the sandbanks. Freezing that movement, and adding movement to the image as well as making the most of the overcast conditions where the photographs look like they are taken in black and white.
There are so many different subjects to photograph on the Norfolk coastline that its a wildlife photographers dream in my eyes, and a great place to learn about these subjects and these amazing events by watching and capturing their behaviors, flight patterns and so fourth. Where all the birds are being pushed closer to the shoreline by the incoming spring tide, forcing them closer to the shore, landing, taking flight until the very last piece of land is submerged by the sea, all the time the birds fly around in vast numbers mostly for protection avoiding the raptors that work this stretch of coastline in large numbers looking for an easy meal.
It was a great few days for all my clients and I was really happy that they got some if not all of the shots that they wanted. We finished off each day at one of the many different Barn Owl sites I know in Norfolk. They weren’t disappointed with views of the female and male quartering and hunting for food. We also had a viewing of their young which was brilliant to see.
With the changing seasons, come changing wildlife, and throughout the Autumn/Winter period I will be running many different days capturing the stunning wildlife the UK has to offer during our shorter months. Mountain Hares in the Peak District, the only place outside of Scotland you can see them, Fallow and Red Deer rutting at two different sites, Whooper Swans start arriving to spend their Winters with us, these days are on the North-West Coast of the UK. Short-Eared Owls and Raptors on this coastline also. All these days and many more can be booked either through my one to ones or the workshops page seen here.
One of my clients, Steve Tucker has wrote a wonderful review I wanted to share with you. Hes a well schooled photographer in his own rights. I have had the pleasure of his company now twice and he’s had some wonderful images and encounters on both days. To read his review please click here.
I’d like to thank all my clients for your company over the last three days, its been great to show you the amazing wildlife and events that happen in this part of the UK. I will be running these Spring Tides/ Barn Owl days throughout the year so should you wish to find out more information on these amazing days or any other the other brilliant days I have mentioned here then please send me an email many thanks.
The April issue of BBC Wildlife I’m pleased to say includes one of my Barn Owl images. A bird that has fascinated me since childhood. Amazing birds and hope you enjoy this issue which is packed with tips and advice on these birds.
I’m currently working on a project photographing Barn Owls which started last year, where some of that work can been seen in this slideshow. Hopefully I’ll have more news and images for you shortly in the meantime big thank you to Wanda, Sophie and the team at BBC Wildlife magazine for using my image, many thanks.
Over the last week I have revisited my Red Squirrel site in the North West coastal region of the UK. It was nice to be back as I hadn’t been back all year due to work. I managed to capture these most adorable mammals in better light, and capturing their cheeky nature. This whole area is managed by the wildlife trust who keeps an eye on the population of Red Squirrels that were almost wiped out 3 years ago. Numbers are slowly increasing with the hard work and dedication of the local trust and volunteers.
Quartering over farmland, hovering with moth like silence, flying effortlessly on the wing in the half-light at dawn or dusk is the supreme hunter, the Barn Owl. A bird that has always created a sense of great excitement and fascination for me. In British folklore, a screeching Barn Owl is believed to predict that a storm or cold weather was imminent. During a storm, if a Barn Owl was heard, it indicated that the storm was nearly over.
The custom of nailing a Barn Owl to a barn door to warn off evil persisted into the 19th century, something you just wouldn’t believe people would do but back then strange things went on and happened to these amazing owls.
The Barn Owl had a sinister reputation, a bird of darkness, where people associated it with death. The Ancient Greeks and Romans saw owls as a symbol of wisdom. Athena the goddess of wisdom is often depicted in art with an owl perched on her shoulder. Sometimes owls were also viewed as messengers from the gods, full of wisdom and helpfulness.
Over the last several weeks I have been watching a family of Barn Owls live out their lives in an old disused building overlooking some beautiful countryside . In some of the most testing weather since records begin two adult owls have raised three healthy chicks that now are almost ready to take their places among our countryside. With the wettest June on record it’s been hard work watching the parent birds put their own lives on the line by hunting in this wet weather.
A lot of the time though the weather has broken and this has allowed the owls to hunt and build up their larders of food which is a key behaviour among Barn Owls. This stored food then helps during the long periods of wet weather.
With no sign of improvement it’s hard to believe its summertime in the UK. I like to study air pressures and weather fronts as it really helps within my work. The reasons for this wet weather are simple when you take a look at the weather charts, the jet stream.
During most summers the jet stream lies to the north of the UK, so rain-bearing weather fronts and depressions miss us and hit Scandinavia instead. This year however this jet stream has shifted southwards and is lying over France and southern Europe, this has left the UK wide open to these depressions and all this wet weather.
One possibility to what maybe moving this jet stream is warming temperatures between the Arctic and the tropics and the shrinkage of the north polar ice cap. These changing weather conditions and patterns may be around a lot more than we think in the future where alongside wildlife we’ll have to learn to live and change alongside this ever present climate change that are here to stay for sure.
My hide is some distance away, completely hidden from view and well camouflaged. The image above is the view I have from my hide and one of the perches they are using now, exercising their wings and doing their tester flights just before sunset each evening. I move my hide to a different place under the cover of darkness as not to disturb them and also once the dawn light comes up the wildlife will see the hide and accept it as part of the landscape. Again cutting down on any stress, and disturbance to the wildlife and in this case the Barn Owls.
With a mixture of different focal lengths, tele-convertors, crop modes in camera and time I’ve been able to photograph this family and capture them going about their lives at this location. Wild Barn Owls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and so should never be disturbed in any way. I am using really high ISO’s on my camera in order to get some shutter speed, as they aren’t coming out until around 9-9.30pm. I never use any sort of flash with wildlife as I feel any form of bright light suddenly hitting an animals retina disturbs the subject.
When you work somewhere new like this site, you gradually build a picture of movements, favourite natural perches, flight patterns etc. This is a skill you have to learn in order to try and second guess where and when your images will come from. This takes time and is very time consuming but for me its the very essence of real wildlife photography. At the same time you learn so much about the subject, and the habitat in which they live. The image above is of the paler male Barn Owl perched on a stone lintel, he is so stunningly beautiful.
The Barn Owls use the main barn as well as some smaller buildings which often both the adult and young perch on. Hours pass by, with nothing, not a sound, then a white flash passes by my hide, a corus of loud hissing noises can be heard as the adult owls come in with prey. This image below is the male Barn Owl who likes to perch on the pitch of this old roof here and on this evening my hide was close and by pure luck he landed, stopped and looked straight through me.
I was too close really, so I went for a close up of his amazing and beautiful, heart-shaped face. I managed to take just one photo on silent mode before he flew off and carried on hunting, and this is that amazing moment captured here. The male has much lighter plumage around the breast and face and has a completely white chest nothing else, the female on the other hand is slightly bigger and has black spots on her chest.
The ability to see things that are hidden and hunt completely undetected are key to a Barn Owls life and survival. Often without warning they arrive and vanish before you have any chance to capture this. I always like to capture wildlife as seen on the ground, going about their lives with no disturbance by my presence at all, I like to compose my subjects on whatever they land on.
They are venturing out more and more now and it won’t be long before they completely leave the comfort of this building and start to live and roost among the many trees littering the surrounding landscape. When I leave the site in almost total darkness I often see one or both of the parent birds flying over the farmland with one of the younger ones in tow, their white bodies giving an almost floating appearance as they fly and dive.
Maybe they are having hunting lessons, learning their craft, who knows but it’s very enduring to see and both adult owls have been brilliant parents that have managed to feed and bring up their brood in some of the wettest weather since records begin.
I hope to continue to follow the progress of this Barn owl family over the next several months, where any day now the young will fully fledge and leave the place that’s been their home now for several months. Its been a special and privileged time for me to witness these amazing owls live their lives around me. Often I’ve just sat and marveled at their antiques, and behaviours, with each youngster having their own personality. They is one that’s just slightly smaller than the others and seems to need more attention from his parents which is so enduring to see and watch.
I will be releasing a few more Barn Owl limited edition prints soon which will be available framed or unframed and in canvas format to go along one of my favourite ones that can be seen and purchased here if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. Where 50% of the profits from each sale go to this trust I support with my work, because I love Barn owls and want to help them.
The Barn Owl Conservation Handbook is a comprehensive guide for ecologists, surveyors, land managers and ornithologists written by the Barn Owl Trust. I help this trust in any way I can in order to help this amazing owl keep safe and it’s survival. After the launch of this guide last week I received this from the Barn Owl trust, which was wonderful and I’m so glad my Barn Owl images can help. Dear Craig
I am very pleased to say that the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook we started writing in January 2010 has finally arrived and the first copies are being mailed out today. This publication represents a major milestone in the Trusts history.
On behalf of my co-authors and all the books future beneficiaries I would like to thank you for your unique contribution in providing your wonderful photograph of a Barn Owl hunting in flight during daylight that appears in colour on the back cover alongside Mike Toms testimonial.
Without your photos, the Handbook would not be as good as it is. Thank you very much indeed. David
David J Ramsden MBE
Click here to be taken to their website and to purchase this guide. Also this as many charities in today’s times is run on donations so if you can help them to carry on their wonderful work then please do so and visit their website by clicking here many thanks.