During the last several days I have been busy working in my office, the great outdoors, as I call it, amongst nature which is a place I find great peace in, capturing more magical moments. With a couple of one to ones in the Peak District, and a visit to the SWPP conference alongside PhotoTraining4U who had a stand there, my other free time has been put to good use watching and looking at the several subjects I am hoping to photograph this year. It’s always enjoyable at the same time very time consuming setting up your own work from scratch. But when it works and you see the subject(s) and capture them going about their lives it’s the best feeling you can possibly have as wildlife photographer.
I have been lucky enough over this time to have had some wonderful close encounters once again with different wildlife, the Short eared Owls are still very much around, hunting in the late afternoon sunlight. They normally stay at sea level until around late February to early March, but with the warmer temperatures they may just disappear at anytime. They are also very nomadic out of the breeding season and once a food source has dried up in the area that they are staying in they just leave without warning and find another vole rich habitat in which to spend their winter months before returning to their spring breeding grounds.
A Kestrel hovering right above me in the first rays of dawn light was one such magical moment. I got into place just before dawn, hid myself away along a natural gully and waited, as the sun’s rays began to warm me I heard Magpies and Crows calling which can give you your first clue wildlife is around. In most cases they call when there’s a bird of prey around hoping their calls and mobbing behavior will somehow move that bird on. I watched this Kestrel, hunt, then back track on itself, covering the ground in a sweeping motion, doubling back on himself to cover every inch.
He carried on coming forward, searching in vain the grasses and reeds below him, those same reeds that were sheltering me. He then hovered right about me, and in the still of the morning I could just make out his faint wing beats as I watched and captured that moment with my camera. We made eye contact, watching each other which always has a deep impact on me, a powerful feeling I cannot explain. Those briefest of moments are captured here with these images shot with my 1.4 converter on. He stayed for around 15-20 seconds then went. He’d heard me and as I am writing this blog I can see him looking down at me, remembering that moment as though it was seconds ago, that’s the power of nature.
Barn Owls are without doubt though one if not my favourite UK birds, and I have enjoyed lovely moments too over the last several days with these beautiful owls. Only recently I have read with great interest a report on how they hunt. Having been fascinated with this bird from childhood I’ve learned a lot about them and their feather structures having taken them home with great interest having found them on the ground. The way in which they hunt or quarter and their heart shaped faces have always amazed me, the heart-shaped face works in a similar way to humans outer ear , collecting and directing sound toward the inner ears which helps this amazing hunter do what it does best, slightly glide over land hunting in almost pure silence.
The report has found that each of a Barn Owls ears is a slightly different size and shape, and one is higher on the bird’s head than the other. The owls can analyse the differences in the sound received by each ear to automatically calculate the exact position of that sound-source. Which means that they can detect prey below them in pure darkness and hunt with great effectiveness and stealth. In most parts Barn Owls hunt in the dark so visual information is not possible, so their hearing really is their lifeline. Flying in silence helps them listen for movement, prey that’s moving.
Most if not all of the owls plumage is covered in a dense covering of feathers, those feathers produce more lift with each beat due to their shape and design, having a high curvature. This design allows the air to pass through and they offer little turbulence, reducing friction noise between the feathers. The end result is one of the most prolific hunters within the natural world. And the report suggests in time the structure of the Barn Owls wing may provide a guide for the design of quieter and more efficient airfoils for the aviation industry. Proving yet again that so many designs of man-made products are derived from the wonderful world of Mother Nature.
Barn Owls are amazing and they are just so wonderful to watch and photograph, the following slide show shows images taken over the last three years, from several different sites, showing these amazing birds of prey hunting and flying on the wing, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting these images together.
Thank you to my two clients, Mike and John for your company on your one to ones within the beautiful Peak District. I will continue working on my subjects and fingers crossed I’ll have some wonderful images to post on my blog in the coming months.