Tawny owl.

21st May 2012: I had planned to go owling yesterday evening, but the light wasn’t good enough. I had an idea of an image I would like to shoot, and I wasn’t going to get it without strong evening sunlight. Instead, I sat on my recliner, in front of the television, eating biscuits and drinking beer like a regular couch potato.

This evening was a very different story. The weather was warm, sunny and still, under a cloudless powder blue sky.

It really was an idyllic evening down at North Pond. The only thing spoiling the peace was a dog walker with two unruly black dogs: a Labrador and spaniel; both barking incessantly and chasing everything that moved. Unfortunately, ‘No access signs’ are sometimes ignored by local dog walkers. I heard a water rail alarm call and a lapwing escaped to the island across the river.

I often sit on a log watching the sunset over the pond. Sometimes I feel I would like a deck chair and to chill with a can of beer and chocolate cake. I don’t do this because I would be eaten alive by clouds of flying, biting insects. I would probably end up eating more flying insects than cake, if I was to try. I’m allergic to biting insects, and spray myself liberally with Jungle Formula insect repellent; this has a very bitter taste and can spoil a marsh cake eating experience. Cake eating is best left until winter or early spring; Christmas cake is a particularly good marsh snack in winter.

Finding a tawny owl on a leafy branch in early evening is often not easy; I see this one regularly, though. They are so still and well camouflaged that it takes me a while to get my eye in. I crept slowly along a line of trees, scanning them vertically and horizontally; even then, it’s easy to miss a perched owl. I walked up and down the tree line twice, before I found this one. I had looked high, and the owl was sitting low. Anyway, I achieved my goal this evening.

This owl looks like it is sleeping, but it is watching

the ground. It knows that mice will soon leave their underground nests, and it plans on eating one. The tawny will sit on its perch, motionless, until its prey appears. A mouse will poke its nose out to sniff the air. It will move slowly out into the open, sniffing the air and generally mooching about. Other mice might follow, all acting similarly: sniffing, nervously looking about in all directions, waiting for something to happen. I have watched this scenario play out:

The owl stiffens, awaiting the moment. The perch is five feet from the ground. It releases its grip on the perch and falls forward into a slow, noiseless, dive. Its wings open, talons outstretched, and it hits the ground. Mice scatter in all direction, and the owl takes off to eat its kill in another tree.

You gotta be there to see it! You could watch something similar on a television nature program. How often, though, do you see an owl make a kill on the telly, and I can tell you that it doesn’t have anything like the same impact of actually being there.

27 Comments on “Tawny owl.

    • Thanks, Hutch. Objectives are not always achieved with such easy in near perfect conditions. I hope I am as fortunate when I target the heronry.

      • Heronry is a pretty easy proposition around here it’s the other species mostly song birds that can be tricky.

      • The herons on the marsh are very tricky, and very difficult to get close to.

    • The herons and egrets here are pretty tricky also they are way people shy I guess there are just so many of them that it makes it easier to get shots of them. Plus I can sneak up on them with a boat.

  1. beautiful owl … and don’t those people with their dogs upset you … they come onto our beach with its highly endangered sand nesting birds and let their dogs run wild … ignoring the signs of course … i wish i understood what they are thinking so i could communicate with them meaningfully!

    • Understanding why people do what they do requires a huge amount of brain power, Christine. I daresay people have obtained PhDs with much less effort.
      In terms or dog walkers on the marsh, there are a number of reasons why people might not accept the ‘No Access’ signage and notices:

      1. One or two people have dogs that are so badly behaved that their owners find in less embarrassing to walk them in the seclusion of the marsh. They probably think that the marsh is not policed outside office hours.
      2. Some people believe that they have a God-given right to wander wherever they like.
      3. Other’s might believe that Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is financed by taxes, in which case they don’t see why they are not allowed to use the resource.
      4. Some people might not give nature and nature preservation a high priority.
      5. Others might just enjoy the experience of walking in a wild and quiet environment.
      6. A very small minority reject any kind of authority.

      As I have mentioned before, people with a genuine interest in the nature of the marsh can apply for an access permit, but this will not extend to their dogs.

      I see few unauthorised people on the marsh these days, so it is not a major issue. I’m interested in nature, and Wilden Marsh is an access controlled reserve. I don’t like to see the ground nesting areas ravaged by dogs, or by owners chasing after their uncontrollable dogs. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want protect animals during their nesting/mating season, especially when they are nesting on private land.

      Some of the law abiding dog walking residents that live around the marsh complain about the unauthorised dog walkers on the marsh, and I can understand why. 🙂

    • You have many more animal photo opportunities than I have, Vicki. I doubt that you would be envious of the boggy conditions, the thick vegetation and the clouds of biting insects. 🙂

      • I suppose you’re right, Mike.
        I hate mosquitos. They love my fair skin, but a bit of bog might be a nice change from asphalt or cement walking paths. There’s supposed to be owls in the Botanic Gardens near my home, but I’ve never seen them. I guess I go for a walk at the wrong time of day.

        I noticed the most recent Bird list from the Gardens Visitor Centre now includes 2 new birds which I photographed and identified for them – big thrill.

  2. Such magnificent animals, amazing predators — you’re so fortunate to have caught one in repose. We’re always looking, stalking our swamps for great-horneds and hoots — or burrowing if we’re really lucky, but we’ve never caught one in such a state. Lovely image!

  3. Mike, as you know I live overlooking the lagoon field and it annoys me intensely to see those black dog running riot when I and my dog are not allowed in that beautiful wild place. There must be something you can do. Is the lack of action anything to do with the husband working for the Police Force?

    • No Jill. The dog walker problem is currently under review. It has not been forgotten or brushed under the carpet. You have got to admit the problem is not as great as it was.

  4. Beautiful photo, Mike.
    Some dog owners really are a pain. While most will keep their dogs leashed and in control there’s always those few who don’t. I’ve watched the same woman with her spaniels (a natural bird hunting dog) walk a local park with her dogs unleashed and running through areas where Northern Flickers, Sandhill Cranes and a half dozen smaller bird species nest without so much as a second thought to the damage they cause.

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