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.