The early bird catches the worm... or mouse... or vole!

I had recently heard a rumour that a barn owl had taken up its early morning hunting habits in the meadow backing onto our estate.

In the 13 years we have lived here I still haven’t seen a barn owl, nor heard one come to that. The tawny owls at certain times of the year are well renowned round here for their nightly “twit twooing” antics at any given time of the night, often waking us up – their vocal presence always coincides nicely with the run up to Christmas, thus resulting in us telling the children (and our neighbours little boy) that they are Father Christmas’ messengers checking that they are going to bed early and behaving.

A couple of Friday’s back I was out walking the dogs early before work. The sun was just starting to rise causing the edges of the clouds to become tinted pink like candyfloss and the air was cool and crisp. Just as I became adjacent to the meadow a sudden flash of cream and white whistled past me. There in all his glory was a Barn Owl. He manoeuvred around silently and looked so majestic as he quartered back and forth across the meadow looking for his breakfast snack.

I had to break my concentration on the barn owl when I realised I had been watching him for a couple of minutes and I had yet to finish getting everything ready for work; reluctantly I walked on and watched him gently glide across to the other field as I turned back onto the housing estate.

As much as I fancied a lay in on the Saturday morning I instead set my alarm to get up early in the hope it wasn’t wet and that the barn owl would reveal himself again in all his glorious splendour.

Early Saturday morning my watch buzzed on my wrist to indicate it was time to wake up or I would miss the morning spectacle. A quick look out the curtains and I noted the skies were clear and the sun was starting to rise on the horizon.

No-one else in the house was stirring and after sneaking downstairs I realised I had stupidly left my North Face jacket in the bedroom so I instead slipped on my lighter blue Craghoppers one – fatal error number’s one and two!

To prevent the dogs waking anyone else up I had to quickly sneak them an early breakfast and in doing so left myself short on time.

I hastily grabbed my Nikon camera and shot out the back door in a stealth, silent, ninja like motion so as to remain as quiet as possible. A quick trot round the block and onto the lane that runs to the meadow I was already regretting my choice of coat and not putting a fleece on underneath; it was bitterly cold. As I got to the edge of the meadow, right on cue, the barn owl flew out from a gap between two houses and glided onto the meadow. I grabbed my camera to start snapping away, however today he seemed a little hesitant to get as close as the day before when I was walking – mistake number two was my jacket was the most uncamouflaged colour possible, unless I was planning on hiding in a cobalt blue coloured field!

Fortunately for me a ditch was in front of me by a hedge and knowing I probably didn’t have much time to try and get a shot I jumped into the ditch. It was about now that I could no longer feel my fingers as the wind had picked up and biting through me with its arctic chill. I was struggling to get the correct setting on the camera in time for the light change and was about to give up hope… however, just as it looked like I wouldn’t get my photo the barn owl took a sudden change in his direction and headed straight towards me.

A quick fumble with the manual settings and change of aperture, followed by a couple of snaps, the barn owl flew straight past me swooped, grabbed a non-descript rodent and took off to leave the meadow from whence he came.

I quickly put my camera back in its bag, swung it round my neck and jumped out of the ditch to head home to warm up and have a look to see if I had taken a shot of anything worthwhile. The results were not bad for a rushed ten minutes in the freezing cold!

As they say…the early bird catches the worm… or mouse… or vole! 😊

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