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Friday, 22 February 2013

Signs of Spring, a Barn Owl, and the Skinless Shrew...

I lay in bed thinking. The half moon glows through the open curtains, faintly lighting my room. I wonder whether the great hunter has had any success since our meeting a few hours before. I wonder if it is still quartering the fields, perfectly focusing its senses onto finding its prey. Its deep steady wing beats as it silently moves through the air. Suddenly, the owl banks, spreading its wings. It sweeps sideways and plummets into the reedy undergrowth. Effortlessly, it lifts itself up, with a small mammal hanging in the grasp of its talons. There is something magic about the Barn Owl. I stumbled across one whilst I walked with Ellie at dusk earlier in the day. Initially, I had been enjoying the partial cloud cover, as the setting sun lit their undersides with pale pinks and deep oranges. The air was still. And the scent of river water hung in the air. 

The sun begins to set over the Ivel

Hanging over the River

And then, the Barn Owl. Impossible to miss; with their huge wingspan, bright white and a steady flight. I caught a glimpse as it dived for prey. Missing after its first attempt, the owl took a second dive only seconds after its first. Its moments like this where the excitement, adrenalin and pure joy at such an encounter takes over. I crouched myself into the ditch, no longer worrying what people might think coming across a man crouched in the reeds, and watched as the owl turned and flew straight towards me. I can be fairly self-conscious sometimes, especially nowadays. It can not always look good, creeping around bushes with a camera in hand. Thoughts of having my photo library searched by police to prove that I was not photographing the school kids in the playground, but instead the charms of goldfinch feeding in the hedgerows, occasionally happen. My mind digresses, as it often does.

The Barn Owl after two unsuccessful dives

The owl then crossed the river, and disappeared beyond the woodland. Continuing on its quest to sustain its bodies energy demands. Later on, from the ditch beside the track, no more than three or four feet away, the owl lifted itself up and flew away, before turning across the field and, once again, disappearing into the diminishing light. Incredibly, a Barn Owls sense of hearing is so good, that they can catch small prey in total darkness, without the need for their vision (which also happens to be excellent as well). One ear is positioned slightly higher than the other, a bit like Sloth from the Goonies, to enable them to pinpoint sounds exactly. Although, I do not think Sloth benefited in the same way...

Into dusk

Hunting at dusk, under the watchful eye of the Moon - about 384,000 km away

Snowdrops. Or snow piercers as they are known in France. A sign that spring is soon to be arriving here in the UK. Mistakenly thought to be British, these flowers are non-native invaders, thought to have been brought over from mainland Europe in the sixteenth century.

Piercing their way through the Earth
Like an army of small spears, the flowering stalks grow upright in clusters spread across woodland floor.

Drops of 'snow'

Eventually, the flower heads open up and drop. Hanging in a sober fashion, they carpet the woodland floor with bright white. And, despite being non-native, they are a very attractive plant that lifts the British spirit. They are a sign of brighter, warmer and longer days, with an air filled with the sex driven sound of bird song. Already excited!
This woodland has been well and truly pierced

Making the most of the recent sunny weather, here are a couple of shots walking in the river with Sky...

Trying to hunt moorhen, like something out of The Deliverance...

Light on the river
The Barn Owl seems to be reliably hunting the same patch, and I hope to return in the days to come. I promised some photos of the taxidermy effort of the shrew I found whilst walking Sky. Instead of posting them here, I have decided to dedicate this blog to all things wild and alive; and all things dead and taxidermy here:

Also, it was National Nest Box Week recently. Check out the website, and give some birds a safe place to lay some eggs this year !

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