I’ve always had a bit of a thing about owls. I was once quite stunned when an owl flew towards me down a dusky country bridleway, and then passed by within a few feet.
So yesterday it was something special when a barn owl (or Tyto alba) appeared at an RSPB ‘Raptor Watch’ event at Parkgate on the Wirral. Parkgate quay looks out towards North Wales over the marshes that comprise the estuary of the River Dee. The sun had disappeared behind the Welsh mountains, the light was fading fast and it was getting cold. The owl had come to feed.
Backwards and forwards he patrolled over the marshes, perfectly framed in my binoculars. Frequently he dropped down into the marsh grasses, disappearing from view, often just for a few seconds, only to reappear and resume the search. Then it was a longer period – he must have caught something. Suddenly a dark shape flashed by to where he had disappeared, reappearing seconds later, followed by the owl resuming his search. It seems a kestrel had stolen his dinner. This happened once again.
Mesmerised by the graceful spectacle of this huge bird hunting like a ghost in the fading light, it was only the cold that eventually forced us back to our van to warm up. The barn owl was still hunting, almost a spectre in the gathering dark.
I was too entranced to take the time to get the camera out – I knew that it was not up to getting decent pictures at that level of light. So I’ve searched Wikimedia Commons for pictures of barn owls in flight – here are some of the best. Click and click again to see a bigger image.
According to the RSPB, although populations declined in the 20th century, these birds are not currently under threat. Given that they feed on small animals they are clearly vulnerable to chemical farming.
Thanks to Steven Ward, Edd deane from Swaffham, I Luc Viatour, for making these images available on Wikimedia Commons.