Mrs Barn Owl joined us at 5.25. Melvyn ten minutes earlier.
The forecast gave this as the last decent dusk for a while, so here we were again watching this lovely bird. Her first appearance out on the grassland was short and she soon went back into the woods, presumably to fetch out her slumbering partner. As we waited for the next view, a pair of stonechats and a fly-over male peregrine kept us entertained.
She came out on her own, putting on a brief but superb show, plunging a couple of times like a missle into the nearby sward, before drifting over to the lake. She quickly returned, carrying prey - flying directly into the ivy covered roosting trees. Clearly to enjoy her snack (and share it with 'lazy boy'?). Eventually she finished eating and sat for a few glorious seconds on the edge of the carr, then glided off around the edge of the trees.
The light waned, but we were given one last view as she went back into the roost. We ambled back to our cars, putting the world to rights as we went.
We've been back several times to watch the barn owl. However, there are only so many ways that to say; beautiful, ghostly, floating and punctual. So in the meantime I'll just post a few of my efforts to capture ol' 'moggy' until I think of something to write. Stop cheering at the back, I know who you are.
Oo hang on, how about wispy?
The woods stand perfectly still, the air is calm and yet there is always one branch shaking like it has the crazy itches. What's that all about?
The cold hung heavily with the constant drone of commuter traffic. In complete contrast to the last time we searched for barn owls, when a peaceful silence shaped the atmosphere before their arrival. However, this was not the Haven, but the centre of Gosport - pause for 'jaws-like' dramatic music to start-up.
From experience, it seems that barn owls are good time-keepers and stick to a time-table, unlike waxwing. And sure enough at 5.11pm, the appointed time, the female flew out of the alder carr and into view. At first she simply made circuits, reconnoitring the field, flying stiff winged, like one of those elastic band powered toy aeroplanes.
Then 'old hushwing' started to hunt displaying great manoeuvrability; cartwheeling, hovering and plunging into the grass for prey. Drifting towards us she landed in a small tree a few feet away. She peered hunchbacked into the woods - we could just make out her markings, small teardrops trickling down her ochre-coloured back. A male emerged, he was much more ghost-like, white wings coloured blue-grey on the coverts and distinctly smaller. Together they floated over the meadow, gracefully performing an aerial ballet - beautiful. We watched for as long as the cold and light allowed us to, but eventually the dusk gave way to engulfing darkness and the white shadows mingled into the night.
The harebears are conspicuous by their absence. Apart from this worry, we set foot on the Haven, for the first time in ages. Enjoying some bar-tailed godwits and sanderling - good winter birds for the reserve and missing an Iceland gull (nothing new there then).
And, oh yes, the frogs are still doing unnecessaries in the pond.
As the hustle and bustle on the Hillhead sea-front began to settle to a background murmur and the light transformed from bright sunshine to a glorious glow, we tucked ourselves away on the canal and watched. Rosie immediately picked-up a flying barn owl in the distance, just before it disappeared, moving further up the valley. A promising start.
We waited. The light drained further, at first casting strong low shadows across the water meadows, the sort that artist's relish and then slowly faded as if someone was turning the dimmer switch down. We resigned ourselves to having only had that one brief view and thoughts drifted to hot soup or something a little stronger, when at the appointed time of four-thirty there she was, right in front of us. And with what light was left to us she peformed. Flying on silent wings as if controlled by a puppeteer,we were treated to a full performance. Quartering the meadow, she twisted, turned and cartwheeled in search of her breakfast.
Our last sight of her was as she landed in a sallow tree, startling a dozing wood pigeon out of its stupor. She slipped quietly out of the back of the tree and into the treacly dark of the night. Time for a toddy.
I had made quick notes and sketches on the spot, watching her constantly making marks without looking at the page. Then when we returned home I put colour to paper whilst the shapes and hues were still fresh in my mind.
Crikey that was almost lyrical for me. Anyway we had the Christmas craft fair at Titchfield Haven this weekend. I would like to thank everyone who braved the weather and came out to support us. At one point on Sunday afternoon there were so many familiar faces there from the past it felt like a throwback to the birding days of the 1980's - I had forgotten how loud they can be, so
apologies for frightening the other stallholders.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.