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White Ghost of the Marshes…

‘Barn Owl’ I whisper to Mrs Waterland as we walk along the river from West Somerton.  To our right, what I think is a male Barn Owl is criss-crossing the marshes, looking for prey.

I have been lucky enough to film Barn Owls, once near Coltishall and a few times at Blickling, but I’ve never photographed one before.   I know their keen senses are finely tuned to detect sound and motion so it will easily hear the shutter noise of my camera.  I will only get one chance to get a good photo.

He turns away, and we take the opportunity to kneel behind a bank of reeds along the footpath and keep still.  To our delight he turns again and flies towards us.  I slowly bring the camera up to my eye, and my finger to the shutter button – and wait…

At Blickling a year or two earlier, we had been amazed when watching a Barn Owl quartering a field, to see it land on a fence post just six feet from where we stood.  We watched, transfixed, as it looked from left to right, and once, directly at us, yet was completely unaware we were there.  This was when I realised sound and motion are key with Barn Owls.  If you stand very still, you just might get lucky and see one up close. We were certainly lucky on that Autumn day.  It was a magical moment I’ll never forget.  After watching for a while, I could not resist the temptation of raising my camera to get a picture but almost before I had moved, it was gone…

This time I’m ready, but how close will he come?

As I keep the lens cross hairs firmly over the owl, my mind drifts to those who shoot animals for fun. Whether it be Lions, Tigers, Deer or just everyday Pheasants, I cannot begin to imagine how anyone can derive pleasure from killing an animal.  A defenceless, living creature that is doing all it can to survive and may be rearing a young family.  People who shoot animals for pleasure or sport are a different species to me.  They should take up photography.  It is more challenging and better for the soul.

Closer and closer the Barn Owl comes, and then he begins to wheel around, perhaps away?  This could be my only chance.  I gently squeeze the shutter and – clunk – immediately he turns his head and, for the briefest moment, our eyes meet and we are somehow connected, the white ghost of the marshes and I…

The White Ghost of the Marshes...

The White Ghost of the Marshes…

Above, includes footage of a Barn Owl filmed near Coltishall in 2009…

…and below, Barn Owls at Blickling…

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