The happy discovery of a tawny owl family in my garden, made me long to have the opportunity to observe owls more closely, but I was very conscious that my intrusion might prompt them to move on, and I didn’t want to risk that. I wanted to make a print of a Tawny Owl, but I find it difficult using only photographs for reference. I need to make drawings, take my own pictures that focus on my interest and viewpoint and, most importantly, observe their behaviour. As nocturnal birds, this wasn’t going to be easy and a plan needed to be hatched.
Through the wonders of Twitter I discovered Bawdsey Hall, on the Suffolk coast, who offered the opportunity to watch wildlife and take photographs, of both Little and Tawny Owls, as well as badgers. This seemed to be a possible solution and a visit was booked.
David Hermon is a wildlife photographer who has, over the past seven years, established the perfect habitat for birds and beasts at Bawdsey. He has carefully set up two hides, lit by unobtrusive lighting, in the grounds of the Hall, which allows the visitor to observe the nightly shenanigans of the creatures that live there. His patience and knowledge has been rewarded by resident Little Owls, who forage on the lawns each evening, and a pair of Tawny Owls that now know that food is awaiting them each night on perches outside the hides.
The evening was spent sitting on the terrace, watching the adventurous and perky Little Owls, while being entertained by David’s anecdotes about how he had established this place and what might be expected during the night ahead. His knowledge, enthusiasm and good humour made a wonderful build-up to the main show that awaited us.
At 10.30 we progressed to the hide. Both owls and badgers are very sensitive to noise and disturbance and so now we advanced quietly, the hushed atmosphere only adding to the sense of anticipation. There was something quite magical about entering this dark and unknown realm. As a lark, rather than a night-owl, I feared that tiredness would overtake me, but the sense of expectancy and excitement meant that I was alert and eager to watch whatever appeared.
In the waiting silence I watched moths dance around the thistles and was entranced as they sipped the nectar, their wings blurred in the soft light. I remember thinking that this alone was worth coming for, but then a fleeting flurry of pale wings snatched the food from the post a few feet away as the female Tawny swept in to snatch her prey. She disappeared into the darkness and I was left breathless at her speed and silent entry. David crept outside to renew the food in the hope that she might return, and again we sat and waited.
My camera was cradled on a bean bag on the sill of the hide and I hadn’t even pressed the button. I really hoped I would have another chance.
We waited again. Mosquitoes whined about my head and I tried not to move.
The male then swooped in, but instead of leaving with his prey, he perched and observed with watchful wariness. The meat was clutched in his claws and he seemed in no hurry. I focused and pressed the shutter, hopeful that it would work. The owl just sat and gazed, his huge black eyes scanning the woods around him. Seeing such wildlife on film, while wonderful to see, doesn’t prepare you for an encounter such as this. The moment you see a wild owl in his own world, a few feet away, is an exhilarating experience. Tawny owls, in their nut brown softness, are the archetypal cute owl, but this belies their formidable, brutal nature. Seeing them in this environment shows what fearsome and silent slayers they are.
The owl suddenly swept up in to an oak a little further away and we watched as he tore apart his find and then he seemed to hop among the branches for seemingly no other purpose other than to enjoy himself. A few minutes later he too flew in to the blackness and, for that night, the encounter with owls was over.
Note: I might add that this is not a sponsored post, but rather I wanted to share my experience of Bawdsey Hall with those who might enjoy it too. You can find them on Twitter @Bawdsey_Hall