Old friends

posted in: Birds, Gloucestershire | 0

Who are you calling old??  said the owl.

I hastily explained that I’d actually been talking about the small but select group of owlers who were gathered at the wall junction this afternoon. And also, I was¬†referring to the fact that I hadn’t seen most of these lovely people for several years, rather than passing comment on their age – though to be fair, none of us is exactly a spring chicken.

Chicken??? said the owl. Where???

OK – this is getting out of hand. Start again.

When I got to the owl field (twenty minutes later than planned, due to an unflagged road closure that diverted me all the way back to Bourton on the Water), I’d barely got out of the car before I was hailed by one of the aforementioned old friends. “We were just talking about you,” said A. This statement always triggers a mild sense of panic in me, as I try to work out what I might have done that was bad enough to be worth talking about, but it turned out on this occasion that it was just being female: a young woman on her first visit to the field had looked around at the assembled guys, and asked if any other women ever did owling. Having made the list of female people who might reasonably be expected to turn up during the afternoon, I’d then duly arrived, to general satisfaction. My old mate D was there too, despite having shorties closer to home than this, and a little later B arrived as well (last mentioned when we met in the hide at Whelford), and the banter was flowing, and suddenly it started to feel like old times, and I realised how much I’ve missed all this through the intervening owl-free winters.

Also feeling like old times was the fact that the Short-eared Owls were largely uncooperative. There seem to be at least five on the scarp now, which is the same number as we had during the excellent 2019-20 season, and with the Wildlife Trusts estimating their lifespan at between four and twelve years it’s likely that some if not all are the same birds, and therefore experienced in the art of frustrating photographers. On the few occasions they deigned to hunt this afternoon they largely kept to the ridge line in the middle of the field – that is, out of sensible reach of any but the longest lenses – but mostly they went to ground and stayed there. My photo seems to have caught this one quartering, but in fact it had been sitting on this wall for several minutes, and I was taking a (hopelessly long-distance) portrait just for something to do, when it suddenly threw itself off the wall into the grass below and I happened to catch the moment.

When I arrived home R said, “How did you get on?”, and I replied, “Not bad – terrible photos, but great company.” One out of two still feels like a win, and as we know, there’s always tomorrow – when maybe the owls will play nicer.