Beautiful Barn Owl

Photo credit- Gary Cox

Barn Owls are such beautiful birds that just to glimpse one in car headlights is a thrill, a saintly soul whose fleeting flight of fancy instantaneously makes your world a wondrous place. All too often, however, the silent wing beats that skip your heartbeat disappear all too soon.

So, to see one of these exquisite creatures not just as an apparition but for a prolonged period, in daylight, at close quarters and hunting to boot, is a transcendent privilege, an impeccable present from Mother Nature so powerful that you can preserve the memory in perpetuity.

Last week the wildlife Gods gloriously smiled on me in that very fashion, at Essex Wildlife Trust’s Tollesbury Wick nature reserve, on the north bank of the Blackwater Estuary. All the better that I was in the company of Peter Holmes, of BBC Essex, and that I had dragged him onto to the Wick with the specific goal of talking about – and, hopefully, seeing - an owl.

The Wick’s coastal grasslands are hunting grounds for Barn Owls and, occasionally, Short-eared Owls, as they are home to healthy numbers of favoured prey, especially voles. In winter and during the breeding season, Barn Owls often hunt in daylight, especially if food is scarce.

They remain elusive, however, so to see one almost as soon as we joined the seawall path was wonderful timing, even if the bird was distant and in flight - a pale, buoyant speck to the naked eye.

Yet, immediately, the bird turned and made gradual, graceful progress in our direction. The ghostly, heart-shaped face honed in on us before banking dramatically, almost on top of us, as if to say that, birdwatchers we may be but we must bow to the power of the owl’s ever-watchful eyes.

It swept upwards, swayed, and then dropped suddenly to the grasses in front of us. Suddenly statuesque, it turned its head to milk our acclaim, holding our gaze for several seconds before triumphantly departing to reveal a vole in its talons.

I like to think that this owl had singled us out and decided to show off its astonishing beauty and hunting prowess; a divine deity allowing mere mortals a peak at perfection. Certainly, it was a blissful few minutes that I will always cherish.