My final trip out into the great British countryside, brought 2019 to a thrilling close.
I had joined a WhatsApp group of friends that keeps a shared lookout for the enigmatic Short-eared Owls, at a (not so) top secret location in The Cotswolds.
As autumn turned to winter, local Group members (that would be you Steve!) had done a super job on watching out for their much anticipated arrival back from points North and East where they had spent the Summer, doing what comes naturally!
The destination of some (we hoped), was to be a group of fields encircled by lovely Cotswold stone walls and left fallow, subsequently becoming ideal 'Shortie' roosting and feeding territory, with Vole abundant tussocky grass providing for both purposes.
These charismatic Owls are 'unusual' as they are partly Diurnal rather than the more familiar resident (Crepuscular) Barn Owl and (Nocturnal) Tawny Owl.
This is very good news for enthusiastic Owl loving wildlife photographers, for on a good day they show well in daylight often towards the end of the afternoon, but sometimes throughout the day.
Groups of well informed photographers (it seems WhatsApp has a lot to answer for!), had gathered along the Cotswold stone walls hoping to secure a decent view on a sunny, not-too-windy afternoon, with the light almost perfect for photography.
I got there 'early', gambled on a spot that would deliver great views if the Owls chose the field in view, (but not - if they chose the next door field!) Luckily, the bet paid out in the form some lively encounters as the Owls quartered their winter territory, bewitching their watchers with their slow wing beats and dramatic 'kill-dives' to dispatch yet another unfortunate Vole.
These beautiful raptors generate a slightly obsessive response in birders and wildlife photographers alike. I think it's probably their golden yellow eyes that seem to fix you with a stare, which must be terrifying from a Vole's perspective as it is thrilling from the human point of view.
The afternoon finished with some low flyby's though the late afternoon golden light and wintery shade, leaving us ecstatic onlookers hoping we'd managed to capture photographically what we were seeing and looking forward already to our next visit.
What an afternoon enjoying some of the very best sights winter in the British countryside can bring.
Happy New Year everyone - lets hope 2020 turns out to deliver some more wonderful moments in the WILDerness like this!