Beautiful barn owl experience
28/01/11Back to Sheppey yesterday to try out my new purchase - a Canon 500mm F4 telephoto lens. Previous visits had underlined the need for as much focal length as possible, especially for the shy marsh harriers, which always maintain their distance.
I started the day at the raptor viewing platform at Capel Fleet, and had good views of three marsh harriers from the car. Unfortunately the light was a bit dull, which made decent flight shots almost impossible. After a couple of hours there wasn't much going on, and as I was freezing my proverbials off in the bitter winter wind, I decided to head over to Elmley Marshes RSPB reserve, for the shelter and relative luxury of their hides.
The walk from the car park to the first hide was a challenge, unused as I am to lugging the big lens and tripod around. It's a good mile and a quarter walk, so I was grateful for a bit of a rest at the end. Apart from a distant view of a male marsh harrier, it seemed a little quiet. In the second hide there was more action however, with a good close view of a female hen harrier (she was too quick for me to get a shot of unfortunately), and a new species for me in the shape of a little merlin sitting on a gate post about 100 metres away.
The best was saved for last however, when the sun finally came out and I was treated to great views of a beautiful barn owl hunting for it's supper. It came within 20 metres of the hide - which by then I had all to myself. Although I managed some decent shots, I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity as I didn't really nail them. Unfortunately not being used to tracking birds in flight using a tripod and gimbal head, it was a bit hit and miss as I kept either losing focus or failing to get the owl in the centre of frame. More practice definitely required - and I hope I get another chance that good!