It is nearly 3pm. The mid December Sun is dropping low to the Western horizon, casting long shadows across the meadow. The fishing is uneventful - typical of an impulsive midwinter foray. The river is swift, coloured and transports passenger debris downstream towards the confluence with her bigger Sister. The only nods to my rod tip are unseen leaves and twigs dragging the bait from anchor.
Restless, I reel in and wander the recently flooded grassland, taking care to avoid the deeper rivulets.
I am vaguely conscious of heading towards the isolated, long-dead crack Willow. I raise my head momentarily to measure progress and then all of a sudden an unseen Owl, disturbed, leaves the tree and swoops away.
Not quite able to process what I have seen, I gaze silently, open mouthed at the creature that is now a distant white flag in the darkening tree line.
It is slack tide – that time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The old year has ebbed, the new one yet to flood. I am driving along the lane past the meadow, returning from some or other seasonal family lunch engagement I can now no longer recall. My peripheral vision catches a glimpse again of something white, kiting low to high, then hovering......dropping.
The rains of the early January days have momentarily ceased, and I am determined to witness this creature again and try to capture him or her on film. I am sitting, or more accurately slowly sinking on a tripod stool in the marsh with my field glasses and video camera. Time slips by. The shadows lengthen once again, marginally later now we have passed the winter solstice.
To amuse myself I zoom in and out on the dark aperture in the trunk some 500m away. In the foreground a vixen sits, lazily yawning as the last warmth of the unexpected Sun lights her face. Time for her to hunt - time for all predators to hunt if they wish to survive.
I look at the camera screen, then up, then back to the screen. There - an emergent shape, peeking then disappearing again. Senses heightened, everything focused now on what is about to happen, I am hoping against hope - I wonder if I am the only person to see this? There is no one else around. I must be.
And then, the Owl waddles and hops blinking into the light. I see it, and, in time, it sees me. The Owls head bobs and weaves like a showboating boxer, before staring straight at me. “In the blue corner… Tyto ‘The Barn Owl ‘ Alba..”. Resplendent in a rich brown speckled cape and white fluffy trunks. Like the unlucky pugilist with too many mismatched fights under his belt, unseen, its left ear higher than its right to aid hunting ability.
The field glasses are raised but discarded as I remember I want to preserve this image with technology. The Owl begins its warm up repertoire. A few beak taps, a casual glance at a pair of rowdy jackdaws tumbling towards their roost as drunken revellers might.
Tuning in to rustles below, the Owl starts the serious business of finding food. This might be a short window between many more wet days. Head locked in, right foot raised, lowered, raised again and in an instant a bounce from the bough to a lower branch adjacent.
Satiated, I begin to pack away. I look at my watch.
It has just gone 3pm.
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