February 23rd- barn owl

Out running yesterday afternoon, Tolly cycling alongside me, we saw a barn owl some 200 metres ahead. It was flying towards us, eyes down looking for food along the verge. We stopped and kept very still, it continued straight towards us, dropping suddenly into the grass about 50 metres away. The strike was fruitless and it powered up from the ground and continued heading right for us, 40, 30, 20,10 metres away! What a view, then it saw us; appearing almost to jump with shock it banked sharply away to its left, soon slowing down again to hunt over the rough grass that surrounds the young apple trees.

We were fortunate that on our return it was hunting in the same area. We stopped again after a good continuous spell of exercise! It perched on a near fence post. With strong late afternoon sunlight coming from our left the owl shone white and gold. This was a rare occasion where I had no optics or even a sketchbook. A view to just enjoy and remember. Away it went again, quartering the rough field occasionally dropping into the grass.

We have been unlucky this winter with barn owls. Several attempts at seeing one on the patch had been unsuccessful and we hadn’t encountered any on our regular walks. Like many of the best sightings this one was unexpected. I found a selection of old sketches when I returned home and used them to create these sketches from memory. What a beautiful bird, close up the markings on the wing and back feathers are so complex, but most views are an impression of rich ochre and pale grey set against those brilliant white underparts. This is what I strive to capture with sketches of the bird perched and in flight.

I like to paint the owl in its habitat, to try and picture it as I see it when I walk. The composition below is of a field near the village. I used the dense hawthorn on the left of the composition as cover. The owl has come through the hedge and the picture shows the moment just before the owl realised I was there. Each sighting of a barn owl feels like seeing a new species, a visual shock, the sheer beauty of this bird never fails to amaze and inspire.


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