Easter at Lemsford Springs & the great Barn Owl stake-out

Quite a lot has happened since my last post and it all came together through twitter. A few weeks ago I posted a twitpic of a treecreeper. @lmasseyimages (Luke for the rest of this blog entry) commented, letting me know they are regularly seen at HMWT Lemsford Springs Reserve. A few tweets later and I had agreed to join Luke at the reserve on Easter Sunday as part of a working party. Easter Sunday was a super, bright day and I joined Luke, Barry the warden and a few other hardy volunteers in cutting some willow poles to make a viewing screen by the water-cress beds and cut back some trees at the end of the reserve. Luke’s iphone picture shows the results of our efforts.

The morning was great fun. Nice people, a sharing of birding and wildlife stories over coffee and for me now a regular monthly date in my diary. Aquaintance made, Luke and I shared further stories and I told him of my local barn owl. Never having seen one in daylight, I said we’d keep in touch and maybe get together to take some pictures. Over the next few days with a little bit of squirreling around and detective work I had a feeling I’d identified the roost site. An hour and half’s stake out later my suspiscions were confirmed and I shared the news with Luke.

Taking advantage of the great spring weather we’ve been enjoying recently and those lovely long student holidays he headed over last Thursday evening and set himself up in the field to wait it out. I picked up on Twitter that he was in position and was racked with the nerves and tension, hoping that my information turned up gold. I headed home shortly after, changed and headed over to the site. Happy to say I arrived in the field just as the Barn Owl emerged from its roost and I could see Luke’s hide a few short yards away. My relief turned to uncertainty as to how close to approach, knowing that I hadn’t been sitting in a hide for 2 hours and not wanting to mess things up. I was 300 yards away, so I decided to risk a tentative creep up the hedge line for a closer view of the action.
What then unfolded was 30 minutes of beautiful Barn Owl viewing, the bird seemingly oblivious to both of us in the field as it quartered the long grass looking for prey, occasionally disappearing to nearby fields before returning again to it’s prime hunting territory. After half an hour I retreated, leaving Luke to enjoy the dieing golden rays of the sun and the reverie of a wonderful ringside seat of a magnificent bird in its natural environment.
As you can imagine, I was desperate to see what Luke managed to capture from his close-up viewpoint. I think the experience is best summed up by Luke himself in one of his ‘tweets’ that night;

Got a stupid big grin walking back to the car. What a show!!! Owl was awesome and appeared earlier than scheduled. Thanks @markwilkinson1
I was very happy to have helped and find Luke’s pictures absolutely stunning, a collection of which are below, reproduced with Luke’s permission. If you’d like to follow Luke you can find him on twitter as @lmasseyimages and view more of his photos on his Picassa account.



  1. Lovely post, Mark. And Luke's pix are spectacular. Twitter, eh? Amazing.

  2. He did a great job.
    We've both been back to the site since and it looks as though the owl has now moved on. The thinking is that this was not a nest site but a roost as it is quite derelict inside. We suspect the owl has now moved to pair with a mate and hunt there. This fits with my sightings in that I haven't seen the bird in previous summers close to us in the village, but have in previous winters and springs.

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