Chance Encounters

Friday was again glorious spring like weather.  With no gardening chores planned I decided we should take a drive out.  A visit to Sculthorpe Moor appealed, lots of photo opportunities there.  However on arrival the car park was crammed with maybe fifty plus vehicles.  When we have been here before there has never been more than ten other cars, and then it’s difficult to get a good seat in the observation hides.  Time for a plan B.

Headed out to the coast.  It’s the school half term holidays, brilliant weather, everywhere is busy.  Driving through Stiffkey with it’s very narrow, knapped flint wall lined roads I had a thought, Stiffkey Fen.  Pulled into the little lay-by with only one other car there.  A Marsh Harrier hunted the field opposite, so close, and I hadn’t yet got the camera out of the bag!  So off we went for our walk.  The path takes you alongside the tiny Stiffkey River which is probably no more than fifteen feet wide at most and overhung with brambles and branches.  Mrs H spotted movement on the far side, a Moorhen?  No a Water Rail!

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Movement on the far bank

The Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)  is a very shy and secretive bird.  They are fairly common in reedbeds and will give away their presence with an array of the most unusual calls, mostly grunts or groans but then a high pitched pig like squealing.  They will eat anything from small fish to seeds and berries and in severe winters have been recorded killing and eating small birds, even though they are not that big themselves.

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The red eye and facial expression gives the Water Rail an angry look

I really wanted to get some nice images of this fellow.  It was difficult, the Rail was creeping in and out of the tangle of branches in a shady spot, so I upped the iso.  There were only two spots I could look from where branches on my bank did not obscure the view, the slightest movement and the Water Rail ran into cover.  After a few minutes it would reappear, constantly flicking it’s tail and moving further upstream towards a clearer sunlit spot.  I lowered the iso, bad move!  Even when it was in the sunny area the shutter speed was too low.  Dozens of what would have been cracking images were wasted because of movement blur, I should have tried to take more time, not easy on a constantly moving bird!

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On the move again

There was another nice sighting.  When we were on the raised coastal path overlooking the fen a Barn Owl drifted by.

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Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Always strange to see an owl out hunting in bright sunshine.  Up here on the Norfolk coast it is something they tend to do, especially when the weather has been bad.  Well the weather has been great but it was lovely to watch, even more so when it was backlit by the sun, with a touch of mist over the reeds.

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The ghost-like Barn Owl

27 thoughts on “Chance Encounters

  1. First off, you stuck the blade in and turned it with that Barn Owl shot ha – I was soooo close to getting my first picture “with” one but as you know I was denied. Kudos to you for getting that in the tin. Now on to the Rail. Looks very similar to our Sora but a bit beefier and the bill is longer. If it behaves anything like our Rails, those shots had to take some patience not to mention having to deal with all the reeds grabbing the focus. Often heard, rarely seen for sure. Appears Mrs. H. is quite the asset when out in the field. Very nice adds to the tin, thanks for sharing (even Barney)

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    1. I just HAD to put in the Barn Owl shots after your disappointment at your dinner 😀 The Rail shots took some time for sure, even a quick shutterburst sent it scurrying in to cover! As I said in the post I should have kept the iso high, so many ruined shots, at least I got a handful that are ok.

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  2. Great shots of the Water Rail and Barn Owl, Brian! Your patience paid off, and after all, these difficulties are what make birding interesting. The Water Rail looks so much like the Virginia Rail over here that I looked it up to make sure it’s not just a different name for the same bird, but it’s unique, The Virginia Rail also grunts and makes odd noises. I’ve never seen a Barn Owl in the wild, although I heard one behind my house a couple months ago in the middle of the night while I was trying to take a flash picture of a Great Horned Owl on my roof. Again, congratulations on getting excellent shots of both!

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    1. Many thanks Ron, some days you just get lucky. Strange that in most parts Barn Owl is nocturnal yet here I see them quite often during the day. Funny thing with Water Rail, a few years back a pair used to come into the garden during the winter. This happened for a couple of winters. We have an overgrown ditch at the bottom of the garden which was good habitat, no chance of photographing them though, way to skittish!

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