A Shady Deal

July 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

Pied Billed Grebe

The status of the Whinchat in the Pennines is very precarious and another year has gone without me encountering a breeding pair. It is a bird that I look forward to seeing when I go to Islay where they are still relatively common. Why there has been a drastic decline in the Pennines is open to conjecture but over grazing and global warming must come into play.

After forty years of filming birds I thought that I had encountered everything that could possibly go wrong in the pursuit of a photograph but events this week couldn’t possibly have been scripted. I had seen a Long Eared Owl out hunting over a moor between 8pm and 9pm and then feeding three fledged young in the forest nearby. To film this hunting male I would have to hide under my camouflage cloth and await his flight, which hopefully would take him past me. The only drawback was that in the forest there was a well used public footpath but perhaps the dog walkers would have gone home by that time of night? Filled with excitement of the challenge I arrived on night one in perfect conditions and by 8pm I was hidden away under my cloth waiting for him to commence hunting. However, at 8.10pm, a lady arrived with four dogs which she liberated to run amok along the forest path. Ten minutes later she walked back to her car with three dogs, one having gone missing. Over the next twenty minutes she shouted incessantly for the missing dog which finally returned to her. During this period the young Long Eared Owls stopped calling for food so there was no chance of the male hunting, as it is the calls of the young that trigger his hunting to fulfil their hunger. I went home dejected and no film! I was not going to be beaten so the following night I was back under the cloth waiting. Unfortunately so was the woman with the four dogs and yet again one dog failed to return with her so she spent another twenty minutes shouting its name which echoed through the forest. If that wasn’t enough the whole area was inundated with police as a body had been found in the reservoir. Failure again! Night three was perfect – sunshine, no midges and no people. The young owls started to call and the male was about to hunt when all of a sudden a van came over the moor and pulled off the road directly above where I was hidden. The passenger window was slightly open and the couple inside started to distribute the proceeds of the drug sales that they had achieved that night ! I prayed that they did not get out of the van otherwise there might have been another body in the reservoir, ie mine. Needless to say I failed to obtain any film and have given up on this family of Long Eared Owls.