I’ve been photographing wildlife for a while now, and getting a dry day with no photos is not unusual. Monday was a very dry day, in very sense – baking hot and I saw next to nothing, which was doubling upsetting because I’d driven hundreds of miles and taken some leave to try and photograph several hard-to-see butterflies. So when Tuesday, my last day, dawned I decided to be up early but stick to my local patch. The woodland was cool and damp and I had hardly entered when I saw a Roe Deer buck grazing. It spotted me, hesitated and trotted away.
A few hundred yards further on, and something small fluttered down from the trees above me. It was a White-Letter Hairstreak, one of the butterflies I’d been looking for – not rare, but a priority species because it is an elm specialist and English elms were decimated by dutch elm disease in the 1980s. It starting drinking the faint dew on the grasses, indicating just how dry the weather had been.
Moments later, it was joined by the Purple Hairstreak, another butterfly I’d been hunting for. This one is an Oak specialist – its scientific name is “Favonius Quercus” which roughly translates to “Oak lover”. It’s common, but prefers to fly a the tops of the trees and rarely descends low enough for people to see.
My run of luck continued – I saw a young fox cub, a Dark Green Fritillary, a white admiral and a silver-washed Fritillary, all good butterflies to see.
I returned to the same woodland in the evening, hoping that perhaps the cooler evening air might entice a few more butterflies down. None did, and at 6:30pm, I walked back to the car park. Right where I’d seen the Roe Deer several hours earlier, a large bird flew across the path in front of me. It perched at the top of a nearby Ash and I felt my pulse race. For the first time in my life, I was looking at a wild Tawny Owl, a bird I have longed to see for years. I was carry just my small closeup butterfly lens, so took a quick snap, then walked slowly until I was out sight of the Owl before sprinting hell-for-leather for my car and the big telephoto lens I had there.
You know how it is when you’re desperate. I dropped the car keys. I couldn’t get the tripod set up. I nearly dropped the camera. Eventually, flushed and shaking, I sprinted back into the woodland carry my big lens just as fast as a tubby unfit bloke with dodgy knees can. The Owl had vanished. I started to put the camera down and head back to the car when I realised it was still there – it had just moved slightly. I brought the camera up, and the Owl stared straight down the lens. The sun was setting and the light was poor, so I adjusted settings and took picture after picture, hedging my bets. And just when I reached the point where I’d run out of ideas and thought I’d try and get a little closer, the Owl flew off.
On Monday I’d driven hundreds of miles and ended up hot, tired and empty-handed. On Tuesday I drove five and had the best day’s wildlife encounters I’ve ever had. And that is why I do what I do.