Tawney Owls, New Garden setup, Lockdown Rules, Landscape photo and Reptiles on Dartmoor

June 04, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon, England 

I hope you are all safe and well, and bearing up with what is going on with all this Covid 19 business.

In the last Wildlife Photography blog I told you about an incident that happened whilst I was driving home which involved a Tawney Owl. (www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/coronavirus-corvid-19-lockdown-period-keeping-busy-wildlife-photography-wise). This is not the first time this type of thing has happened to me. Quite a few years ago when I lived in Hampshire I was driving to work. The time was about 5am, I started work at 5:45am, and I was driving up hill when a Tawney Owl flew out of a wood on my right and “landed” on the bonnet of my car, I did not hit it, it just dropped onto my car! I immediately stopped; luckily I was driving slowly keeping a watch out for wildlife as I quite often saw either a Fox or Fallow Deer along this road. As I stopped the Tawney Owl slid forward and onto the road in front. I got out of the car and the Owl was standing on its feet but looked a bit wobbly. It was quite a small owl so I picked it up, keeping its talons out of harm’s way, walked to the side of the road and placed it there. I stood there watching it for a few minutes and it did not appear to be acting normally. Therefore I picked it up again and placed it in a large box in the boot of my car. I continued my drive to work and informed my boss what happened. After 9am I took the Owl to the Hawk Conservancy Trust at Weyhill just outside Andover (www.hawk-conservancy.org/) not far from where I worked. I told them what had happened and they gave the Owl a quick check over, all appeared to be OK, but they said they would keep it in for a couple of weeks just to make sure. Three weeks later a received a phone call from them stating that the Tawney Owl had been a bit underweight but is now fine and I could collect it so that it could be released near where the incident happened. That afternoon I picked it up and took it to a Forestry Commission wood which was at the top of the hill near where I had found it. I walked down a track, away from the road, and placed the box on the ground. I opened the top, stood back and after a couple of seconds out flew the Owl. It flew down the track a little bit and then up into a tree and it did look bigger than when I first saw it. It stayed there for a few minutes before flying into the wood. I can tell you there is no better feeling then seeing wildlife, which was “injured” recovering and being reintroduced into its natural home. I can fully understand what the people that work in animal / wildlife rehabilitation centres feel like when they care for the animals / wildlife and then let them go when they have got better. Fantastic.

At the beginning of the month I started redoing my Wildlife photography garden setup in our field. Over the winter months most of my hard work setting it up was ruined by the weather, as we had some quite strong winds, therefore I started rebuilding it again. The “stone wall” on my bench had fallen down and my camouflaged background had been ripped to pieces. The background was renewed as I have got lots of bits and pieces of this and it’s very diffused in my images anyway, so you can’t tell what it is. I put up the bird feeders again and will leave it like that so the birds will get used to it before I gradually introduce more to the setup. I visited it in the evening and from a distance I could see two birds on the sunflower hearts. I moved slightly closer and could see that they were a male and female Siskin, a bird I had not seen in my garden before.

Over the next couple of weeks I rebuilt the stone wall on to of our “park bench”. I cleared out the two drain pipes and stuck different branches in them and also covered up the fence in the background.

Just as I am writing this blog the government has changed to Lockdown rules. One of which is that you can go out using your car and go to an area to exercise all day. You can even go to a park, sit there, watch the day go by as long as you stick to the social distancing rules. With this in mind I will now go out onto Dartmoor with my camera and hope people will keep away. Then again there are not many people about on Dartmoor at the time I go out now, 5am.

For the last few weeks I have had an image in my mind that I want to take. Surprisingly this image is not a wildlife image, it is a landscape one. I got my inspiration from a digital magazine I found whilst on the internet. The image was taken not far from my home so I visited and reconnoitered the area and noted several positions where I could take a photo from. I did not want to position the legs of my tripod in the same three holes and take the same photograph as the other photographer has, I wanted the image to be my own. The image I want to take is of a sunset with Dartmoor tors strategically placed within. The sunsets recently have been good but not great. The reason for this is that with constant blue skies, that we have been having recently, there have been no clouds. The colour in the sky is there as the sun goes down but I want pink, red, orange, purple, yellow clouds to enhance the sky. All my camera equipment that I need is ready just to grab and go and I look around the sky each evening, at about 6pm, and wait for some favourable clouds, this is England so they will come. I know true landscape photographers would be out there, all set up, waiting for the light, but this does not appeal to me one bit. Like I’ve said before I can wait for ages for wildlife to appear to photograph it, but get so bored waiting for the light for a landscape shot. That’s why I take my hat off to landscape photographers who make the effort and are out there in all weathers waiting for a break in the clouds (I wish I could have some of these b***** clouds!) to get an image but go home most of the time with nothing. I’ll wait for some clouds at home but knowing my luck the blue skies will turn to grey! “Alert” as I am writing this, on the morning of 02/06/20 I can see clouds so you never know tonight might be the night, keep fingers crossed. (See Below)

Whilst out the other day with Murphy, my little dog, on his mid-day walk a Lizard ran across in front of us from one side of the path to the other. I ran towards it to find out what type it was but it disappeared in amongst the vegetation before I could see it properly. When I got home I did some research and found out that there are only three types of lizard in England, the Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), the Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). I ruled out the Slow-worm straight away as this is a legless lizard and looks like a snake. I also ruled out a Sand lizard as this is bright green in colour and lives on sandy heathland, the one I saw was brown. Therefore it could only have been a Common lizard. I was quite chuffed as it is the first Common lizard I have seen in England. As I walk early in the morning I’m surprised by not seeing more of them basking in the sunshine to warm up before darting off to catch insects. There are several reptiles on Dartmoor including: - Grass snake (Natrix helvetica), Adder (Vipera berus), Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and the Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis). All are rare to spot but the only one to beware of is the adder as it’s the UK’s only venomous snake. I have only ever seen one on Dartmoor as they are not as numerous as once was. There are many walkers that despite years of hiking on the moors have never seen one so I was lucky. The snake was all coiled up in the middle of a track basking in the sunlight. I stayed with it for a while watching it and informing people walking along the track, especially those with dogs to put them on leads as a bite from an Adder can be fatal. These snakes are quite shy and tend to emerge only to bask in the sunlight. They like to live in woodland, moorland and heathland, so Dartmoor is the perfect spot for these reptiles. According to “Legendary Dartmoor” www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/adder_lore.htm they are called “long cripples” and on Dartmoor adders sting not bite! One of the Dartmoor beliefs is that if anything has been bitten by one it cannot recover until the snake is dead and another belief is that an adder can’t die until the sun goes down! If you see one please leave it alone as they are protected by law, The Wildlife and Countryside Act. Read more including several bite / sting cures on the website above.

Continuing on from my attempted landscape photograph there were great clouds until about 5pm and then they seemed to disappear and melded into one great thin grey blanket. I still kept my fingers crossed that it would break up and by 6:30pm there was just a thin band of this blanket. I grabbed my equipment and set off to the car park. I trudged up the tor which took me nearly an hour to get to the top which included a few stops on the way. WHY do you have to walk so far to get good landscape photos? Also how come I don’t notice all the walking when I am after wildlife! At the top I looked around and thought that as it was a bit breezy the cloud line (grey blanket) should move on and the great thin wispy clouds behind it should be in the right position in the sky when the sun sets. So I set up my tripod and camera and sat down to wait for the right time, or decisive moment as Henri Cartier-Bresson would say. (If you want more information use this link https://petapixel.com/2020/04/25/a-look-at-the-decisive-moment-by-henri-cartier-bresson/ or www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography). As I sat there waiting the wind died down which made it quite pleasant but it was not going to move the grey blanket. An hour later I was joined by several sheep which I had to chase off as I did not want them in my image and I did not want the hassle of cloning them out of the image. Once I achieved this I returned to my vigil and whilst sat there I was joined by several Wheatears, if only I had brought my telephoto lens with me.


Another hour passed and the grey blanket was now right along the horizon where the sun was going to set. The thin wispy clouds were in the perfect position for my image but there was still no light. Three hours after I had set up my equipment I started packing up. All nature had given me was a very broken thin strip of red glow along the horizon. I walked back to the car contemplating that I hate waiting for the light for landscape photography, then again when the light is right you can get some great results. You’ve got to put the effort in to get good results and this relates to wildlife photography as well so I’ll be back. I put my leather jacket and sunglasses on thinking, where have I heard that phrase before?

Take care and stay safe.


If you like my blogs then please sign and leave a comment on my Guestbook page www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/guestbook.html and Subscribe by pressing the RSS button at the bottom left of the page.

Also available are Digital Photography Tuition Including Post Processing Workflow, Dartmoor Bird & Wildlife Workshops and Talks (Please see the Workshops & Talks Tabs at the top of the website).

If you choose to stay at our Holiday Cottage / B&B www.acorn-lodge-dartmoor.co.uk at the time of the workshop then you will receive a discount on your tuition and accommodation. 



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