After the wettest year on record, New Year's Day 2013 turned out dry and largely sunny with a blustery breeze. The barn owl that has been regularly seen off the Steart Road by what have been dubbed the 'newt ponds', was quick off the mark and was seen hunting as early as 8am this morning. I visited on three occasions and watched it hunting on all three from 10am through to 3.30pm. This morning it was clearly hampered by the wind and all through the day it has had a pattern of short flights and then periods of sitting either in or just out of sight. While sitting on various perches it has continued to scan for prey. This pattern is in marked contrast to when I last photographed it during a brief gap in the rain when it hunted on the wing more or less continually. On that occasion there was little wind.
There is at least one kestrel that hunts in overlapping territory and one one occasion today the kestrel knocked the owl to the ground even though the owl was hunting rather than flying with prey. When the kestrel had moved off, I was relieved to see the barn owl fly up and start hunting again.
Technical note: With low angle warm sunshine, ISO could be kept fairly low and much of the time it was under 800 - much better for noise control than when I last photographed the owl. Contrast was naturally higher with the pale areas of the owl being tricky to expose correctly. I tend to use manual settings and fire some test shots of the actual subject to check for 'blinkies' - areas of overexposure that flash when the picture is examined on the back of the camera. I've found that a shutter speed of 1000 and over is generally adequate to freeze the action of the barn owl and have used the widest open f-stop of f5.6 for the 600mm f4 combined with 1.4x teleconverter that I've been using.