Last Friday, for the first time, I watched the Coldwaltham barn owls hunting which was very special. However, the birds were a bit distant so we decided to go and see the Southease owls on our next outing. I had been told that they usually show very well so I was hoping for a fab time with these magical creatures.
A fellow birder was the first person to photograph the 'dark-breasted barn owl' at Southease and birders and twitchers have been travelling to East Sussex just to see this particular individual.
I knew that this bird likes to hunt by the bridge and quite a few birders were already there, scanning the fields and riverbank with their bins.
So as I didn't mind what colour owl I might get to see, we walked away from the bridge and waited. About an hour later, a barn owl flew in and towards me, repeatedly going down and flying up again, not having caught a vole. What a sight! Awesome. Apparently it was also the dark-breasted individual I was watching. The bird has a dark chest and buff underparts (no white as you would normally expect), very dark grey on its wings and its facial disc is lined with dark feathers.
As one of its 'normal' coloured cousins flew past, the difference was actually quite striking.
Back on the bridge, we were treated to cracking views, again of the darker bird. Absolutely amazing.
While waiting for the owl to reappear, we had a chat with a barn owl expert who kindly explained that a male barn owl is all white under his wings whereas a female has dark dots - so we established that the dark-breasted bird is probably a female!
I don't know if this bird really is a guttata or an intergrade or 'just' a dark alba. Whatever its race and origin, for me it is and will always be the first barn owl that gave me fantastic views while it was looking for supper - which is all that matters to me. I can't wait to see more barn owls of any colour very soon!