By Marie Bradfield

As the evenings start to draw out it’s a great time to be out and about trying to get a glimpse of that ghost of the night, the barn owl.

Taking advantage of a recent calm evening I headed down to BBOWT’s Chimney Meadows Reserve and walked out to the bird hides.

Before entering the hide I took a moment to scan the boundaries of the field behind me and got lucky – a barn owl hunting in beautiful golden evening light.

Watching it suddenly stall and drop into the long grass I realised I was holding my breath – fortunately the owl quickly popped back up into sight – a close shave for one little bank vole.

The owl continued its slow flight along the hedge line before perching on a fencepost.

Watching through binoculars I could see its head moving continually and it was soon on the wing again floating low over the grass.

Although most of the barn owls I see are on BBOWT reserves, many sections of the Ridgeway, Thames Path and surrounding farmland also have areas worth exploring.

Concentrate your search on areas with lots of rough grass margins which provide good habitat for the owl’s favourite snack – the field vole.

If the night before was raining or very windy owls will quite often be out early the next day, well before dark, as they will be hungry.

Barn owls often fly really low, using their hearing to detect prey moving in the long grass.

When intent on feeding they can pass by quite close so just walk quietly and keep scanning low over the fields – the owl’s pale colouring, giving them that ghostly appearance, shows up well in the low light.

This habit of low flight can be a real problem – easily dazzled by car headlights owls often fly into the path of oncoming vehicles.

Many young don’t make it beyond the first year due to collisions with traffic.

When driving at night on country lanes look out for barn owls, if you spot one and it’s safe to do so, dip your headlights and drop your speed a bit, it would be heartbreaking to hit one!