5th March, 2016. Nature’s Nest Resort, Goa. 7.30pm.
We set out with headlights and torches in search of night birds. Our main aim is nightjars but a resident brown hawk owl is a possible bonus.
Holding his smartphone high, Omkar plays a sound recording and for the very first time I get to hear a brown hawk owl call.
What’s more, I’m not the only one to hear it. We get an immediate response.
Directing the torch beam towards the responder we spot the owl, perched high on a palm tree about thirty yards away. Unfortunately the light is too poor to autofocus. By the time I clumsily try to simultaneously manually focus and adjust the camera settings, the bird flies away. Damn!
We try on several other occasions over the next couple of nights to get the bird to respond but to no avail.
23rd March 2016. Home, Calangute, Goa. 8.30pm.
It is stifling hot indoors. Vanessa, her mother and I are sitting out on the front porch. A scorpion crawls against the porch wall towards my MIL and I caution her to move.
My ears pick up a vaguely familiar sound. It takes a few moments to realise it’s the same bird’s call that I had heard only a couple of weeks ago.
A brown hawk owl was calling in the distance.
Seconds later it gets a reponse. From much, much closer! The sound seems to be coming from the gunpowder tree at the edge of the yard. I fetch my torch and scan the tree and spot the bird perched out in the open on one its bare branches.
This time I am ready.
Learning from my previous mistakes I go into the house and remove the 1.4x teleconverter from the 500mm to ensure more light on the sensor and set the camera ISO to 12800. The night images I took at Nature’s Nest of a wild boar and nightjar giving me the confidence that the 7DII is capable of performing even at this high ISO.
Going back out I ask Vanessa to direct the torch beam. (I must admit, for one who is not really into this sort of thing, she locks the bird in the beam like a pro).
I do not waste time trying to auto focus. Instead, I have my hand on the focus ring, rotating it as soon I get the camera to point in the general direction of the bird.
A few moments of panic when everything continues to remain blurred and out of focus. And then those massive yellow eyes and humongous pupils leap out at me through the viewfinder.
The resulting adrenaline rush making the whole exercise worthwhile!
All that’s left is depressing the shutter and hoping that at least some of the images are usable.And that’s how I got this, and several other images, of a (resident?) brown hawk owl in my very own backyard!!