Driving home this evening, and halfway along our drive, on the fencepost on the right hand side, stood the barn owl. I stopped the car; he was about three foot or less away from me, and slowly turned his head towards me, illuminated by the car headlights. We seemed to look at each other for an age (it was probably only 30 seconds or so), then he spread his wings and swooped away over the field.
Do not assume from this description that I am an expert on owl gender assignment. I use he but it could have equally been a she. I understand from more knowledgable mortals than myself (my husband for example) that sexing owls is extremely difficult. Awesome sight, whatever.
There is a big debate going on in the UK press right now about tourism and British Summer time. The argument seems to be that if the country moved to European Standard time, tourism would be enhanced because of the longer hours of daylight in the evenings. I think I would miss sights like this in the evenings, or watching the moon as it changes from a silvery crescent to a full circle of light. I would miss the stars in the evenings. We have almost no light pollution at Low Hall Cottage. Over the last week, the evenings have been clear and very dark, so the stars are so bright that when you have been outside for a few minutes, you almost feel you could touch them. To begin with, maybe just a few are visible: Sirius, the Dog Star, the Plough, Orion, the Seven Sisters. Then more and more pinpoints of light emerge , the white streak of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, constellations of the Zodiac, planets like Jupiter and Saturn. When there are meteor showers, we sometimes lie down in the dark on the grass, just watching the shooting stars flying across the sky. It beats worrying about the global financial collapse or watching the television news. Try the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” provided by NASA. If you want to know more about the Cumbrian sky, one of Cockermouths sons, (now relocated to Kendal), and longstanding friend, Stuart Atkinson has a great blog called “Cumbrian Sky“. Cockermouth Astronomical Society is very active and runs some great skywatching events. Very occasionally, we get to see the Northern lights from Cockermouth, and recent bursts of activity from the sun make this more likely at the moment. If you want to rate your chances, Lancaster University provides an aurora watch.