Day of the owl

Nature blogger Will Harper-Penrose enjoys a wildlife-packed day at his local reserve and encounters his spirit animal.

Images © Will Harper-Penrose

Images © Will Harper-Penrose

8 May 2016  


I’ve given the game away a touch with the title of this blog, but come on, I saw an owl! It was the hottest day of the year with temperatures soaring to 27 degrees.

The sun was relentless, with no cloud cover. I had every intention of hitting the road and heading out of London, into Kent to spy some fritillary butterflies, but a dead battery had me wrestling with rusty bolts until almost lunchtime.

I opted to stay local and spent a few hours at my local nature reserve in South Norwood. Thank you battery, for the spanner you through in the works led to one of the most wildlife packed days of my life.

The minute I walked into the reserve, still on the pebbled path, I was greeted by a holly blue. I’d been chasing these blighters around for days, waiting for one to take a break from its incessant zig-zag fluttering. I watched it sip water from the pebbles through its hair-like proboscis.


The holly blue quenched its thirst and flew away into the bushes. The paths were teaming with dog walkers and children on stabilised bicycles.

I thought they might scare away any wildlife and I’d be battling with bread chuckers for a picture of a soggy moorhen. I was wrong, thankfully.

A red admiral shot past me and settled, for a moment on a nettle. South Norwood’s butterfly game was going from strength to strength.


After the red admiral, I spent quite a long time following an orange tip butterfly. It kept a sizeable distance between us and had me pursuing it for well over ten minutes.

It never settled, though I managed to come away with three or four blurry photographs of a butterfly shaped blob.

The orange tip had an idea of its own though and it was not to be a photographic subject, but to lead me to an old friend.


The resplendent pheasant strutted down a small trail taking no notice of me. I expect he was looking for his wife, who was nowhere to be seen.

I like to think though, perhaps, that this now being the third or fourth time we’d met, he had grown accustomed to me and knew I wasn’t any trouble.

I came to a trail on the edge of the reserve that runs parallel with the neighbouring cemetery. The vegetation was head height on either side and teaming with hoverflies, bumble bees and butterflies.

I counted at least ten large whites, none of which wanted to be photographed, as well as several orange tips. One speckled wood settled momentarily for me, but the others were busy fluttering to find a mate.


No matter how long I waited, none of the orange tips stopped for a second, making it impossible for me to get a decent shot. Then, I got lucky.

A pair of green veined whites tumbled past, joined together. Their awkward flying pattern exhausted them, bringing them to a standstill, and they stayed put.


Having taken roughly a hundred frames of the pair, I left them to carry on with their new romance in peace. I say in peace, but something very South Norwood was about to happen.

I walked a bit further down the trail and began to hear an increasingly aggrieved voice making its way towards me at high speed. From what I could gather, the man on the other end of the phone had offended this chap and was in grave danger. The man coming towards me was reassuring the offender that he was capable of murder among other things. I must admit it made me feel a tad vulnerable.

Maybe this furious man would settle for beating me to death as a more immediate release of frustration, leaving me to decompose in the cow parsley. Fortunately he and his dog carried on straight past me hardly taking a breath between threats, and took no notice of me. Wild South London…

With murder off the table, at least for now, I was able to pay attention to the animals again. The unmistakable call of a corvid came from a little further down the path and I saw not one, but two jays (double spirit animal) fly into a large tree between me and the cemetery. I followed their commotion but couldn’t see them at all.

Suddenly they burst out of the tree and flew away across the reserve. Wondering what all the commotion was about, I looked up into the tree to see if there were any clues. At first I thought I saw a buzzard, then I saw two big black eyes.

I can only describe the feeling as, HOLY ****. A young tawny owl was peering at me through the leaves.


If I needed any more convincing that the jay was my spirit animal, this was it. You might think I’m a nut, but I saw an owl so I don’t care!


Read more great blog posts by Will Harper-Penrose, Wild South London