Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Year of the Short eared owl?

SEO_2, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

Strong north-easterly winds in late September led to an avalanche of early Scandinavian migrants arriving on our shores! As well as a few Pallid Harriers turning up in the UK, the number of Short eared owl reports (particularly in the south) seem well up on last year. Quite a number of these have appeared in our neck of the woods - Beeding Brooks, Waltham Brooks, The Burgh and Thorney Island all have recent reports of several individuals.

This species is interesting. Fiercely territorial during breeding, in winter months they roost and hunt together in relative harmony. It is possible to find any number of individuals roosting in the same area. They require large amounts of rough ground and are likely to be partial to the same habitat as our resident Kestrel and Barn Owl, given their similar diets. They can be active at any time of day or night, but in my experience your best chance of spotting them is an hour or so before sunset. They seem to favour coastal plains and marshy areas; though farmland with well-managed hedgerows and large verges also seem favoured.

It's a spectacular raptor to watch, no more so than when squabbling and calling, bathed in a winter sunset. I was fortunate enough to experience this last week - at one point (though sadly too dark for pictures) one flew straight at me and cleared my head by a metre or so! As I looked back another one flew past, calling loudly, and the two then engaged in battle above me!

It was a fabulous end to a day which saw me electrocuted, attacked on the posterior by a thistle (ok, I sat on it!) and cursing the lack of light. I'd hung on for an extra 30 minutes after initially deciding to head home, I'm so glad I did.

The shot above really shouldn't have worked - 1/200 is way too slow for anything that flies. Especially at an effective 450mm (when you take the crop sensor into account). It isn't the best I'll ever take and it's heavily cropped, but in the circumstances I was pleased to get just one "keeper". Sometimes blind faith pays off... I do hope they're settled for the winter and there's plenty more keepers to come.

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