Sunday, 13 December 2015

A soggy owl or two

The Safari has been mostly rained off recently and when combined with covering staff absences has meant very little time for getting out wildlifing. 
Today was our first day out other than a few minutes looking at the Common Scoters from Patch 2.
We met up with our long-standing birding mates in damp drizzly conditions at a fairly new reserve very close to our early birding haunts. The weather forecast earlier in the week was promising but as the week progress it became evident we were going to get wet. This was Wifey's first proper birding trip and with her new ED's too.
The site is 77 hectares of wetland developed as a flood storage basin for the local river, in our teenage years it was intensive cereal and potato growing agricultural land which is probably why now it is very thistly with a very poor flora indicating a high nutrient soil. The river was as high as we've ever seen it and had been higher in recent days but hadn't got close to the spillway that  would flood the reserve - just as well for the grazing Exmoor Ponies and Red Poll Cattle. The ponies are real lookers with their white muzzles and spectacles - shame they were so far from the fence today.
Our target lined up for us by our mates were owls - lots of them - but the weather was anything but owly. Undeterred we wander round not seeing too much until a flock of Pink Footed Geese lifted from the fields beyond the river. Mallards and a couple of Little Egrets graced the first pool we looked at after passing a couple of photographers who'd just got a pic of a Cetti's Warbler, still a rare and exotic find here unlike 'our' nature reserve.
A shout of 'owl' went up as a Short Eared Owl appeared out of the sodden grass and quartered the field around the cattle. A Kestrel appeared in a brief lull in the drizzle too and then a Barn Owl. A second Shorty lifted and we had a great view of the Barn Owl flying behind a Shorty sat on a large post.
The Barny came closer and started to hunt a dyke running towards us. Sadly it didn't quite come close enough before turning round and flying beyond the large bush well out of range.
Wjfey found a second Barn Owl - well done her! It was caught up with huddled in a bank of scrub on our way back to the car park, we also disturbed possibly a third Shorty that was laid up out of the rain at the base of an old hawthorn bush.
A double footwear malfunction for Wifey had her scuttling cautiously back to the car past the Barny well ahead of the rest of us and we spotted her stop and have a good look at it through her new EDs. She's had her hiking boots since 26th December 1998 and today both of them decided to part company with their soles - how odd.
From the bridge over the river we scanned a large flock of Pink Footed Geese in the fields but there was no sign of the Marsh or, occasional, Hen Harriers that hunt the area. A forlorn looking Buzzard sat alone in a muddy field waiting for worms to come to the surface. A 'flange' of Black Headed Gulls was present too, not just an ordinary flange but a full flange at that!
We left too early to see if the ring-tail Hen Harrier would come in to roost, apparently it has to almost too dark to see but we did have another owl to look for.
Where we'd parked up there's a barn and a few derelict buildings where a Little Owl hangs out although IH to;d us that if he sees barn owls he never sees the Little Owl and if he sees the Little Owl the Barnies don't show...we'd seen the Barn Owls so would break his jinx and see the Little Owl? No we didn't, so 'only' a two owl day. And then it was dark.
Where to next? We should be able to get a look at the sea tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's floating round gracefully in your outback.

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