Late last winter I got a taste for photographing a rather magical bird, the short-eared owl. So with winter approaching, I have been keeping a close eye on sightings across the country. One place that kept cropping up was in Leicestershire, at the end of the M69. A place called Cossington Meadows.
With a good day of weather forecast, after a rather horrid Saturday, I hopped in the car and zipped up there for a mid-morning start. The plan was to explore the whole area of the reserve for much of the day, and then be ready for the owls later. A pair apparently, and one had been seen as early as 2:30pm.
After the rain on Saturday, the reserve was muddy to say the least, and I had to maintain my balance around some very slippery puddles and paths. Talking to locals, I soon got my bearings and found myself scanning the various lakes for anything of interest. Wigeons mainly of note, though everything seemed to go up when a sparrowhawk swooped by.
Also present were several pairs of kestrels. I followed one hunting pair to the back of the reserve and along the river. They were fantastic to watch, not only performing their trademark hovering, but also possibly courting as they interacted with each other, mirroring movements in the sky.
I had read that there are stonechats around, but alas none showed for me! The occasional clatter from pheasants bursting from the undergrowth broke what is a rather quiet reserve. The only real downside of the place were the amount of dog-walkers, and how many allowed their mutts to bound around off their leads.
After a pleasant stroll along the river's edge, I mooched around the other side of the meadows briefly, though they were very soggy under foot and much was impossible to access to allow the Exmoor ponies to manage the land.
By mid afternoon, there were increasing numbers of interested parties waiting for the owls. I tried initially over near the Rectory Marsh, but that stunk of that algae, so I retreated to Swan Meadow for a more general view.
Again, kestrels entertained us as we waited patiently and we tried to count the number of grey herons hidden in the tall grass. Six I counted, though the chap next to me reckoned on eight! And the ponies decided to trudge over to us too, which provided at least something other than kestrels to take pictures of. That is until the owls appeared.
Well, that was the idea, but as with anything involving nature, it doesn't always go to plan. Yes, you've guessed it and probably from seeing the lack of owl photos here, that they never put in an appearance, not when I was there anyway. Buggers. Perfect evening for hunting too, calm and no rain.
They came out later, according to reports, and again the next day, but I was in work by then. Then I remembered another symptom of winter. Irritable Owl Syndrome, brought on by bad luck with these elusive birds.