Monday, 8 December 2008

Operation Owl

I was supposed to be constructing a fence to prevent a neighbour’s dog from getting into my back garden at the weekend, but the weather forecast was simply too good, at this limited time of year, to waste on something that can be done in the rain. So, it was time to kick off Operation Owl.

Owls are one of my favourite types of bird – most birds of prey are, but finding them isn’t that easy. That said, by the power of the internet, and a few very helpful friends (tips hat to Kay and Ian), I had managed to draw up a plan of operation to see some.

Saturday morning, I set off to Staffordshire, to a place near Dudley called Himley Hall. Some fantastic scenery there and one to note for the autumn to get some seasonal shots, but also, more importantly the home to a Tawny Owl. Thanks to Kay’s information I eventually tracked down the location, and spotted the fluffy thing peering out. Fantastic.

Whilst stood there, one of the locals out walking his dog, mentioned a peregrine over on the tower nearby, so one very muddy walk later, I was trying to get shots of this other wonderful bird… only to see it take flight, disturbed by exiting workers below. Bah!

The woods at the Hall are certainly worth another visit. Aside from the owl, there were masses of nuthatches, coal, long-tailed, blue and great tits, robins, chaff, gold, and bullfinches, woodpeckers and I even spotted a siskin amongst the hedgerows.

After a couple of very pleasant hours, the alarm sounded, and part 2 of Operation Owl, had to commence. Over to Northants. Not the easiest place to find, but thanks to Ian’s directions, I arrived early, to find he was already there! What a cracking place too.

Amongst the hedgerows were fieldfares, redwings and yellowhammers, plus occasionally a kestrel would wing by. Unfortunately, the day took a bit of downturn when some game shooters turned up, and started to beat the field. This did however, mean we got an early view of a Short Eared Owl, disturbed by these muppets, it flew across the fields and up over our heads. What amazing looking birds these are. Such distinctive markings on their face, and bigger than I had imagined.

The next hour or so was spent trying to see the owls, yes more than one appeared, as they hunted around the countryside, though mainly and rather annoyingly, against the sun. As the light faded, a screech behind me alerted me to a new arrival, and the 3rd Owl of the day. A Barn Owl. Too far for pics, alas, but a welcome sight anyway.

Day One of Operation Owl was a definite success. On to Day Two.

Sunday morning was again bright and sunny, and after much consideration, I opted to put the operation on hold for a while, and hunt for the Hen Harrier down in South Worcestershire instead. A very pleasant drive through the Vale Of Evesham, reminded me that there are some cracking areas of countryside to explore there, which I have taken for granted, usually as I flew past in the Scooby.

Unfortunately, the Hen Harrier proved elusive, and to be honest, I was wanting more owl action, so after 30 mins or so, and going on the advice of a local, I headed further south still, to continue Operation Owl, down near the River Severn, just shy of Bristol.

Along the stretch of riverside scrubland, were skylarks, stonechats and a few pipits, and not a lot else. Through my bins I could see various ducks on the river, and I was treated to some flybys from buzzards, oystercatchers and a little egret. The main show, however kicked off late afternoon, when a fisherman disturbed a Short Eared Owl, and it took flight. Ghosting along the edge of the river, it soon dropped down out of sight, but not for long, and was joined by several more. At one point, we counted 5 of them, flying around, sometimes chasing one another, before rapidly changing direction, and dropping to the ground after prey. What a superb area, and with the backdrop of the river, albeit somewhat misty, it made for some good pictures.

As the light began to fade, and the air temperature dropped, I spotted a kestrel sat in a nearby tree, so took advantage of that, in the reddish evening light. A last look back at 2 of the owls, both perched on branches of driftwood, gave a perfect end to a cracking weekend of owl hunting. Operation Owl was a success. Now I can’t wait to see some more.


Kay said...

I'm so relieved you found the right tree!

Some cracking pics of the Tawny and the Shorty on your gallery...well done :)

Reg Telescope said...

Maybe we could all get together next year and have a bit of an owl party?