Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Short Drive-Short Speed walk-Short of Breath-Bam!!!-Short Eared Owls.

I hadn't visited the fields below Bayhurst Wood for approaching 20 years. This was back when I had a dog as an excuse to roam the countryside without feeling like I looked suspicious. I've since discovered that binoculars do the trick as well. They're not as good company but you don't have to feed them. Anyway, when I was last there with my old buddy Loftus, the nearest thing to wildlife was sheep. Lots of sheep, and tightly grazed grass. This is why I was struggling to work out where these SEOs were that were being reported. So I got away from work a bit prompt on the Friday before last, (POETS Day after all) and went to check it out. I parked at the car park for Bayhurst Wood and followed the path downhill to the bottom. As soon as I got a view of the fields through the trees, I could see that they had been transformed. Rough tussocky grassland with rushes and sedge and large clumps of native plants in winter die back. A Shorty Shangri-La no less. I'd set out with more hope than expectation but suddenly expectation was taking over.

As I entered the fields I spotted a small passerine hop up on top of a teasel. It was a stonechat. I'd never seen a stonechat in Harefield in the 27 years I've lived here. Siskins were having a pre-roost gathering on the edge of the wood. I haven't seen many siskins in Harefield either. I soon realised that there was a decent expanse of unmanaged, ungrazed land around me, so I started heading for a high point to scan from. But before I got there I was distracted by an aerial commotion.  Corvids were noisily haranguing something. Not just something. A Short Eared Owl. Carrion Crows and Jackdaws were joining forces to relentlessly mob the owl and seemed to be intent on driving it high above the treeline as if to stop it hunting. A second owl flew over me from behind and was treated to more of the same.

So the cranky crows restricted me to distant views in fading light but the joy of seeing the owls outweighed the frustration. So much so that I returned at dawn the next morning and met up with Sharpy, hoping for better views. No corvid capers this time but a bit of mist rapidly became fog and visibility was lousy. A brief and foggy view of one Shorty in flight was the best we managed. Again there were siskins and a decent number of Reed Buntings enjoying the the winter seed heads but the owls weren't tempted by such rubbish hunting conditions.

Yesterday I took an early morning trip to Fishers green with Sharpy and Ephraim on a quest to see Bittern. In the wind and showers, a year tick Water Rail was the highlight so I returned home to do my Big Garden Birdwatch. It was a bit slow in the naff weather but the female of my regular pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers graced the peanut feeder for a while. 14 species in total. As the afternoon wore on the sun started trying to break through. The wind was still gusting but the temptation to nip down the road in search of Short Eared Owls got the better of me. Within 5 minutes of arriving in the fields I was on a Shorty. Thankfully unhassled by crows it was quartering a field near the woods. As I edged a bit closer I inadvertently put up the second owl as it was roosting on the ground in front of me.  I was treated to a breathtaking display as they demonstrated their rodent ravaging skills for over an hour.

Again a Stonechat put in an appearance as did Red Kite, Buzzard and Kestrel.

And the Owls just kept performing.

I don't very often go birding round Harefield even though I live there. It is semi-rural but it's intensively farmed and so quite naturally sterile. Isn't it amazing what happens when you just leave a bit of land alone. 'Natural' habitat takes over and 'nature' comes. Even Short Eared Owls. You've always got these cretinous oafs blathering on about how the countryside has to be "managed" or the Earth will spin off it's axis or something. Sadly us Townies are too ignorant to understand apparently. Well I'll tell you what. Insert your countryside management in your most shady of orifices. I'd rather have nature than your greed driven biodiversity disasters.

Anyway, enough of that ranting. Short Eared Owls near Home. Brilliant!!!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year List to all you Good Folk & a Prosperous 2016 to our Hen Harriers.

Jan 1st 2016 - Bed at 00.45 up at 04.45 and on the road to Norfolk with Sharpy, Ian and Ephraim to kick start the new year list and walk off some Christmas excess. Luckily Sharpy was happy to drive as I doubted my ability to stay awake at the wheel all day.

First stop was Lynford Arboretum. It was now first light and this is as good-a-place as any to rack up a few woodland species. At this point it was a lovely winters morning with the sunrise casting an eerie glow over the frosted landscape. On a couple of rare occasions we've managed Hawfinch here but fail more often than not. However one of the first birds of the year was indeed a flyover Hawfinch and we managed to find a second one perched in a distant treetop. A great start to the year.

Distant but a great start

Sadly no Crossbills on offer today but Marsh Tit and all the usual woodland fare got the list up and running on our way to the north coast.

The big prize we were hoping for was Pallid Harrier so Flitcham was next in the sat nav. I got a sense of deja vu here as for the second time in less than a week I was subjected to a no-show from this rare and regal raptor. But we were viewing from further up Abbey Road today and the huge mixed flock of passerines in the hedgerow in front of us, although mostly Chaffinch, also contained in it's midst Brambling ,Tree Sparrow, Yellow Hammer and Reed Bunting. A Grey Partridge occasionaly revealed itself at the end of the track.

Brambling at Flitcham

A team decision was made that we needed to move on and cash in on Norfolk's bounty of species. Fresh news revealed that the 2 Rough Legged Buzzards were showing nicely at Cholsey Drying Barns, so that made the decision easier. Unfortunately they weren't by the time we got there. A couple of Buzzards were up and about but after close scrutiny we couldn't turn them into anything other than commons.

If you're in North Norfolk and you want to get species on your list then Titchwell is a must. Obviously a whole lot of other people had the same strategy as we completed several circuits of both car parks before managing to squeeze into a slightly improvised space. Myself and Ian then queued for a lifetime to order some much needed hot food and then waited through what must have been a reincarnation for it to be served. Finally, suitably sated, we made it onto the reserve. Good old Titchwell served up a further 23 species  to add to my list, including Water Pipit, Rock Pipit, Spotted Redshank Marsh Harrier and a huge raft of Scoter on the sea.

The early morning sun had long since vanished behind a solid blanket of cloud and it was now a race against the fading light to squeeze a couple more new years ticks in. Thornham was just down the road and there were reports of a flock of Twite near the car park and the lingering 3 Shorelarks towards Holme Dunes. On our arrival, 20+ Twite obligingly got up from an island in the creek and gave us a nice display. It's barely a stone's throw to the beach on the other side of the harbour where the shorelarks hang out but it's a right old stroll round the houses (although there's no houses) to get to it. In the now dying light they weren't easy to find and we began to think they'd gone to roost but we eventually stumbled across them quietly poking around in the shingle.

So dark was now winning the battle against light and that was surely that for the day. Barring a jammy Barn Owl on the lengthy, indirect walk back to the car, our listing was done for the day. That was until we got half way back and Ian called "Barn Owl" and there was an enigmatic little ghost quartering the back of the field beside us. Perfect end to the day.

So no 'rare raptor rapture' but Norfolk had provided me with a very respectable 86 species on the first day of 2016. What else will the year have in store? Rare birds I hope. Stonkingly beautiful birds I hope. Enthralling natural spectacles of any kind please.

 But most of all in 2016 I hope for significant strides forward in the campaign to salvage the last of our breeding Hen Harriers from the brink of extinction, by banning the despicably destructive so called 'sport' of Driven Grouse Shooting. Please help if you can. There's a few weeks left to sign this......


If you're in any doubt at all that this needs doing then you just need to read this.......

2016 could be a pivotal year for our magnificent, yet relentlessly persecuted raptors. Please consider getting involved if you can. It's so easy in these days of social media to just help raise awareness. That's all we need to do.

Happy New Year.