Sunday, 19 October 2014

Heralds of Winter (and a bit of excitement)!

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A beautiful but blustery autumn day with the unusual combination of low sunlight and very warm winds. I suspect that all of those who went over in a coat were regretting it by ten o-clock!
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Winter birds are in with a flock of at least seventeen Redwing, a few Siskin and a continuing influx of Skylark and Goldcrest. Two calling Water Rail from alongside the mineral line were noteworthy and there is a least one Chiffchaff amongst the Long Tailed Tit flock which is behaving like a wintering bird rather than a migrant.
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As I was leaving I bumped into my mate Dave Plant from the village and we both enjoyed an ariel dog  fight between a large female Sparrowhawk and the local Magpies (it was a nil-nil draw)! As
we stood chatting a high flying bird of prey came in being mobbed by Crows and gulls, the narrower wings and obvious languid and loose flight behaviour immediately identifying it as an owl - but which one? The upper parts were warm and as recent encounters have involved Long-eared Owl I assumed that this was what it would be. The crucial identification features (eye colour or the presence or absence of a pale trailing edge to the upper-wing) could not be seen as the bird circled at a considerable height above us. The under wing coverts were slightly warmer than the remainder of the under wing but the beige-brown upper-wing colouration did not seem pale enough for a Short-Eared. To be honest the views (although exciting) were not ideal for identification and this was further complicated by bright sunshine, but the pale face and noticeably dark outer primaries and carpel patch are far more indicative of a Short-Eared Owl and that is what I am calling! The one thing that makes me feel uncomfortable is that the bird appeared to drop in to cover on the low pit mounds (typical habitat for L.E.O.) but we were unable to subsequently relocate it so it may actually have slipped through and dropped onto the ground so that doesn't really help with drawing any conclusions.
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Tony and Ray both intend to go down this afternoon and if they get good views I may yet have to put my hands up and eat humble pie, but (colours nailed to the mast) my money is now on it being a Short Eared Owl. Whichever it is, it was a great few minutes birding and certainly one of the best birds that I have seen over there this year.
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Have a good week all - Chaz