An unexpected owl

This afternoon Brenda dropped me near Burnham Overy Staithe on her way to a meeting and I did the walk along the banks to the sand dunes, then on to the pinewoods, and finally to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham where she picked me up again on her way home.

It had been another very hot day but it was slightly cooler when I started my walk at just before 6pm. Greylag geese were collecting in the fields and there was a flock of about 30 curlews in amongst them – very nice to see. However it was generally quite quiet on the bird front, although I did hear Cetti’s warbler and bearded tit.

But one of the things I love about being out and about is that you never know what you’re going to see. I was walking along the raised bank near the sand dunes, scanning the saltmarsh when a bird caught my eye. I knew within less than a second what it was, and within another second had the binoculars on it for confirmation. Not a difficult identification, but the wonderful thing is when you see something you hadn’t expected, or thought about for a good few days, even though it’s a new one for 2023. The habitat was absolutely right but I just hadn’t gone out thinking “well today I might see one of these”, plus it’s a species I really like: short-eared owl. It flew around gracefully for a couple of minutes before disappearing off west. Wonderful!

Sunset from the dunes

My first ever sighting of a short-eared owl is one of those moments that becomes slightly mythical with the passing of time. I was about 14 and got up early one morning to visit the local reservoir about 10 minutes walk from my parents’ house – Grimsbury reservoir on the edge of Banbury. I followed the path down one side of the small body of water and thence into the plantation at the far end. As I was walking between two stands of trees suddenly a short-eared owl flew straight towards me, veering off at the last moment as both it and I got a bit of a fright. It was a spine-tingling encounter and one that I will never forget.

I’ve had very good views of short-eared owls since then, but have never managed to get a photograph of one. Actually this year has been a really good owl year: tawny, barn, little, long-eared and short-eared. The only remaining UK breeding owl that I haven’t seen is snowy, and I’ve never seen one. I think it might be a challenge to find one in 2023 – I might have to venture to Shetland or Orkney, and even then a sighting isn’t guaranteed. Weirdly, in about 2018 I think, one was seen at Snettisham RSPB for a few hours….but I missed it.

A pool at the edge of the pinewoods at Holkham

So I headed along to Holkham, as dusk settled onto the landscape, stopping only to watch a green woodpecker, and feeling very satisfied with my unexpected owl!

New species for September 9th:
Birds: short-eared owl

Birds = 217
Moths = 221
Wildflowers = 277