Yesterday afternoon I had arranged to be watching birds being ringed at Spurn, but this was cancelled because of the uncertain weather, so I went to check whether the Short-eared Owls were still showing at the venue we will be visiting soon.
Things didn't seem very promising at first - there was very little to see apart from 3 Kestrels perched high on the bushes, and a swooping Sparrowhawk just before we reached the village itself. We overheard people saying it was a poor vole year & that there had been quite a few owls but that they hadn't been seen en masse for several days. We decided to stick it out & at about 2.40 a single Short-eared Owl was seen for a few minutes being attacked by a Kestrel - kleptoparasitism in action. We decided to go for a walk, but there were no further sightings of owls, but we did see Mistle Thrushes, Skylarks, Goldfinches and a large flock of Fieldfare. I also heard a Yellowhammer and a Reed Bunting.
Eventually, we reached a small group of birders watching something from a bridge & we were rewarded with a stonking male Hen Harrier. He flew slowly, low over a patch of dried grasses between 2 small areas of young conifers when he suddenly flushed a group of small birds, which were about the size of Linnets. Suddenly his behaviour altered & he flew in a series of sharp mad circles as he tried to catch one of these small passerines. He wasn't successful and he soon disappeared, but watching his behaviour was incredibly satisfying.
We turned at right angles & walked along the bank of a dyke. There were a few Redwing & Robin noises emanating from a small group of trees, and some loud Mallard sounds coming from the other side of the dyke, but very little to see for a while. Suddenly the duck noises increased and a Short-eared Owl was seen hunting over an area of rough grassland. We watched it for several minutes & then scanned the whole area & were able to pick out a further 7 birds. The birds nearest to us was fairly dark underneath, but there were a few over the vast area of sedge which appeared to be much lighter. The 8 were seen hunting over a vast area for about half an hour, but then numbers dropped again, so on the return journey there were maybe 4 in the air at any one time. A female Marsh Harrier came over the site, but she was chased off by one of the Short-eared owls! Despite the failure to locate the Rough-legged Buzzard, a Peregrine or Merlin it was a very productive afternoon.
The reason the owls hadn't been seen in large numbers for a couple of days were the strong winds. Owls prefer hunting in calmer weather when they can hear the rustle of voles through the thick grass & when they aren't hampered by a howling gale. Hopefully, it won't be too windy when we revisit!
Best view from the back!
Coming towards the camera
Looking right into the lens
Above & below
Probably the nearest we got & when the camera worked!