Short-eared owl encounter

IMG_4604The warmth of the sun had faded as the evening was well underway. Putting my thick coat on, tucking my trousers into my socks and throwing my bag on my back I was ready for an evening trek along one of my favourite paths in Norfolk. It runs along the edge of the reeds and grassland and is always great for sightings of marsh harrier, reed bunting, bearded tit and ticks (hence the socks tucked into the trousers)! This time however it was later than usual but we set off anyway. Thankfully I wasn’t driving so I had my eyes peeled, looking out of the window for anything unusual. As the landscape blurred past me I suddenly saw a strange shape on the ground that was slightly slanted. Passing it quickly I didn’t get a good view but I thought it looked a little like a short-eared owl. Telling the others that I thought I might have seen an owl, either that or it was a strange shaped fence post, we turned around and drove back. Sure enough driving past more slowly now, I knew I was right. Luckily there was a convenient car park just along the road.

IMG_4588As we drove along to the parking space another owl was flying around the field. Two short-eared owls! When parked I rushed out of the car, crept across the road (looking both ways first of course) and stood behind a bush that was also conveniently placed by an opening to a footpath. I was the opposite side of the field to the owl on the ground, the other I couldn’t see anymore, until it flew within metres of me (clearly I chose the wrong side of the hedge to hide behind as it flew up from behind me). Completely astonished I lifted my camera to take a picture but my hands, forget that, my whole arms were shaking with pure excitement and joy at seeing the owl at such close range. Needless to say, the resulting image was rather fuzzy. The owl didn’t seem half as affected by my presence as I was by its and continued to hunt over the area of rough grassland.

IMG_4550When hunting, the stunning mottled brown plumage and barred tail were beautifully visible through the binoculars, along with the white underside and black curve by the base of its flight feathers. Its face was predominantly white, and the eyes, every time it glanced in our direction were so sharp and alert, yet strangely mesmerizing, with what appeared to be a lot of eyeliner as the black smudges around its eyes were so clear against its lightly coloured face. This striking owl was spoiling us with the magnificent twists and turns of its flight, showing off its agile nature and broad wings. The bird often changed direction – almost having the effect of a cardboard cut-out, appearing so big from one angle but at another angle almost disappearing. Flying to the ground I thought perhaps it had made a kill, but it was unsuccessful and flew up again, continuing to hunt. Despite being spoilt by this owl’s beautiful display I wanted to watch it for hours and was sad when it flew off into the distance.

IMG_4604Having been completely engulfed in the flight of this owl I wondered whether the other had flown off without us noticing. Creeping down the road, I could see its dark figure in the distance as it perched on the ground. Its gorgeous yellow eyes pierced through my binoculars, this one had browner colouration on its face compared to the other, and you could even see its two small ears. Despite the temptation to continually creep along the hedge line and get even closer, I didn’t want to disturb the beautiful creature so observed from some distance before backing away and leaving it be. Looking out for the other owl in flight, I saw it briefly in another field, involved in some kind of mid-air tussle with a marsh harrier and corvid. The short-eared owl and crow appeared to be mobbing the harrier before they all disappeared behind the tree line.

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Owl top left, crow middle, marsh harrier right.

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Continuing on to what was my original intended destination, the darkness was increasing now, and I was still in a little shock about the events that had passed. Walking the familiar path the unmistakable white figure of a barn owl flew over the bank in the distance, before perching on a fence by one of the fields, the young lambs looking at it inquisitively. The sun was setting and it was a perfect ending to an evening of owl encounters I will never forget.

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