Friday, 13 January 2017
In search of short-eared owls
I decided to take an afternoon out and go look for some owls myself, and I was not disappointed...
The afternoon was cool, with patches of blue sky at first, but by the time I arrived at Wicken it was looking more cloudy. I walked over to Burwell Fen, enjoying some good views of teal, widgeon, shovellers and a pintail duck on Baker's Fen en route. Last time I was there Baker's Fen was very muddy and the water level quite low, but there was plenty of water, and plenty of wildfowl, this time. At Burwell Fen I perched myself on a bench on a viewpoint overlooking the fen; a bit exposed and chilly, but a good place for a quick sketch.
Eventually I spotted an owl off in the distance (helped by also spotting a couple of birders/photographers with scopes/cameras pointing in that direction!). I decided on a walk along the track through the fen, and was rewarded with two owls hunting, one on either side of me (hard to know which to watch!). My photos weren't great - it was quite gloomy by this point, with sunset approaching and a lot of cloud cover - but just watching the birds was a real treat. They have very long wings and look quite pale in the dusk, and fly back and forth over an area thoroughly, occasionally diving into the scrubby undergrowth in pursuit of a vole or similar. In all there were, I think, three owls on the fen that afternoon; on occasion there can be many more (15 were recorded one year!). They can be seen all day, but your best chance is early morning, or late afternoon in the hour or so before sunset.
As the sun went down (still pretty much behind clouds!) and the light faded, I headed back towards Wicken Fen. A barn owl flew over, and a muntjac deer crossed the path just in front of me. In the gloom I could see and hear a huge number of rooks and jackdaws overhead - evidently I was close to a flight path into a roost. There seemed to be thousands of noisy corvids in the air; quite a sight and sound, and a great finish to a really good afternoon.