We’re going on an owl hunt (and leave disappointed)

After yesterday’s birding frenzy, we thought heading out just before dark would again be fruitful. To be honest, we were never going to see another Short Eared, but I think this hope was at the back of both our minds. We did get a load of ticks for our 2012 lists, but nothing nearly as exciting as yesterday. A Buzzard drifting along very close to the ground  had me fooled to start with until Chris pointed out what it really was. I am very glad I make mistakes like this around Chris and not around those that really know their stuff. Its very easy to think you are seeing what you would like to see rather than what is really there. Today’s highlights include 24 Mute Swans (see them coming into land below), very vocal Wrens and a LOT of Chaffinches roosting for the night.

The photos are about as exciting as our year lists so far- enjoy us looking birdy in our outdoor gear. Either way, it was fun to be outside and as childish as it sounds its always fun to think you’re going to get stuck in the middle of nowhere in the dark without a torch, although we made it back just in time (just no owls to be seen).


Kites. A lot of kites.

Red Kite roost at Ashley Warren (there are around 70 kites in the sky somewhere, honest!)

Now that Chris is taking the challenge very seriously, I need to keep my motivation on a par with his. So when the suggestion of joining the Hampshire Ornithological Society’s walk to see the Red Kite (click the link they’re pretty awesome birds!) roost at Ashley Warren,  I leapt at the chance. A walk with real birders means other people there who are all more experienced, can point things out I haven’t spotted and will let me peer through their ‘scope every once in a while.

When I heard the term ‘kite roost’, I was assuming this might have meant 10 or possibly 20 birds coming to perch for the night. Even when I was told that there were 83 kites seen there the previous weekend, I thought that this must have been a one off. Now that Red Kites aren’t such a rarity you’d think I’d find them less exciting, but they are such beautiful birds that I never fail to be impressed by their aerial acrobatics. Raising my binoculars to a group of birds dotted in the sky, I expected them to be rooks or crows. Instead, I was amazed to see that a mass of kites were gathering around their night time haunt, resting on fence posts and even feeding on the ground- a spectacular sight. My only disappointment was that half of the group had spotted a Short Eared Owl and I’d dipped it. Considering it was only a few months ago that I realised these birds even lived in the UK, I was kicking myself for having missed out. I spent half an hour watching these amazing owls near Arundel in December, dragging my non birding friend Sarah with me. I knew that it wasn’t just me, these really were special birds, when even she was captivated by watching a pair hunting a nature reserve. Having only seen these owls once, I was itching to see them again.

Our walk came to an end close to the kite roost. On the final stage, the birds were out in force: a smart great spotted woodpecker; a field of blackbirds dotted with a couple of fieldfare; and a cluster of goldfinches clinging to the top of a tree. This was more like it, more birds to add to my list.

Catching up with the other walkers, I realised their ‘scopes were all focused away from the roost and wondered what was captivating them. To my surprise, someone had spotted a Short Eared taking a rest on a fence post, and this time I hadn’t missed out. Turning its head from side to side like the crowd at Wimbledon, it was eyeing up dinner. It kept up its scanning continuously, and having had a zoomed in look I could see its lovely running mascara style eyes- what a beaut! The success of the day continued with over 70 red kites circling their roost and a cameo fly by from a lone Peregrine. Joining some true birders was definitely worth doing and seeing so many kites in one go was just unbelieveable.



So Chris’s post may leave you thinking I’m storming ahead in the challenge so far. I’m not. In fact, I’m just meandering along with a couple of ticks. If I’m honest I thought I’d be way ahead by now, but a week of rubbish weather has put paid to those plans. If tomorrow is more like today and stays lovely and clear, I should be well away if I can use my lunch breaks wisely. Whilst Chris is stuck in an industrial estate with not a lot of bird activity (although I’m sure there’s something there somewhere!), I am lucky enough to be able to pop out to Winchester’s parks, rivers and streets during the day. This has so far proved very useful in my ticks this year, but still not ticking off as many birds as I’d hoped to. This tactic should have me notching up birds by the bucketload, instead I’ve crept up to 18 and haven’t even managed to spot a sparrow anywhere.

Here’s to a week of lunchtime birding (sorry Chris!) and a much more successful second week.