Wee­don’s World

Mike looks back to his early days on Bird Watch­ing and wres­tles with him­self over which is re­ally the best Bri­tish owl.

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

Mike’s favourite owl is the Barn Owl... or is it?

THE 30TH AN­NIVER­SARY of the launch of Bird Watch­ing had me think­ing back to my early, fledg­ling days on the mag­a­zine. It was more than half the life­time of the mag ago that I joined as sub-editor. And I wrote my first ‘proper’ ar­ti­cle in the July 2000 is­sue. It was a bit of a filler piece, re­ally, called ‘Ten top thrillers’ about 10 birds which are al­ways good to see on any day’s bird­watch­ing. In short: Puf­fin, Os­prey, Great Spot­ted Wood­pecker, Bit­tern, Barn Owl, Night­jar, King­fisher, Avo­cet, Bearded Tit and Dipper. Inevitably, we all dif­fer in which birds we would in­clude in such a list, and I re­mem­ber a few dis­agree­ments with my choices around the of­fice. In those days, Gor­don Ham­lett was sub-edit­ing UK Bird Sight­ings (as he still does to­day), but in those days he lived in Peter­bor­ough (now he is based in north Nor­folk), so we saw him of­ten in the of­fice. I re­mem­ber Gor­don say­ing that in place of Barn Owl, he would have cho­sen Short-eared Owl as his owl of choice in the ‘ten’. I stood up for Barn Owls (and still love them), but each time I see Short-eared Owls, I can’t help think­ing about the ‘Ham­lett po­si­tion’. This year has once more been a good year for Short-eared Owls around th­ese here Peter­bor­ough parts. There are a good few over the tra­di­tional hunt­ing grounds of the Nene Washes com­plex (east of the city). But even more of a draw for th­ese par­tially di­ur­nal beau­ties is the rel­a­tively newly-es­tab­lished rough, weedy tangle of the Great Fen, near Holme Fen NNR. This is a large area of for­mer farm­land which has been al­lowed to rewild. There are even more Short-eared Owls hunt­ing this patch than pho­tog­ra­phers of Short-eared Owls there, which is very many in­deed (they are ex­tremely well-pho­tographed birds). I have al­ready spent a few pleas­ant af­ter­noons at the Great Fen, with friends and fam­ily or on my own, sim­ply star­ing at the glory of Short-eared Owls do­ing their stuff (and, of course, pho­tograph­ing them, when I get a chance). Last week­end, I was back there to look for a Great White Egret which had been found in the area. The bird had been favour­ing the river-like ditch which winds around defin­ing the north­ern bound­ary of this part of the Great Fen. This chan­nel is var­i­ously called the Yax­ley Lode, the Black Ham or the New or North Western Cut, and the egret had ap­peared at places along sev­eral miles of it. I de­cided to start my walk at a cross­ing called Froghall Bridge, which, be­lieve me, is nowhere near as ro­man­tic as it sounds. So, I started the trudge along muddy tyre tracks in damp grass on the banks of the drain. It was, frankly, a plod and a tir­ing strug­gle, this walk­ing malarkey. It made me think of Coun­try Walk­ing mag­a­zine, which was orig­i­nally a spin-off in­cluded with Bird Watch­ing in 1987, and how peo­ple ap­par­ently en­joy walk­ing for a pas­time. I pre­fer a walk with a pur­pose, and the pur­pose of this walk was to see the Great White Egret. That is not to say I didn’t en­joy the bird­ing on the six or seven mile slog of a round trip. There were great flocks of Lin­nets, and a gath­er­ing of 150 Stock Doves. I found a cou­ple of de­cent win­ter­ing gangs of Corn Buntings, ex­ceed­ing 50 birds, and en­coun­tered three Pere­grines: a fly­ing pair of ju­ve­niles and a lovely adult male in a ploughed field, to the north. There were kites, Buz­zards and the odd Spar­rowhawk, plus a cou­ple of King­fish­ers; and even­tu­ally I re­found the Great White Egret (a few hun­dred yards from Yax­ley vil­lage, where I could have started my walk. Gr­rrr!). Great White Egrets are not as rare as they once were, but they are still a very pleas­ant treat around Peter­bor­ough (and this bird was only five miles from my house, as the egret flies). But, af­ter all, it was stand­ing around do­ing not much when I saw it. So, I pho­tographed it a bit, then turned back for the long walk back to the car. The real thrill, though, came on this re­turn trek. I sim­ply flushed an un­seen Short-eared Owl from the edge of the track in front of me. It floated low and de­lib­er­ately on stiff, long, golden ma­jes­tic wings, to land 75m away in some rough grass and stare right back at me with star­tling yel­low eyes. What a bird! Gor­don, you were right. Mike is an ob­ses­sive patch lis­ter and keen wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher in his home city of Peter­bor­ough, where he lives with his wife, Jo, and chil­dren, Jas­mine and Ed­die. You can see his pho­tos at weed­world.blogspot.com

I pre­fer a walk with a pur­pose, and the pur­pose of this walk was to see the Great White Egret.

DAY OWL The Great Fen, Cam­bridgeshire, has had at least 16 Short-eared Owls hunt­ing by day, this win­ter

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