Saturday, 17 March 2012

Thou shalt always carry binoculars, even when shovelling sh*t



As winter draws to a close, birds are on the move. Today started with about 100 Fieldfares feeding in the pig enclosure, along with a lone Redwing. I managed a few photos by holding my camera up to the telescope, but it was a grizzly, grey day so the light wasn't great.






Today's job was to transfer last year's manure piles onto the veg beds - quite a Herculean task. About 40 barrow loads. Those potatoes and cabbages had better grow mighty big this year!



While I was doing this one of the guineafowl let out a most unusually harsh and raucous cry. I looked all around, expecting to see a weasel, a stoat or even my cat up to mischief, but there was nothing. I scanned the Ash trees for any signs of a raptor, but nothing. I scanned the skies, which were clear.

About three minutes later a large, solid falcon flies low over the farm with the powerful flight of a Peregrine. So that was what all the screaming was about. I should carry a guineafowl with me when I go birding. They have such good eyes for potential threat.

This was the beginning of a remarkable half hour for raptors. Just a few minutes later I watched a Short-eared Owl stall and drop onto the short grass of Don's field next door. It's been a very good year for these birds, after the influx from Scandinavia in the autumn. Prior to this, Short-eared Owl had just scraped onto the farm list by virtue of a distant couple of birds. But this sighting was so close. It would be so much better when I lifted my binoculars, and amazing if I could get it in the telescope.
Then my quandary. Again I'd made the same mistake as so many times before. Assuming I'd be so busy I wouldn't have time to look around, and even if I did there'd probably be nothing special to look at, I'd put my optical equipment back in the house. To watch the owl with the naked eye, or make a dash for the optics? I made a dash, and when I got back...no owl, anywhere, not even in flight. Oh well.
While scanning for it I did have a Buzzard fly through very close, then suddenly something panicked the thrushes into scattering from the meadow. A Sparrowhawk bombed through looking to pick out a weak or unaware bird, but no luck.

What a half hour that was!

I carried on the filthy, grinding (but somehow deeply satisfying) task of transferring two huge piles of manure from one place to another.

But the birding was not over for the day. Sue returned home to admire my work and casually asked if that was a barn owl quartering the dyke. Binoculars were now to hand to confirm that it was the reappearance of the Short-eared Owl. I watched it hunting for about half an hour. The good thing about these owls is that they always come out to hunt an hour or two before dark, so offer very good views of what is essentially a nocturnal family of birds. Keeping track of the Short-eared Owl was not always easy, since they cover quite a large area and tend to disappear into the dykes which criss-cross this flat landscape. A couple of times I saw it swoop to pursue a small bird, but mostly these owls rely on the stall and pounce method to catch rodents. Just imagine a huge claw dropping on you out of nowhere.

As I returned to the house I saw a group of Linnets land in the Ash trees. These birds have not been around much lately, so I raised my binoculars and the first one I picked out was strangely white. For a couple of moments I thought I had an Arctic Redpoll, a rare wanderer from Scandinavia, but it would be unusual to see one of these without other redpolls. The telescope was brought out to confirm that it was in fact just a linnet, all be it a very strangely coloured one. Presumably some sort of aberrant plumage.

Still, an unusual and mysterious creature indeed.

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