Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Owl Panic

This morning was very unpromising and I contented myself watching the antics of the garden birds.
Two Jays were very active at the back of the garden and would occasionally come out onto the lawn, apparently finding some items of food while probing around in the grass. I couldn't make out what they were finding, it may have been seeds that had spilled from the feeders.

This one appeared to be burying what ever it had gleaned from the grass. It is easy to see why many reports of unusual birds, reported by non-birders, turn out to be this species. They are normally quite shy and, given how few people actually notice any birds around them, they do look quite exotic. This may sound a harsh critique of most people's knowledge, but having watched the attempts at answering questions about birds and other wildlife on the various quizzes on the TV one can only conclude that the average person knows very little about natural history.

I was surprised to hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the garden this morning, BWP states that they normally start in mid-January. Four or five weeks early doesn't sound that much, but it does show what a strange autumn and early winter we've had this year.

Pam bought a couple of these "donut" feeders the other day, the peanut one is getting some use, but the sunflower seed one is, so far, being ignored.

The sun came out at lunch time, and given the dismal forecast for the next few days, I decided to pay a visit to Oare marshes. With a late afternoon high-tide I hoped that a lot of waders would be coming in to roost and I wasn't disappointed.

The "island" just out from the parking spot was already covered in birds, mainly Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin, with Golden Plovers filling in the gaps.

Further out a black and white strip in the water proved to be a flock of around a hundred Avocets. It still seems strange to see so many of this iconic bird in Kent. My earliest memories were of them was of the excitement that they nested in Suffolk and the almost pilgrimage like trips to see them.

The closest birds were Lapwings, with a few Ruff mixed in with them, and Golden Plovers were slowly arriving at the back of group as the other island became over-crowded.

The Great White Egret was there, but stubbornly remained more or less hidden in the reeds, I might not have seen it at all, had not Steve Reynaert pointed it out to me!

Suddenly all hell was let loose and the majority of the waders were in the air, the large group of Black-tailed Godwits wheeled around acting like one large organism.

As they turned in the air they changed from a mainly dark mass with white flashes to become almost silver white with dark edges.

The cause of all this mayhem flew steadily over the flood, and I wondered if this bird would ever attack a bird as a large as a Godwit or Golden Plover? Looking in BWP birds form just 7% by weight of the diet of Short-eared Owls, normally finch sized birds, although thrushes and even an adult Moorhen have been recorded as food items.

The Avocets did a couple of laps of the flood, but eventually settled back, more or less, where they had come from.

Many of the Golden Plovers flew backwards and forwards before quite a few returned to land just in front of me.

The sheer numbers and volatility of the birds on the flood, especially at high tide make this one of the most spectacular places to watch birds in Kent. The noise as all the birds settled down after their flight of panic is something as impressive in it's own way as the song of a nightingale or the sound of a flock of geese.

Then, as I was watching the Golden Plovers in the glow of a very low sun, that was just disappearing behind a blanket of low cloud, I realised that the Great White Egret had come out of it's slumber and was on the move.

Much has been made of the spectacular flights of Starlings in various places and the large flock that accumulated here was very impressive.

As part of the flock of Starlings arrived in front of me a sprinkling of Dunlins could be seen mixed in with them.

The Great White Egret walked along the edge of the flood and then came out of the water and walked towards the road.

I was now very nearly too dark to take any pictures, but since I might never be so close again I did take some shots in the hope that some might be usable, if a bit grainy.

The bird ended up in the ditch right next to where I had parked the car. I guess it is a ditch that it frequently feeds in, it seemed to know exactly where it was heading to. It certainly seemed to pick up something, but I was unable to see what it had caught. In the end I could only see the head every now and again, and it was time to go.


Susan said...

I love godwits and you've got some nice action shots of everything. Well done!

Kingsdowner said...

Great post and photos, Tony. Marvellous capture of the owl.

Marianne said...

Brilliant post and photos, I especially like the godwits wheeling against the sky. Nice shots of the GWE too!

Alan Pavey said...

Really great read Tony, with equally great photos. I agree there are not many sites that produce those kinds of sights! in Kent, especially at such close quarters. Sounds like an ideal afternoon.

Steve said...

Glad you got to see the GWE I'm afraid my patience is what it used to be. I will just have to go again. Nice shot of the SEO better than any of mine

Warren Baker said...

Great spot drumming here this week Tony, albeit half-heartedtly

Factor said...

Great post! Really enjoyed it

Mike H said...

Nice account Tony with some good shots to go with it.