Friday, 25 January 2013

A Ghost Owl at Mary Bax

I had some time to wile away before I needed to be in Deal this afternoon. I have a favourite place for seeing Kingfishers, but today, unusually it let me down, but I did watch a close Little Egret feeding in the stream.

Still with time to spare a quick visit to Restharrow Scrape seemed a good idea. Last time I was here the lake was almost frozen over with just a small pool with a dozen or so Teal and a few Coots left in it. Today it was mostly open water and there were a few ducks around including some very smart Wigeon, one of which insisted on coming towards the hide wolf whistling as soon as I opened then window.

There were also several Gadwalls and a small group of Tufted Ducks. The Gadwalls seemed to be associating with the Tufties. I've seen them feeding in a similar way with coots before.

They wait on the surface when the Tufties dive and feed on the small items that rise to the surface as the diving ducks disturb the bottom.

As I was watching this interaction a Barn Owl appeared at the back of the scrape and quartered along the reeds towards the hide. I've been in the hide three times since Christmas, all at the same time of day, and each time a Barn Owl has put in an appearance.

 They fly in an extraordinary way, very light and bouncy but also performing skillful twists and turns as they drop onto the ground in the pursuit of their prey. I must admit that I have seldom seen one come up from one of these dives with anything, until that is later today. It made its way past the hide and out of view and I continued to scan the scrape and its surroundings in the hope of finding a so far unseen gem. All I managed was one Common Snipe, preening among some grassy tussocks to my right.

I caught up with the Barn Owl, near Mary Bax. By now it was quite dark and the Owl made several stoops to the ground each time reappearing after a few seconds. Then it went down and didn't come back up immediately. I waited for a minute or so and then started scanning, thinking that I mush have missed it moving on. It must have been a couple more minutes when it suddenly appeared carry a prey item in its talons. It didn't hang around but flew off, back towards the area we had started from. There are few sights more entrancing than a hunting Barn Owl and while I was watching it close to the road two other car loads of people also stopped and enjoyed this ghost like phantom of the twilight.

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