Searching for Short-eared Owls

It's that time of the year again when the Short-eared Owls are expected back at Papercourt Meadows for the winter. In fact, they should in theory have arrived about a month ago, but with none being reported (with the exception of a passer-by in mid-October) I headed down to the meadows on an overcast Sunday evening to see if any had arrived.

We arrived at just before 16:00, approximately 30 minutes before sunset. This would give us time to walk around the reserve for a short while to look for the owls before darkness fell. Unsurprisingly for a dull winters evening, there was very little about, with the exception of a few Mallards and Swans on the river, and the crows passing overhead.


A dull evening at Papercourt Meadows

It felt very peaceful, being out in the twilight, away from busy streets and noise pollution. But sadly, as darkness approached, there was no sign of any Short-eared Owls. It seems the winter of 2016-2017 may have to go down as another that failed to produce regular Short-eared Owls at Papercourt.

With literally nothing else around (even Stonechats were nowhere to be seen), we quite quickly decided to call it a day and head back to the car. By this point, it was getting dark faster than ever, and the chances of seeing anything, let alone an owl was getting slimmer and slimmer.

But then, much to our surprise, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting in the field over the river. Despite not being the species we had gone to see, this was certainly a treat nonetheless. The ghostly, pale figure swooped back and forth across the field in front of us for a good few minutes before disappearing again behind a patch of trees. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough light by this point for any photographs.

The Barn Owl was a great spot and certainly made the trip worthwhile. We turned around and headed back down the track towards the car. It seemed the Barn Owl had followed us around too, as it reappeared to the right of us another couple of times before truly disappearing into the gloom. So, sadly, no Short-eared Owls, but a Barn Owl that was a positive end to our short walk.


Night falls across the meadows

Unfortunately, there is one more thing I'd like to say before I end this post. Whilst driving back in the dark along the narrow country lanes leading back from the reserve, we came across a frankly shocking amount of fly-tipping. We had to go off the side of the road three or four times to avoid the piles, which were often spread right out into the middle of the lanes. Not only is this dangerous, but it's so sad to see people have such a lack of respect for the countryside and their surroundings. Someone must have showed up in a van or lorry, dumped their rubbish and driven off again, seemingly without a care in the world. 



But despite this upsetting end, the trip was certainly a good one. Despite not seeing any Short-eared Owls (which I hope will turn up very soon), we got to watch a Barn Owl hunting for a while, and enjoyed a peaceful twilight walk nevertheless.


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