All week, Friday was forecast to be the worst day – snow, sleet, high winds. It was going to be a day to be indoors. Except that it wasn’t. Miraculously, yesterday afternoon the forecast began to change and by this morning we were expected to have sunny spells. It was a bit cloudy first thing – ironically, now worse than it was ‘meant’ to be – but before midday the sun was out and the afternoon saw clear blue skies. It was a day to get out – at least once the worst of the chores were out of the way.
A quick stop confirmed the continued presence of one of the Little Owls, though once again it was feeling shy and retiring. It perched up briefly on the roof and then ducked down behind the ridge leaving just the top of its head showing. Rather than spook it, I moved swiftly on.
I checked out a couple of barns where I know there are often Barn Owls but there was no joy today. On the way, a couple of Brown Hares sat in a field next to the road, enjoying the sun – though there was no sign of any ‘boxing’ today, they were probably still warming up. A small number of Redwing were also feeding on the verge. And a large flock of Pink-footed Geese had settled to feed in a large field of recently harvested sugar beet. A Kestrel sat by the road allowed me to get unusually close, albeit from the shelter of the car. Perhaps it was sick or had been in a collision with a car? However, it wouldn’t sit long enough for me to pick it up.
I stopped briefly at Wells Harbour. The resident Shag flew past the quay and out into the channel where it started fishing. There was still no sign of the Red-necked Grebe which has been reported erratically in recent weeks, but there were lots of Little Grebes, including one particularly pale one, which looked rather white-faced in the sunlight – surely not the source of confusion? A Red Kite circled over East Hills. A large flock of Brent Geese was bathing in the harbour, but flew off to the fields before I got a chance to look through it.
A quick stop at Holkham revealed a few Pink-footed Geese along Lady Anne’s Drive, those that were not feeding in the fields inland. Round from the road, several White-fronted Geese could be picked out amongst the Greylags out on the wetter parts of the grazing marsh. Four Red Kites circled over the pines.
With the sun shining, I couldn’t resist the walk out at Burnham Overy. There were lots of Brent Geese feeding in the fields and it didn’t take long to find the resident (for winter) hybrid Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose in amongst them. At first, the way the light was striking it made it look surprisingly dark, almost blackish, and much darker than the other Brents. With its well marked white flank patch and extensive white neck collar, it almost looked like a real Black Brant for a second. But the flock was spooked by a dog walker and flew a short distance. With the angle of the light changed, it suddenly looked much less convincing, the grey tones it its body plumage now showing the Dark-bellied Brent influence.
The Rough-legged Buzzard was sat on one of its usual fence posts. At first, it sat two posts along from a Red Kite, which was a surprising combination. A short flight across and on to another post, just enough to show off its black-banded white tail.
There was not even any wait today for the main event. As soon as I got up onto the seawall, I could see a Short-eared Owl quartering the grazing marsh. For some time, it favoured a small area of rushes and kept flying across it, head down, stopping to hover occasionally. It would periodically fly further off, but kept returning. It landed on one of the posts and sat there, alert, constantly looking around. It didn’t catch anything while I was watching it, but did drop down into the grass on a couple of occasions, as if it was about to. Still stunning, even though I have watched it many times now.
There appears to be only one Short-eared Owl present at the moment. Given how aggressively the territorial bird chased off any others which dared to hunt over the grazing marshes in recent weeks, it has probably succeeded in moving them on. Now it seems to have turned its attention to the local Kestrels. At one point, a Kestrel came overhead and the two chased after each other, circling higher and higher into the air. Eventually, the Kestrel peeled off and headed towards the dunes and I lost sight of which way the Short-eared Owl went. With the afternoon getting on, I walked back, stopping briefly to watch one of the Barn Owls hunting over the set-aside field by the path.