12th Feb 2022 – More Owls & More

An Owl Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a cloudy day but stayed dry and mild, although it felt colder in the increasingly blustery wind, which picked up particularly in the afternoon.

We started earlier than usual again, and once more we were glad we did. We started with a quick drive round via several fields where we have seen Barn Owls out hunting in the mornings recently and we were immediately rewarded when we found one perched on a post close to the road, behind some trees. We viewed from the minibus, so as not to disturb it, and edged progressively forward so everyone got a look through a gap in the vegetation in turn.

When the Barn Owl took off, we got out. We watched it hunting now, working its way round over the field. It dropped down into the grass, but came up again quickly – it hadn’t caught anything. Then it flew over the hedge to the next field down.

We walked along the road to where we could see into the next field and had a much better view of the Barn Owl now, out in the open, as it flew round and round over the grass several times. It disappeared behind some more trees a couple of times, but came back out again.

Barn Owl – quartering the grass

The Barn Owl looked like it was going to move on to the next field at one point, but just as we started walking the road again it came back. The second time it did that, it looked like it had landed out of view and we couldn’t see it now. We did walk down to the next gate this time, where we found someone else watching. There was no sign of the Barn Owl though – it had obviously landed where we couldn’t see it. We waited here a while to see if would come out again. There were several Curlews in the wet fields. A Mistle Thrush sang from the wires in front of us and we could hear a Greenfinch wheezing too.

We set off to walk back to the minibus, thinking we would have a drive round, but we hadn’t gone too far when we spotted the Barn Owl on a post in the lee of some bushes. We had a nice view through binoculars now but before we could find a way to get it in the scope it took off. It flew round to the other side of the bush behind and disappeared in. It had gone in to roost.

Barn Owl – before going to roost

As we made our way back to the minibus, a Red Kite drifted very low over the houses beside us and across the road. We had a drive round now to see if any other Barn Owls might still be out but couldn’t find any. It was a clear and sunny day yesterday and a mild and dry night – good weather for hunting. Unless they have a disturbed night or two, they don’t seem to be hungry enough to be out in daylight at the moment.

Red Kite – drifted low over the road

We decided to move on and try our luck finding a Tawny Owl next. We parked by a footpath and set off up along the edge of the field. A Song Thrush flicked up off the path ahead of us and disappeared into the vegetation off to one side.

Before we got too far, we stopped to scan the trees. The Tawny Owl was still there this morning, dozing in the opening of its tree hole. We set up the scopes and had a good view of it from here, if slightly obscured. The Tawny Owl woke at one point and preened for a bit, but then settled back down to doze still in the hole opening.

We edged up a little further, pushing our luck, but surprisingly the Tawny Owl didn’t seem to mind today. We got it in the scopes again, a much better view now. Fantastic!

Tawny Owl – in its tree hole

After admiring it for a while, we decided to leave the Tawny Owl in peace, and walked back down to the minibus. A Kestrel was hovering above the path as we passed.

We drove inland to look for Little Owls next. On our way, we stopped to watch three Brown Hares chasing each other round a field. They looked like they were going to start boxing, but then seemed to lose interest. One ran off and the other two stood staring at each other. Unfortunately a car came along behind us and we had to move on.

There was no sign of any on the first barns we checked, but as we pulled up by the second set we could see a Little Owl tucked in under the lip of the roof. We had a quick look from the minibus, using it as a hide, then drove a little further up and parked out of sight. We walked back round keeping a good distance, and got it in the scopes.

Little Owl – under the edge of the roof

We managed to get a little closer today, and the Little Owl stayed out. At first it was not even watching us. At one point it woke up, stared at us for a bit looking mildly annoyed, as Little Owls tend to do, then went back to dozing and staring out in front. Eventually it turned and disappeared in under the roof.

The wind was already picking up now, and it was increasingly cold out in the open. We drove back down to the coast and headed to Holkham for coffee break. We parked by Lady Anne’s Drive and got out to scan the grazing marshes first. Several Fieldfare were feeding out on the grass opposite.

Fieldfare – feeding on the grass

There was a nice selection of waders out here – several Common Snipe roosting on a grassy bank, a couple of Redshank, Oystercatcher and Curlew. A Black-tailed Godwit dropped down on the pool in front of us. There were lots of Lapwings out on the grass which spooked occasionally and flew round. A large flock of Golden Plover came up from the fields over towards Wells, and whirled round in front of the pines.

There were lots of ducks too – Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and one or two Gadwall. A Tufted Duck was diving in one of the deeper pools. Over the other side of the Drive, we turned the scopes on a small group of Pink-footed Geese and a Great White Egret was stalking in the grass beyond. Several Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards and Red Kites were up in the air, enjoying the breeze today. When something flushed all the ducks at the back, we looked across to see two Raven flying over, still a scarce bird here.

The pair of Grey Partridges were sheltering from the wind over the lip of the bank, by the ditch below The Lookout today. We could only see them once we got level with the end of the ditch but then we had a nice view of them through scope.

We kept getting distracted, but eventually made it to The Lookout for a welcome coffee break and a chance to warm up. Suitably refreshed, when we came back outside a pair of Stonechats were flitting along the fence in the middle of path, seemingly unconcerned by all the people walking past within just a couple of metres of them.

Stonechat – the male

As we walked out through the pines, we caught the tail end of a tit flock – several Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Blue Tits moved quickly through the bushes across the Gap. A Goldcrest flicked around in the top of a holm oak by the path then flew overhead into the pines on the other side.

Turning west through the dunes, we noticed a flurry of birds over the saltmarsh which dropped down on the edge of one of the paths. A flock of Snow Buntings and a single Sanderling in with them, looking slightly out of place. We had a good view through the scopes. Then suddenly they were off again, and we watched the Snow Buntings fly off west over the dunes, until they were lost to view.

Cutting across to the beach, there were lots of people out here today, and lots of dogs. It was the first day of half term. Someone was walking their dog right along through the high tide line, weaving in and out of the vegetation where the Shorelarks had been feeding recently. Not surprisingly there was no sign of them now. We carried on a little further and stopped to scan beach, but there were too many people out here too.

A small raft of Common Scoter was out on the sea beyond, and we could see a couple of Velvet Scoter with them but they were hard to pick out from here. It looked very windy further out on the beach, compared to where we were in the lee of the pines, so it wouldn’t be much better trying from there.

We turned and started to walk back, stopping to scan the beach ahead of us. There was some movement now out on the sand, and there they were, the four Shorelarks. They kept running across and then disappearing into little depressions in the beach, digging seedheads out where had only been partly covered with sand. We could see the sand flying! We positioned ourselves, and they gradually came much closer. Lovely views again today.

Shorelark – digging on the beach

Two people were walking their dog on the lead and came round the dunes in front of us. They stopped and looked at us all clearly watching something out in front of them, then walked on straight at the Shorelarks. Not surprisingly, the Shorelarks took off and flew further out, landing in the middle of the beach.

We decided to head back, as it was time for lunch now. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese came up from the fields over towards Wells as we got our bags out of the minibus. It was windy on the south side of the pines, so we ate lunch in The Lookout today.

Afterwards, we had a quick look over the grazing marshes further west. Several Marsh Harriers circled up and there were lots of geese out on the grass. We got the scope on a distant flock of White-fronted Geese over at the back, bathing in a pool. A Great White Egret stood out, even at that distance.

Then we drove back east to Blakeney. We thought we would combine a look at the Red-breasted Goose out on the Freshes with scanning for owls, as it was getting towards that time of day again now. The Red-breasted Goose has been the birding highlight here the last few days, so we should really not drive past it today without at least having a look!

A couple of Curlew and two Little Grebes were out in the harbour channel as we passed. Walking up onto the seawall, we could see a Red-breasted Goose in the wildfowl collection behind the fence below. That one doesn’t count, but now at least we knew what we were looking for!

Further out on the seawall, we could see a large flock of Brent Geese out on the grass in the middle of the Freshes now. It was hard to see, as we were looking through reeds and the birds had their heads down, but we found the Red-breasted Goose in with them. After a bit of moving up and down the path, we managed to get it so we were looking through a gap in the reeds and had a much better view now.

Red-breasted Goose – with the Brents (recent photo!)

We kept scanning but there was no sign of any Barn Owls out yet this afternoon. It was very windy out here though, not ideal conditions for them, and as we had seen this morning they are not really hungry enough to come out in less than ideal conditions in daylight, at the moment. Several Marsh Harriers were floating in the wind up over the reeds.

We carried on up to the corner, where we could see a nice selection of waders out in the harbour – lots of Knot, Grey Plover and Dunlin. Then we dropped down to the path through the middle where it was more sheltered. The Brent Geese were now hidden from view behind the next fence, so we walked back to the road and back to the minibus.

We drove round to where we had seen the Barn Owl this morning, but there was no sign of it coming out again to hunt now. So we decided to check out some owls boxes instead, but it was all quiet there too – it was probably just too windy now to encourage them out in daylight hours.

Everyone was getting cold now in the wind too. We would normally head out to see the Tawny Owl emerging at dusk, but having enjoyed such great views this morning, we figured that there was no point in making everyone stand around in the cold again this evening. We had done very well for owls today, and had seen a load of other birds too afterwards, so given we had an earlier than normal start, we decided to call it a day half an hour early and head for home. It had been a great day.

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