Various things, mainly the rain, have conspired against me in recent weeks to reduce my birdwatching to a minimum. So, last night, with the skies finally clear for a couple of hours, I thought it was time to get back out there.
I made my way down to a local nature reserve where Barn Owls have bred regularly in recent years, hoping that the break in the weather might have encouraged them to hunt. As I arrived, though, there were only plenty of Swallows and Sand Martins to be seen, plus an encouraging number of Reed Buntings and Whitethroats, with the small birds seemingly as glad as me that the weather had taken a turn for the better.
Surprise number one came as I walked past the little pools, screened by earth banks, towards the second hide. The twittering of the hirundines suddenly reached a crescendo, and as I turned to look, a Hobby appeared from behind the bank, sweeping round in a wide circle before disappearing behind a treeline. Even before I had time to take in the Swift-like shape, the red 'trousers' were noticeable in the late sunshine.
Delighted, I made my way into the hide, and opened the first flap. There, less than 50 yards away, perched in a low bush, was a raptor-like silhouette, which took on a bluish tone as I looked closer. Merlin? Surely not at this time of year. A slightly small Sparrowhawk or Hobby? No, a Cuckoo, completely unperturbed by my presence. Even as I rather noisily opened my scope's tripod, it only shifted position by a few feet. I've seen plenty of Cuckoos in flight, but never so close, for so long, and perched.
After I left the hide I saw it and what was presumably its mate again, but as things got unseasonably cold and the light failed, I started to make my way home. Then, there it was, flying directly towards me, with a hapless vole in its dangling talons. I held still, waited, and only when it was around 15 yards away did the Barn Owl suddenly seem to spot me, screeching loudly and veering away sharply, before coming round in a wide circle towards its nest-box.
It'd have been hard to imagine a more rewarding hour's birding, a reminder that the period just after a spell of bad weather is often the most productive time to go looking. Mind you, it's chucking it down again now. Looks like a night in watching The Apprentice.