I'm owling mad, me. No, really - they're among my very favourite birds.
Very poor jokes aside, I spent yesterday trekking round my local patch, attempting to kickstart my 2010 list, and to prevent my increasingly dodgy back from seizing up altogether.
It worked on both counts, with the early highlight being a good look at a lovely drake Smew at Swithland Reservoir. It took a while to find it, watching from the dam, because it was tucked in right underneath the overhanging vegetation along the Kinchley Lane side of the res, so I walked over that way and, as it gradually made its way out into open water, was able to get great scope views of it in all its cracked-ice glory.
Most of the rest of the day was spent mopping up some fairly bread-and-butter birds, but on most of my birding trips this winter, I seem to have been magnetically attracted to Cossington Meadows, and its Short-eared Owls (although there was also the hope that the Bittern found by John Hague the previous day would still be around).
It was a gloriously clear, sunny day, and as I entered the reserve and walked over towards Rectory Marsh at about 3.45, I could see a white shape flitting around behind the trees. As I got closer, it was revealed as a Barn Owl, and a very pale one at that, hunting along the hedgerows and occasionally perching on a fencepost. I watched, along with a couple who’d made the trip over from South Derbyshire, and caught sight of a crow mobbing a large bird high in the distance. To my surprise, it was one of the Short-eareds. Surprise, because for most of the winter they’ve been waiting until it’s almost dark to come out, and because you don’t usually see them at any great height.
So, we trooped round to a position overlooking Swan Meadow, and stood with half a dozen other birders as the show commenced. The mobbing had finished, so the SEO descended to its usual level and started quartering the rough grass. Another Barn Owl appeared, this one much darker and more orangey on its back, and for the next hour, we were able to watch up to three SEOs and three Barn Owls hunting nearly non-stop. It was very noticeable, especially when they glided close in, that there was a considerable colour difference between the Short-eareds, too, with one appearing much lighter than the others.
I finally gave up when I realised I was getting positively dizzy with cold (or was that just with the experience and with having my eyes pressed up to my Swarovskis for so long?). There was a fantastic sunset over Charnwood Forest, with what seemed like every possible colour bleeding into each other, and after 15 minutes thawing out in the car, I drove home, enjoying the extra bonus of a Woodcock in perfect silhouette as it flew across the road between Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood.