Saturday, 13 April 2013

Quality time

After Swineham rewarded me so handsomely for a quick and dirty visit midweek, I thought I should take it slower last night. I headed there straight after work and stayed until dark: the equivalent of flowers, chocolates and a meal by my standards.

Brambling: in the open at last
I almost didn't get there at all, distracted on the edge of Wareham by the continued presence of a small Brambling flock, which had been joined by several singing Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers since my last visit. The Bramblings have been tricky to photograph all winter, remaining wary and positioning themselves deep or high in a variety of small trees. With a bit of good light last night, I was determined to out-wait them, and eventually one did perch briefly in the open.

Willow Warbler, Swineham
More Chiffs and Willow Warblers were singing around the pits and while photographing them I met a lady who'd been out to the Point to look for the local Common Seal. She reported seeing a Barn Owl en route and, best of all, a Long-eared Owl in the bushes a few hundred yards from where we were stood. The location seemed as likely a spot as any for Long-Eared Owl, and the fact that the bird remained in the bushes while she tried (unsuccessfully) to get a picture with a compact camera before it was eventually flushed by some other passers-by also sounded more like a Long-Eared than a Short-Eared Owl. The sceptical (and insanely jealous) mind inevitably considers possible confusion between the two, particularly as Short-eared is regularly seen here and Long-eared is something of a rarity in Poole Harbour. So if you're reading this, compact camera-wielding lady, sorry I doubted you, and thanks for the gen.

Chiffchaff, Bestwall Road
The Owl had apparently flown along the hedge line but not gone far so I thoroughly checked some likely locations without success. As dusk approached I waited at the end of the pits which affords a good all round view. A Marsh Harrier came in to roost and a Barn Owl cruised past but that was about it. I had texted news of the report to the nerve centre of local bird news, a.k.a. Steve Smith, who joined me for the last of the light.

Barn Owl, Swineham
Steve phoned just before he reached my vantage point to say he had flushed an Eared Owl from the bushes next to the path, and that it looked too dark for a Short-Eared. Soon after I picked it up heading in my direction, and managed a couple of shots in the half-light. From field views the underwing tips looked pale and barred, the underparts more extensively streaked and the upperparts more uniform than Short-Eared, so we retired to Chez Moore to consume the pictures, field guides and vegetable biryanis.

Underwing pattern shows several bars towards the pale wing tip, not solidly dark tips as in Short-eared Owl
The photographs, which I fully expect to secure at least a commendation in the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, showed enough for us to feel confident about identifying it as a Long-Eared Owl. So my third Swineham tick in a week, and another good bird on the 'walked from home' list (Steve gave me a lift back to the curry house but I walked one way, which is allowed. See clause 4.2, section VIII of 'Walked from Home List Rulebook', as amended 12/4/13).

Long-eared Owl has darker and more uniform upperparts than Short-eared Owl and a richer chestnut patch on the wing

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