This autumn has seen significant arrivals of Short-eared Owls in the UK with many crossing the North Sea from Scandinavia and some even turning up on North Sea gas rigs (as highlighted in the BBC’s Autumnwatch last week) as well as in many parts of the UK. One flew across the road in front my car while I was driving in Hampshire last week and I’ve recently seen them at three sites in Northants which, fortunately, has not missed out. In the past few weeks there have been records from Daventry Country Park, Pitsford Reservoir, Hollowell Reservoir, Polebrook Airfield, Harrington Airfield, Harlestone Heath and Maidwell and any undisturbed area of rough ground or wasteland is surely worth a look. The last two of these sites have consistently held good numbers with the Blueberry Farm complex near Maidwell producing an amazing twelve, which is likely to be a record day count for a single site in the County (let me know if this has been beaten!). They were still present there this evening and continue to prove to be a popular draw for local birders and photographers. Access and viewing is from the track which runs west from Brampton Valley Way below Hanging Houghton to Beck’s Dairy, Cottesbrook. Six have been reported at Harrington Airfield in the past couple of days, although three is the number more usually seen there. Dave Jackson has very kindly supplied some images taken at the latter locality.
Apart from the yellow eyes (orange in Long-eared Owl), the photos show nicely some key features which distinguish Short-eared from Long-eared when viewed distantly, namelyobvious, broad, even tail-barring (diffuse and less conspicuous in Long-eared), white trailing edges to wings and thickly streaked head and chest, which contrasts sharply with unmarked belly.