The short eared owl is resident in northern England and Scotland where breeding populations reside, but in my part of East Anglia,near Cambridge, they are only seen in winter time when migrants from Scandinavia arrive.
A really good place to see short eared owls is Burwell Fen a few miles to the east of Cambridge. it’s a wide open scrubby space bordered by farmland and by Wicken Fen which is managed by the National trust and is itself an important nature reserve.
I went there with some friends who hadn’t seen a short eared owl before and were excited at the possibility, and as with all things natural, even though I was reasonably confident we would see one, there’s never any certainty. We met up there one afternoon in early January and within 5-10 minutes one appeared hunting over the grassland.
Short eared owl – Asio flammeus – quartering the Fen
I don’t know if the cattle that were grazing the Fen were flushing the voles that the owls feed on but this one seemed to be spending a lot of time hunting around the cattle.
One owl taking exception to a second one encroaching into it’s space
As we watched over the Fen for the next couple of hours at least 3-4 owls were in the air, and here’s photographic evidence that were at least two!
It was a bright sunny winter afternoon in January and because of the time of year the sun was low in the sky all day and the light was spectacular. It lit up the Fen, which can appear grey and featureless on a cloudy winter day, in gorgeous pink and orange hues. It was beautiful to look at but challenging to photograph! And before the sun sunk below the horizon a barn owl also appeared to hunt small rodents.
A ghostly barn owl – Tyto alba – appeared just before dusk, the night shift replacing the day shift
And shortly after the sun sunk below the horizon in a polychromatic blaze of colour…
By now it was too dark to see the wildlife, and too cold to linger, but it had been a wonderful introduction to the Fen and to short eared owls for my friends!