Earlier this week I got a text from Matt W saying he had estimated 700 Linnets, and counted 58 Reed Buntings and 70 Yellowhammers. That being the case it was perhaps not surprising that the first three birds I saw from the Netherstead car-park were raptors. A Sparrowhawk, then a Kestrel after I had erected my scope planning to try to photograph something, then a distant raptor behind the Kestrel flying powerfully away. I got it in the scope in time to see it do the unmistakable wing flicker which confirmed it on jizz as a Merlin, as it dived over the horizon.
Dave was delayed by a large flock of Linnets by the entry road. I was also counting Linnets and we got a combined estimate of 350 birds, plus about 100 Chaffinches. A couple of Lesser Redpolls dropped in but disappeared before I could photograph them.
I was feeling pretty pleased with the Merlin, but better was to come. There were certainly plenty of Finches and Buntings, but they were well spread out and we didn't really get to grips with a full count. A flock of Lapwings, Dave counted 192, appeared over the flashes, so we made our way there. We added 11 Wigeon, eight Teal, 12 Snipe, and a Green Sandpiper to the day list.
The return journey was much more exhilarating. We began by finding some fresh Barn Owl pellets in the shed, but the real excitement came as we were making our way across the ridge field. A Short-eared Owl flew up in front of Dave and rose high to the north, suddenly a second bird got up to join it. I was as unprepared as ever to get a shot, but one of the birds was being mobbed by corvids so I had time to get set and have a go. Given that my technique involves getting birds in the scope and then holding the camera to the eye-piece, I tend not to even bother trying to photograph flying birds. I couldn't really see anything on the camera screen so it was very much a case of click and hope. But I got it.
Probably the worst photograph of a Short-eared Owl you'll ever see..but I'm proud of it. Dave said he thought my getting a shot was more unexpected than finding the Owl ! This is a first for Morton Bagot (technically), but it was very much on the radar. Last year I spoke to a duck shooter who mentioned having flushed an Owl from a field once, and he described this species pretty well. I also saw one at Wootton Wawen last year, while birds wintered at Salford Prior gravel pit, about 15 miles away. So definitely on the cards.
I tried ringing the regulars, but only Jon could get down. We kept going, adding a Grey Wagtail, a Brambling, and about 200 Greylag Geese which flew over. I took a photo of this male Chaffinch which had lost its tail.
Dave had to leave, so I decided to join Jon to try to help him relocate the second Owl, which we thought might have gone down over the ridge. On my way to him I heard a calling Grey Partridge to add to the dozen or so Red-legs we had accumulated during the day. We walked across the ridge field but it was all in vain.
I left Jon to continue alone and headed back home. My year list is now my equal highest (118), and I still have a few possible additions to look out for, with GBB Gull probably my best bet.
Who says December is boring.