Friday, April 17, 2009

Owling time

Due to the local penchant for annihilating owls I'm going to be circumspect about giving an indication where I see them. This evening's outing showed only too clearly what the problems are: managed grouse moors with miles of suitable habitat - no owls; place with no shooting - Short-eared Owl found within five minutes. These moors should have a pretty good population of S-eOs on habitat availability, the reality is that this species is very uncommon and hard to find in the breeding season.

I am told by reliable sources that S-eOs are targeted by the keepers. I have also been informed of the deliberate shooting of a Tawny Owl. Now I'll warrant that S-eOs may take the occasional small grouse chick but it is well known that they are almost entirely dependant on small mammals, I believe that the taking of grouse and other bird chicks is unusual. Tawny Owl will pose almost no threat to game birds, indeed they are likely to deal with the species that predate them, Brown Rat for example. But in this neck of the woods it seems "There's too many hawks." and owls, no doubt.

Did I come across a Hen Harrier during my evening outing? You must be joking. Last breeding here in 2003 and now very uncommon in winter, let alone breeding. What is the National Park doing about this? Absolutely nothing, indeed correspondence that I have had reveals a denial of the truth that it is human activities that limit Hen Harriers here, instead the old chestnut of ccomplexity was trotted out. Complexity my foot.

Now I've got that off my chest what was going on at misty Scaling Dam earlier today? From the Yorkshire end I espied a small flock of hirundines, so with R-rS ever on my mind at this season I leapt back in the car and headed for Cleveland. 47 Swallows, 5 Sand Martins and 2 House Martins was my haul, actually staying just the Yorkshire side of the border. However, up by the hide a slight accent to a call caught my attention, somewhere here there's a White Wagtail. That's not a White Wagtail but aha, that one is.

A few years back I was involved in some discussion about whether or not M.a.alba is separable from M.a.yarrelli on call. At the time my view was not. However, I have changed my mind, I seem to be able to tune in to them these days. There is a grey wagtailish sharpness to alba's call to my ear. I am happy with this in spring, however, autumn juveniles with their juvvy type calls are not so clear cut and I'm not sure its possible to separate them on call in autumn.

The other good bird was Stock Dove, not sure I've seen this species at Scaling before, there were two on the field across the road however. Reading the northern blogs Stock Doves seem to be on the move at the moment with birds turning up on Shetland. The other species scattered across the northern isles at the moment is Hawfinch.

Tree Sparrows are now daily in the garden and can be heard almost continuously chirping from nearby Hawthorns. The male Sparrowhawk is an almost daily visitor and a pair of Kestrel are prospecting.

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