Going to be interesting to see what happens with Short-eared Owl overwintering for 2018/2019. There could be a real lack of voles on normal grassland, due to what I am guessing will be limited breeding in those areas with no growing grass. A requisite for voles to breed. But the saltmarshes, where a lot of Shorties do over winter, should still see a good level of prey; voles and wading birds. MIght compress the owls into those areas. Another factor is how many British pairs of Shorties bred this year. The very late bad weather had an impact in some areas: I found no sign of breeding on Langhom Moor in mid-June, and just a little in North Wales. So we may be dependent on Scandinavian owls for even more of our overwintering Shorties. Could be an interesting overwintering period. Or a very quiet one!
I have posted this on WAB Castaways too, or a version of it!
A long overdue Shortie update, I have been exceptionally busy covering Shortie breeding in both Scotland and North Wales as well as pushing the book forward.
There have been very large numbers of reports from all over England recently, a few from Wales and Scotland. It could be a very good winter for them after a very mediocre breeding year, with Skomer for one being an exception to that. So keep a look out in your local Shortie patch, there will be some that come out before dark quite regularly. Suggested reasons for that regular daytime activity will be in my book.
My study roost on the local marshes, which has seen peaks in Shorties of 24 in 2016/2017 and 20 in 2017/2018, already has 18. Apart from a day more were presumed to have arrived over the North Sea, they have already settled into their nocturnal winter life. I watched them all go out last night after sunset, and went back and saw them all come back in before dawn this morning. My 02.20 getting up was well worth it, they had a truly fabulous 12 minute communal fly-around and perching session before the usual sudden going down to roost for the day 40 minutes before sunrise. And for once all the action was fairly close to me (which is away from the roost and has never caused them any disturbance), giving wonderful thermal image views.
It was all watched through my thermal imager, which has proved truly excellent for such use.
I try and get to the roost a couple of hours before sunset, and then, when I do a morning session, try and stay for a couple of hours or more after dawn. Just to check for any daylight activity. I always find it amazing, as I did this morning, to look down on the marshland roost area in broad daylight. Knowing what has happened in, and over it a few hours before. Now just a quiet and empty looking area of dense grasses etc, with a few day birds flying over it.
The book is steadily going through sub-edit, design and copy edit, now looks like it's going to be 400 pages. Hoping to get 9 out of 11 chapters through the above process before year end. All is drafted, but still being updated as I gather more data.
I have no intention of stopping my study once the book is published, hopefully next autumn. I'm still gaining more and more knowledge about this incredible owl species. I heard my 24th adult Shortie call during my recent North Wales trip. So I could hear it really clearly on a superb calm and clear full moon night, the owl rather nicely perched less than 100 m from me in my car and used it ten times! It was shouting at a foraging badger.
A long time since I posted here. Still flat out with field studies and with getting the book through design and edit.
Shortie breeding season coming up, but I worry what impact the current, long spell of bad weather will have. Like all birds I guess, females in particular will need to be a good weight and in good condition to have a decent chance of successful breeding. I watched the 20 Shorties still on my local roost go out to hunt tonight. A roost still staying nocturnally active with just a few exceptions. Their behaviour in wind gusting to 35 mph looked do be 'agitated', the best word I can find to describe them. They all left the roost area, after a couple rose from their roost sites in the roost area, and then went back down again. And after two went out onto the marshland, and then came back in! All this watched via my thermal imager which has paid for itself many times over. After they had all left the roost area, I watched some heading over the adjacent marsh towards their hunting territories. Seemingly in stages. Stopping on the way, before flying a bit further. Leading me to wonder how many kills will you make tonight? And how many of you females will stay in good breeding condition? I do rather worry about them! Thankfully the wind dropped a lot very soon after, leaving me to check when the forecast rain is due, and when hunting will be hard again later tonight. Then working out if they would all have sufficient time to make at least two kills, enough to keep them ticking over, but no more. Yes, as I said, I do worry about the lovely owls I monitor!
Its been a big roost this winter again, third year running. Peaked at 26 in February, dropped to 20, the went back up to 25 again a few days ago. Now at 20. One benefit of the westerlies blowing is that they tend to go out of the roost area in, more or less, the same direction. Meaning I should get an accurate count. Which I do in two or three stages. Firstly, I count those up from their roost sites: they can be spread out over 5 or 6 different ones. Some may get ready (pre-hunt) down in their roost sites. I can pick that up sometimes with the thermal imager as wings etc stick up above the ground, before they rise and head out. Usually the majority rise, then perch in view doing their pre-hunt. But for both those groups I count them as they rise. A second count is as they leave the roost area. And, if my brain is feeling very agile, I also do a count for each of the individual roost sites they have risen from. So, I can end up with three different counts. And, mostly, they balance. Except when some of the owls have a fly around session, going out and back, and in and out of my thermal imager view. Making a decent count impossible. So I just enjoy watching them!
As mentioned earlier, the roost is still nocturnally active with just a few exceptions. One did come out late afternoon recently, it didn't come that close but I got an against the light shot of it.
Onto the book. Drafted, with only the index to do. But my study continues so I am updating some parts as appropriate. And I have every intention of keeping my intensive study going. But, back to the book. I had the third pdf of chapter 9 (out of 11), back from my wonderful designer today. Taken some knocking into shape, as it had a lot of text tables and charts in it. But it's now looking good and, with some more work on it, should be be ready for copy edit in a few weeks. Hopefully the finished book will be ready for printing by year end. Then I have to find a British printer who can reproduce a very, very wide range of photos in all sorts of lighting condtions, to a very high standard. I will effectively be looking for a printer with a track record in fine art printing. No idea how long, or how much it will cost me to get there.
Right, enough from me. Keep your eyes open as Shorties will be on the move soon. Leaving over-wintering areas and heading off to breed. Hopefully with some doing that in Britain.
Well, the Shorties on the large over-wintering Short-eared Owl roost are on the move now, most likely off to Scandinavia, to breed. As I have done for a while now, I increased my observations during the severe weather of high winds, rain, sleet and hail that ended early this week. And, as for so many times, I was rewarded by seeing how these owls can hunt in such weather when they really have to. Not all of them, but enough to add to my knowledge base as to how they cope with severe weather. More than making up for having the coffee blown out of my mug at times as I stood, alone, on a North Sea, seawall, overlooking the roost area as the storms raged! Then the winds subsided early this week, and the numbers of owls started to drop from what had been a recent steady 20 on the roost. After peaks of 26 in February and 25 early in March. Down to 9 tonight. Always makes me a bit sad when they leave, I almost get to know them, even though they are mostly just thermal images in the dark. But not yesterday. Two came out early. Maybe for one last feed before heading out across the North Sea. I have seen them do that before. So I got a reasonable daylight photo in fairly gloomy conditions.
Thanks for the update, Brian... it sounds as though you've been having quite a time of it with the weather. We had gales here in London that were bad enough- days and days of constant wind, so it must have been really rough where you are.
That's a beautiful photograph as well... I think it's going to be difficult for you to choose which ones to put in the book, because you've shown us so many stunning ones!
A few hours wardening, a couple of hours checking the Shorties, looks like all 4 could still be there, then over to the other side of the island to check on the Shorties there. Expecting all the Islands' Shorties that are going, to be going now, as the NE wind has eased quite a bit. And, bingo! One was perched on a fence post by the sea on the access track; one of their take off places to cross the Norrh Sea. I couldn't sit tight in my car and watch, as a car came down behind me and I had to move, grabbing a photo or two (below), before the two cars passing, flushed it. Then to the roost and a wait. Before, at 20.30, one came up, perched, preened, ejected a pellet and then took off at 20.36 and was still climbing nearly two minutes later heading NE over the sea when my thermal imager lost sight of it. Heading to west Sweden or South East Norway on that heading. Almost a few tears as usual from me; I've probably been watching that one, amongst all the others, for the last six months! The majority of actual departing migrants I have now seen over the years, rise from their roost at the normal 30 minutes after sunset, go through their usual evening preparations, but instead of going off to hunt the night, fly the North Sea at Night.
Lots of online reports at present. Some going and some arriving! Two in off the sea at Dungeness this morning. The enigmatic Short-eared Owl, as both myself and the BTO call it. Little doubt some would have attempted the North Sea crossing into the recent strongish NE wind, they will go in adverse winds as they are very strong flyers. But most that plan to leave have probably waited for the wind ease back to just a gentle E/NE wind.
Re the book. Chapter 9 out of 11 has now gone through edit and design. Chapter 10 due to go to my designer this coming week. Chapter 9 took a very long time to clear. A complex chapter with a lot of charts and text tables. Plus photos. My designer worked very hard indeed to make it look great. Book should be ready for printing by year end. Then it's a question of finding a British printer who can print it to my high demands, especially the very wide range of lighting for the circa 340 photos.