Little Owls on farmland woodpiles

Having bumped into friends while owl spotting in the fens, we pointed out a male Little Owl on a woodpile at Priory Farm near Burwell. After our friends had moved on, however, Mrs Sciencebase spotted a second owl (a female). The female is in the darker photo, on the higher perch (a bigger bird than the male as is usual with owls and raptors).

Male Little Owl
Female Little Owl

We didn’t see any Short-eared Owls on NT Burwell Fen nor Tubney Fen today, unfortunately, although one or two have been seen this winter there hunting in the early afternoon as opposed to the more likely hour or two before sunset.

There are it seems half a dozen Shorties hunting at Great Fen in Huntingdonshire. Interestingly, there are theories about the lack of Shorties when that happens. One suggests that the birds only head south from Scandinavia if the lemming populations up there are low. However, the half a dozen in Huntingdonshire suggests that more likely is that the presence of the Konik ponies on Burwell Fen over the summer has left the scrub grazed too heavily giving the owls no choice but to find an area with longer scrub in which to roost. Add to that the lack of hunting Kestrels there recently which suggests that the vole population has pulled back its breeding to reduce predation this summer, something that prey species are known to do as it then temporarily reduces breeding success of the predators giving the prey species a better chance in the next season. This seems to happen on a three-year cycle.

There were three confirmed male Hen Harriers that came into roost over Wicken Fen. I am not 100% sure that this photo I snapped isn’t a Marsh Harrier though.

We headed back to NT Wicken Fen visitor centre having been tipped off to a sunset roost of Hen Harriers (a couple of proper birders confirmed that some of the harriers we were watching were three male Hen Harriers quite a significant time before sunset, there were also several Marsh Harriers, and a couple of Barn Owls hunting over the reeds.

Barn Owl, it was almost dark, the camera and lens really couldn’t cope with so little light