November 27th   Leave a comment

John Anderson was up to his tricks again – finding a good bird (tick) but finding it when I have teaching scheduled (cross). Today it was a long-eared owl, fresh in from the North Sea on a wave of other continental migrants that are arriving now to escape the very cold weather spreading west across Europe. There are woodcocks everywhere in Crail today: I saw one in Denburn and put up 8 at Upper Kilminning. There were also lots of blackbirds, and really noticeable as migrants as they flew up from the strandline at Balcomie. Both classic cold weather migrants, as are long-eared owls. I saw John’s message and sighed – there was no way an owl was going to stay on the beach for the couple of hours I needed to finish my teaching. I headed out afterwards anyway, stopping at Kilminning on the basis that this might well be where a long-eared owl would go after arriving. Luckily, I also phoned John again – “yes the owl is still on the beach although it has just flown around the corner a little further north”. I was straight over, cutting through Balcomie and the golf course to the shore. I picked up the owl just where John had said it probably was, sheltering by some creels on the strandline. A fantastic bird. I usually see long-eared owls slipping away through the trees at the Patch or Kilminning, and views are fleeting and fractured. Not today, an approachable, out in the open bird, for 45 minutes. And a chance to appreciate its long ears. When I found the bird it looked at me with its ear tufts right up, its glowing orange eyes – every inch an owl, as surprised to see me as I was to really find it (after all, getting lucky on two great birds in two consecutive days did seem unlikely). It stayed on the shore, flying a hundred meters when I got too close to perch on a large boulder, again regarding me with that intense, penetrating stare that owls have. I think it was probably staying on the shore until nightfall. Owls are very vulnerable to goshawks when they fly during the day and this one may have been being cautious. Migrants are at their most vulnerable when they arrive in a new place. They have no initial idea of predation risk or where they can hide. It’s one of the reasons that adult migrants tend to go back to the same non-breeding site every year. My theory might not be the best though – the flight feathers in John’s photographs (one below) are worn at the tips suggesting an adult. But maybe it knows more about Fife goshawks than I do. I left it still on the beach with half an hour before dusk. I suspect that it is now far inland and finding some voles to recover after its sea crossing. One of the birds of the year, in a good year too – and 172 for the Crail year list.

The Balcomie beach long-eared owl today. Obviously a long-eared owl by its long “ears” and orange eyes (yellow in short-eared). In flight it’s a bit harder but compare the photo from Oct 1st of this year – no definite black dipped in ink wing tips, darker more uniformly streaked underneath and more orangey tones makes a long-eared owl. Bottom two photos obviously John Andersons.

Posted November 27, 2020 by wildcrail in Sightings

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