In Dusk We Trust - Some Owling in Co.Durham, North East England, Great Britain
Leucistic Little Owl image copyright Hilary Chambers, Durham.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Patch SCOPS Day 2 !

What an unbelievable surprise
Great find by Tom Middleton
1st for Durham
1st Twitchable in UK for a decade
1st on North East coast for 100 year

Refound this am by a visitor from Pontefract, who picked it up being mobbed by 2 Magpies.

Steady stream of people, perfect conditions, all visitors well behaved.

Great twitch - nice folk there from as far afield as Scotland & Kent

Monday, 4 September 2017

Leucistic Little Owl

Hilary Chambers has hit the jackpot with these once in a lifetime Little Owl images.

Here's this years Leucistic juvenile with its parent from a private site in deepest darkest County Durham.

and he's off......

You can see more images on Hilarys Flickr photostream or follow her on Twitter at @HillaryChamber 17

Just rewards i'd say, for a Durham Bird Club photographer who for years now has ensured a holistic approach to the subject matter.

Nice work Hilary !

Friday, 25 August 2017

Shorty, Barnie & Hobby

 Bootiful down them marshes me dear

 Short-eared Owl in the R.Yare valley.

 Hobby blast along behind the owl

dot of a Hobby LHS below fencing

Barnie didn't appear till the light was going - one of the Hobbies shot past me 10' away & headed straight at the Barnie who dipped a wing to take evasive action..

Lots of Tawnies , Littles & Barnies down in Norfolk
- some of the areas look perfect for Long-eared.....will have to come back earlier next year

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Little Ghost

An interesting one............

Albino Little Owl

this years youngster from a pair in Durham City District

I would be keen to hear from anyone who has an info on others in UK (I have searched without success)

Monday, 17 July 2017

Lazy pigs - Stuck on 69

69 pairs of Long-eared Owls have fledged a minimum of 160 young this season in VC66 (Co.Durham).
An impressive number of pairs, although not the best productivity with an average of 2.3 fledged per nest.
Durham Bird Clubs new County Recorder Andrew Kinghorn will be collating all this years data to forward to BTO and Rare Birds Breeding Panel.
Following the guidance notes from the latter, we also have a number of "probable" and "possible" pairs to add to the tally.

A few hardly souls are still trying, but I havnt been able to do much for a week or so - so we are stuck for the moment on 69.

Hopefully we will get a nice big fat round 70 to finish the season....

Lots of great owl images this year - this is one of my favourites :-

This male returning with prey, sits up in the open canopy of a stand of mature Ash on the edge of a Tawny Owl territory. This is the location I had him being harassed while hunting by a Buzzard. We think he's stopping off like this to check "the coast is clear"....? More often than not males just bee-line straight back & make a pass to females or direct to the larger young. 

One of mine - branched youngster in favoured Elderberry - downy body covering not too far away in colouration from the Elder blossom - a good spot to hide during the day.

A couple more from John Gardiner :-
Hiding in plain sight - very easy to walk past - superb camo
and the same bird a few weeks later :-
almost fully developed now - ear tufts growing in nicely.

A cracking image - despite being fully winged, its takes a while for the youngster to perfect the art of flight - they'll quite often choose an open area to roost, allowing easier access - as opposed to thick tangles the adults can get into with ease.
I have watched young "bounce" off Hawthorns springy outer foliage when trying to get in to land - its at this stage they'll prefer a more open perch in Elder, Ash or Birch for example.

Once they hone their flight skills they'll be able to get in & out of the thorn easier - making them a harder prospect to locate - in fact August / September are the times our Leos are seldom seen - roosting together quietly in family parties.

Well, theres time yet to enjoy the remainder of the breeding cycle before things go quiet for a month or two - fingers crossed for #70.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Remote Grouse Moor Tawny

Of all the roadside owls I expected to see on the moor tops above Stanhope, Weardale , the Tawny Owl would have been bottom of the list....

Well, what do I know....

I Followed the bird from post to post for 1.1 mile.

It looked to be an adult & on checking its likely this bird was 1.8 miles from the nearest stand of mature trees...

A Tawny Owl on a treeless Grouse Moor at 1,600 feet whatever next.......

Thursday, 6 July 2017

49..Way out West & an Owl Myth BUSTED !

In England the Long-eared Owl is generally considered
"....a bird which favours low-lying areas for breeding usually below 150m asl." (D.Scott 1997)

Here, our Co.Durham profile like a giant cheese wedge.

To the Left, Way out West, Mickle Fell rises to 2,549' (777m / asl) is the highest point on our boundary with Cumbria.
Our 3 main rivers, Tyne, Wear & Tees run down through hills & valleys East, to the Right - the North Sea coast.

Ive only personally know of 2 breeding records anywhere West of Hamsterley Forest.
One was sketchy, but juvs were heard & seen.
The other had perhaps nested on the ground, on the moor...again details were few & far between.

So, news of success this season at Derwent Res(AB) pricked our ears, even more so, the same outcome right up at Langdon Beck(HC).
The latter, 52km from home as the crow flys is way outside my usual home range.

I visited the petrol station (i have to admit i loathe using petrol to help me find birds) but in this case it is an unavoidable necessity, and headed west as the light faded & the traffic died off.

An all-nighter ensued.

I am not familiar with much of the area -so this drive by foray into parts unknown was a bit hit & miss.
Thankfully by 6 am i had confirmation for 6 pairs of Long-eareds (including HC's Teesdale pair).

From Wolsingham in Weardale at 10pm until 5am i only saw 3 cars - 1 of these was a friendly Traffic PC who i passed in Lunedale & then an hour later in Teesdale (he told me he sees Loads of owls).
I was surprised to see 3 separate Badgers run along the roads & a couple of Roe - not a Fox to be seen or heard - a good sign for the plethora of ground nesting birds).
Barn Owls were noted at 6 spots including way up the dales & 1 i nearly clipped on the way up at Hemlington Row.
Short-eareds were well represented - i had about 7 drive-by contacts including 2 fledged roadside families ( 1 on white grass moor, the other on heather grouse moor) - with torch & headlights to assist. (i could not hazard a guess at their population - but it will be now doubt our rarest breeding owl in Durham).

Back to the Leos
I went up as far as i could towards our Western boundary - (when i gave a talk to Cumbria bird club they had very little idea of the status of Leos) - so i wasn't expecting much so far up the dale, but birds were right up there in both Wear, Tees & Baldersdale.
It was freezing & wild up at Killhope... a family party were close to the road - i cant see these birds being resident up here - blooming bleak even on a summers night... i pity those poor Lead miners back in the day...

I pulled in & had an hours cat nap - it didn't stay dark for long - & off again south of the Tees - this area of Durham having formerly been part of Yorkshire.

The sky was lighting up, but the wind was getting up too - i added another set of calling Leo juvs high up on a ridge top shelterbelt as a Tawny flew low between hay meadows.

I had to dodge Golden Plover, Curlew & Lapwing young on the road whilst scanning drystone walls & meadows.

The wind whipped right up - not what i wanted. The first Swallows were out & Grey Partridges were easy to see.
I headed for a large plantation hoping to hear young birds out of the wind, but nothing. I stopped in sheltered fire break - partly covered with semi mature Ash, Rowan & a few Goat Willow. It seemed a perfect spot but nothing other than the first thrushes & Robins beginning to feed.

I drove to the top of the moor & hit on lucky with a Long-eared carrying prey in off the grouse moor  & it dropped down in the general direction of the fire break.
I three pointed & sped for the first time all night, back down the bank.
I'd been away no more than 10 mins, but stopped again at the exact same "Likely spot" was just too "Owly" to not be holding birds...
Lo & behold, i could hear begging calls before i lowered the window....
But as i did i was totally taken aback...
Two each of begging Long-eared AND Tawny in this small sheltered stretch !
I lifted my bins to see a begging Tawny juv at 20 foot range with a young Long-eared watching it 10 foot further behind !
Fantastic !
Whoa....hold on...
The Long-eared only went & flew in to investigate the Tawny - hovering momentarily feet away from it before landing on the same branch only 8 -10 feet away from one another !
The Tawny youngster lunged its head forward in disapproval - it had a meal in its talon.
The other 2 young owls continued begging, as the adult Long-eared flew up the edge of the plantation behind them.
The young Long-eareds followed begging in flight.
The Tawny came closer & pulled of the head of its vole breakfast before chugging it down. The adult Tawny made a belated appearance & sat glaring at me.

One of my more fortuitous encounters & goes some way to dispelling this myth about Tawnies & Long-eareds.

Derick Scott told us years ago that the two species will tolerate one another as long as the food supply is adequate & that is certainly my opinion these last 2 decades.
- if you want to know about something in nature then there's only one way - get out there & see for yourself.

So that was #49 pairs Leo confirmed with young by 22nd June (at time of writing we are way on from that figure)

(no pics until i get a tech issue sorted)

Post script: if wonder if a consequence of management of Stoats / Fox results in an enhanced food supply for the Owls of Durham western moorlands ...........?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

42 - 20th June 2017

Pairs of Leo confirmed with young this season in Co.Durham

Credit to young Foghorn Kinghorn confirming pair #42 after a foot-slog round a central area.

More a surprising record was Hilary Chambers weighing in with a family party way, way up Teesdale - no confirmation of breeding records in Upper Teesdale in recent years, so that was a very noteworthy deliver of pair #41.

I was housebound last night & the weather was poor anyway... surely we will set a new confirmation of breeding record this evening....?


Some snippets & BiggLuggs craic.

Ive picked up a fair number of pairs in the north west, during a couple of "all nighters".
It never really gets dark, in fact I had a Swallow out singing & flying at Tanfield at 02:50 am.

I had one very active family with 3 juvs had a male Tawny calling in their copse with the Tawny young begging 100m away.
This is more commonplace than folk imagine. As long as there is plenty prey items & plenty of cover then the two will co-habit without much friction. (Scott notes this as the norm in Nth Nottinghamshire).
I have 1 wood where I have both TO & LEO having used the site for 20 years - 2 compartments only 200m apart, the LEOs in the Norway Spruce, Tawnies in mixed Scots Pine. I have seen interaction & even flying skirmishes here, one instance the Leo pair working together had the Tawny in knots, flying out over a road in an aerial duel in the half light.

Warden Dinsley has a great clip of a food-pass, this is a male to female pass. She immediately shoots off to feed the branched young. As the young start to shadow the hunting male she will remain on watch till the youngest is flying out. The young wait till dusk to fly out following the adults - at which time they can be very curious - ive had them try to land on myself & telescope in the past. Difficult to observe a family hunting "as a unit" but have recorded it a handful of times in 2 decades.
At this point - they can end up closer to another pairs nest site than they are to their own, often muddling the breeding picture.
Ive had 8 juvs all begging in the same area at the convergence of two territories - a confusing scenario had we not found both nests that April

I had a female alarm call as I approached a set of 5 juvs - she gave canine alarm calls & tried to distract me by flying onto the ground to continue feline & canine like calls. The young knew instantly to cease begging & I walked back - she very cleverly keeping me within view, calling & "leading" me away. After 5 mins I re-approached & watched the juvs being fed.

Pic of begging youngster from a 3 brood doing well, being studied by Long John Gardiner.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mid June Long-eared Owl Update

Who would have thought....
After an almost entire winter clear out it wasn't looking very promising for our local Long-eared friends this year...


Its turning out to be our best Long-eared Owl season for a few years.

We are being watched too ! Lovely image of a curious adult checking out local photographer Brian Howes

Young Long-eared - out & about at a little more than a month old (Anthony Fitches)
Growing up fast - this one not much older than the previous bird, eye a more vivid colouration, feathers all coming through & developing its ear tufts (John Gardiner)

Branched juveniles still very downy, but primaries develop faster allowing them to fly quite well in spite of appearances.

A post hunting adult in superb condition (Hilary Chambers)

Stunning food-pass image by Michael Brady at a Co.Durham location.

Breeding 2017:
At time of writing 17/06 we have 28 breeding pairs confirmed as having branched or fledged young so far in VC66 - Old County Durham (basically Tyne to Tees). with 1 pair still incubating.

x3 young birds digi-scoped from range (SE)

young bird waits to be fed - the plumage advances by the day (Dawn Pack)

This is still a long way off our best year of 42 pairs confirmed - but there's still time.

In fact there's still PLENTY of time

I spoke to "young Jimmy" & prompted him to re-check a regular territory that we "skimmed over" in the Spring.... Lo & behold a nest with eggs 14/06 !
Not unprecedented by any means but late for this species - our local birds are generally synchronised layers, but this means they've been laying over a 12 week period !
This nest is of interest too, its used an old Wood Pigeons which is on top of an old squirrel drey.

this 1 watched in envy as its older sibling followed the adult out to hunt (SE)

the youngest of 4, regularly bullied from his perch by the eldest sibling (SE)
In Durham we are more likely to find birds in lowland scrub & woodland edge habitats as opposed to the traditional view of them being a bird of the conifer woods
A candidate for the County's fattest BiggLuggs ?! (Graham Stoker)

I'm finding about 1 in 3 territories has been successful, with a range of broods from 2's up to two healthy 5 broods out & away from the nest.

2 of 4 branched young at this site found & photographed by Peterlee based Anthony Fitches.

2 raggy un's in the favoured Elderberry tree - blossom a similar colour to the downy body colour on recently branched birds (SE)
Having said that a core study area holding 7 pairs currently has as yet NO success.... but there may be information yet to be gleaned from the Poker players keeping cards to their chests ;-)

An excellent overhead flight shot from Colin West - quick reflexes giving us a great opportunity to see wing proportions, under wing, body & tail markings

female going away during nest checking (SE)

So, its a a very mixed up year - as if someone has put our BiggLuggs population in a bag & shook them up tipping them out randomly !

We used to be able to set your watch by these birds - this season has certainly bucked all trends.

NB: If you would like to watch them, now is the time -
Daylight hunting Pairs are out early evenings with noisy begging young across the County.

Tony, as you can see, has been filling his boots watching hunting birds in perfect evening light.

During the County wide survey we had folk "find their own owls".
One participant was overjoyed to finally see a daylight hunting Leo after birdwatching for 25 years

You cant beat the thrill of finding your own - If you are unsure how or where to search, drop me a line & we will try to help.

superb portrait of well advanced young bird - this is a new location this year up on the moorland edge in West Durham at 250m/asl where there may well be more bird as yet undetected by us..? (Anna Bilska)

NB: After yesterdays nest discovery there's certainly potential to be able to watch young birds being attended to by parents right up till September..

This is an interesting one -
Lea O'Connor watched this hunting adult take an adult Rat, the bird having to put a bit of effort into subduing it - generally voles / mice are killed with the initially stall & drop.

Adult finally gets away with Rat (Lea O'Connor)
As well as the usual quartering, birds will spend periods post hunting.
Heres Graham Stokers digi-scoped images of an adult on its favoured hunting post
The use of digi-scoping allows concealed observers to watch birds from distance with no disturbance (Graham.S)

A family part of 5 enjoyed by keen owler John Gardiner who has been watching breeding Leo in the County for over a decade
1 of 3 juvs at another site (John.G)
 with a bonus on the way home...
Little bonus for John.G

A few people will know "Nature North East", WWT Warden Dinsley, David is a keen owler & now lives in the County. These 2 images are from a healthy brood in a central location.

A wise Young owl sat in an Oak - an early morning shot by D.Dinsley
In Dusk We Trust ! - 2 youngsters start to explore their surroundings in the twilight (D.Dinsley)

Particular thanks for all information & particularly to the growing band of wildlife photographers - the majority treating the subject matter with the upmost respect.

This iconic portrait enjoyed by many on social media from Mark Fullerton is north of the Tyne

Lots of superb images out there & i'll end this with a Link for Michael Brady's Spectacular action shots of some VC66 birds :-

Many thanks to everyone feeding in information - really is an inspiration & helps us appreciate the bigger picture.

Advice after watching breeding Leo for 20 years:-
If you are watching breeding Long-eareds & the adults are not returning with a food item at least every 15 minutes then I would advise that you MOVE away.
If you hear a canine barking alarm call & the young are not begging then the adults are most likely uncomfortable with your presence.
Remember All pairs react differently to our intrusion on their breeding cycle - if in doubt stay well back.

That's it for now - Good Owling folks !