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

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 ...........?


Richard Pegler said...

Hi Stevie. I'm totally gobsmacked - both by your dedication and by that amazing tally for just one night out! I guess I'm long past all-nighters.

My experience of LEOs is next to zilch but, for the record, that newly-fledged juvenile in Scotland last month was at 415 metres a.s.l. My previous sighting (also in Scotland, and of an adult feeding young) was at 355 metres a.s.l. (info checked on Google Earth)

Best wishes - - Richard

Phil Slade said...

Very productive Stevie. Not sure if you'd find many LEOs in Bowland. The bastards kill everything.

Stevie Evans said...

my body clock is goosed Richard - not long now & start to get back to normal (still keep odd hours anyway !)