Saturday, 30 September 2017

A dozing Scops owl, County Durham

When a Scops owl was found roosting in an elder tree at Ryhope, County Durham on Wednesday I was working and unable to respond. Scops owls are pretty small and well camouflaged, a feature which they rely on during the day when they hope to spend the daylight hours unoticed and mainly asleep in usually the denser parts of a tree. Unless a bird returns to exactly the same place to roost the following day, it is unlikely to be found again and I thought I'd missed my opportunity with this bird.

The following morning there was initially negative news. The bird was not in the same roost position as the day before. However eventually it was relocated in the same area, but roosting in a different tree. I was off work but still I didn't respond. On Friday it was not seen all day, and was in neither of the previous roost positions.

I wasn't convinced that it had gone though, I suspected that it was just roosting somewhere which was difficult to view, so on Saturday we decided to head up to Leighton Moss and wait for news. At least Leighton Moss was vaguely in the right direction and offered us some decent birding while we waited.

And so it 10am, after seeing a decent selection of birds on the saltmarsh, osprey, little stint, merlin and great white egret, the news broke that we had been hoping for. The Scops owl was back in its original roost position in the elder tree.  Barring being flushed by an over zealous photographer, this was a twitch which almost certainly couldn't fail, because the bird was unlikely to move all day. We set off across country from Leighton Moss, and two hours later we arrived at Ryehope.

What a cracking little bird it was. Only my 3rd Scops owl anywhere, the other two were in Corfu, which, no matter how British that island may feel at times, are certainly not included on my UK list. This bird was asleep much of the time, but it did spend some time preening and stretching.

The Corfu Scops owls were one of my greatest birding experiences. I saw them with my son after a plate smashing meal out. We were walking back to our hotel at night and we came to an olive grove and watched the fire flies dancing over the undergrowth. Suddenly first one and then a second Scops owl started calling at close range. A dark shadow flew overhead and shining  my torch up into the tree I immediately hit an owl with the beam, and we watched it for several minutes until a second bird flew over to it and the pair flew away into the next olive tree. On a branch lower down we also spotted an edible doormouse.

No edible doormice around today, but whilst we were watching the owl, a 1st winter barred warbler suddenly popped up  in the next bush and sat in full view sunning itself for several minutes. Also in the bush, a spotted flycatcher.

After leaving Ryehope we headed to Hartlepool headland where we saw at least two yellow-browed warblers, my first for the year.

UK life list: 426 (Scops owl); Year 2017: 250 (Scops owl, barred warbler, yellow-browed warbler)

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