By Michael Blencowe
Senior Communities and Wildlife Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust
I’ve been taking a short local walk down across the fields towards the Adur in recent weeks. It’s a short circular trudge but it’s the only exercise I’m getting at the moment. But my three-mile journey is nothing compared to the journey that some birds have made to visit the Horsham district. The thrushes and ducks I have seen would have flown over a thousand miles from Northern Europe. The White-fronted Geese I have watched grazing have flown over two thousand miles from Northern Russia. Recently there has been another winter visitor seen along the Adur; a Short-eared Owl.
This Short-eared Owl was photographed along the Adur a few years ago by Frank Hollis.
Short-eared Owls are scarce winter visitors to Sussex. Swiss ornithologist Paul Geroudet described them as ‘nomads who camp where the table is laid’. This winter there have been a few of these wandering diners reported in Sussex and a small parliament (the collective term for owls, pub quizzers) have arrived and have been hunting around the county’s meadows where they have been tucking into a bountiful rodent buffet.
A Short-eared Owl having its vole lunch stolen by a Kestrel (Photo: Frank Hollis)
In the Horsham District, we have four breeding owl species. The most familiar will be the Tawny Owl – who’s hoots and twit-to-woos can be heard in and around towns and villages. The Barn Owl is that pale spectral spirit that may be glimpsed in the headlights along our country lanes at night. The Long-eared Owl is our rarest, most elusive species. The Little Owl was introduced here in the 19th century. It eats worms.
Short-eared Owl photographed by Frank Hollis.
In cold winters Short-eared Owls can be added to our list. A hunting Short-eared Owl is a sight to behold. It’s a large bird - with a 1-metre wingspan - but agile. It twists, weaves and glides low over the ground before dropping hard on its prey. Its ‘short ears’ are just feather tufts. Its bright yellow eyes are set in a face which seems fixed in a permanent impatient, angry expression. After hunting along the Adur the owls will roost, no doubt dreaming of Northern Lights, lemmings and that long journey home.
Wilder Horsham District is an innovative five-year partnership between Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council working to deliver a Nature Recovery Network for Horsham District.