RSPB Bexley members Richard and Jill Keene couldn’t believe their eyes when a large owl flew into their Bexleyheath garden at 9.50 Saturday (26th) morning and eventually settled against the trunk of a small pine tree. They quickly identified it as a short-eared owl, an incredibly unusual sighting for a residential area. They notified Ralph and Brenda Todd who live close by and were able to share great views of the bird as it was blown around a bit in the gusty conditions. Ralph was able to get some pictures though a tiny branch across the bird’s face was a major frustration.
Unsurprisingly there was a complete absence of other birds in the garden until three magpies eventually began mobbing the owl which departed after its rest of almost two hours – heading with one magpie in pursuit at 11.55.
Short-eared owls are a winter visitor to southern Britain, some years being better than others depending on breeding success in their northerly range and weather conditions. They are usually found in/around marshes and heathland. The winter of 2015/6 has been a particularly good year with up to five birds present across the river at the RSPB Rainham marshes reserve.
Since before Christmas two, possibly three birds have been seen at Crayford Marshes – a site now under threat from development. It is thought the Crayford Marshes birds were visiting from Rainham, just across the river as numbers fluctuated there. At least one Short-eared Owl was still present at Crayford on Friday 25th though it is almost certain the bird turning up in the Keene’s garden would have been a migrating bird, possibly disorientated by the strong, gusty overnight winds. Mid-March is the time this species begins to leave its wintering quarters and heads off to Northern Europe, Scandinavia and Scotland where it breeds.
Huge thanks to Richard and Jill for allowing us to visit and view this amazing visitor.