Sunday, 6 December 2015

Shorties @ Heartwood!

Heartwood Forest - 4th December 15

Weather: Overcast all day. Strong breeze.

Bird Total: 21

The weather was forecast to be clear skies for most of the day. Unfortunately, we had heavy cloud instead. I guess the Met Office had their eyes focussed on Storm Desmond, to the north.

I had my eye on visiting Fishers Green today, but I was given the opportunity to search for Short-eared Owls at Heartwood Forest. Up to five SEO's have been seen here, in recent weeks. My birdy pal, Ron, had already visited the area at least 4 times recently and was up for a fifth. A quick call sealed it and we headed off.

Located near Sandridge, just three miles north of St Albans, with 44 acres of precious ancient semi-natural woodland; a community orchard; wildflower meadows and an ever-growing expanse of newly-planted native woodland, Heartwood Forest is an ambitious project, undertaken by the Woodland Trust. Ambitious, as in they are planning to plant over 600,000 new trees over the course of the next 12 years or so.

However, it is presently open land and great for birds such as Short-eared Owls. When the trees arrive, the Shorties will probably disappear. Good for tree-huggers, bad for Shorties?

Well, anyway, it was good for us as we eventually saw upto 3 of them, not long after lunch. We had arrived earlier, around 11-ish. There were quite a few other Birders already there, a few familiar faces among them.

The overcast skies and fairly strong wind, out in the open, prompted Ron and I to take a walk around the small woodland, after only 30 minutes or so. Unfortunately, other species were few and far between. The highlights were Red Kite; Kestrel; Green Woodpecker and Skylark. There were flocks of passerines, mainly Goldfinch and groups of Fieldfare and Redwing about.

The Owls were conspicuous by their absence, at first. But then they started to appear, rising up from nowhere, like floating white ghosts. First one, then another appeared, gliding just above the ground, searching for dinner.

One of them flew fairly close to us, landing on a post. Unfortunately, it didn't hang around too long and moved off, towards the Woodland. Over the course of the next 90 minutes we were treated to several very good views, albeit at quite a distance.

The only downside I found was the unbelievable amount of dog-walkers that were present. They were everywhere, most with 2 or more dogs. All being emptied by gleeful owners, before walking back down the track to the car park. It was a wonder that any birds were around at all.

However, nothing could detract from the glorious views of the SEO's. All too soon it was time to head home, as the clouds seemed to darken the skies even earlier than usual.

Ron dropped me back at the station and I think I still had a smile on my face when I arrived home.

'Whenever you mess with nature, nature sends you an invoice.'