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WHITLINGHAM: Owl watching

30th October 2011

Apologies for the 'blank' post before this one, I am short of time and wanted to post about the owl.

On Friday evening a Short-eared Owl was reported at Thorpe Marshes. This represents a great sighting for the edge of Norwich, but by the time I got there it was almost pitch black. I still had a look round (I would have seen it had it broken the skyline I reckon) with no luck.

Saturday I was out, so on Sunday evening I remembered that the clocks had changed and went to Thorpe at 16:00. The first half hour of my vigil sitting on the cattle pen was pleasant enough, with a noisy stream of gulls heading back to the coast and a couple of noisy Grey Herons around too. Then the moment that in all honesty I didn't think would happen, a Short-eared Owl flew up from vegetation near the broad, and did a sweeping flight around the marshes. Less than a minute later it was gone, flying over Bungalow Lane. Absolutely amazing. I've seen a fair few SEOs at the coast, often in daylight, but for some reason this one on the patch was much more thrilling.

As the light got worse I decided to get up and double check that it hadn't flown behind some of the willows. At that point the owl flew back into view, coming in high over the poplars. I managed to get one sort of in focus picture (it is a SEO, honest!) as it flew over my head and out of sight. I waited ten minutes and then began walking back, only to get my best views as it flew across the path in front of me and then alongside the path at close quarters. A really enjoyable evenings birding.

At the time I presumed it would be the first Thorpe/Whitlingham Short-eared Owl, but as it happens I have just got my copy of the Norfolk Bird & Mammal report for 2010, which says that a maximum of three were seen at Whitlingham Marsh during the winter of 2009/10. Incidentally Whitlingham Marsh could refer to the council owned nature reserve of that name, or the marshy area behind the sewage works (with no general access) that is referred to as Whitlingham Marsh on Ordnance Survey maps. The only other B&MR nugget I have seen of interest to Whitlingham folks is a max count of 30 Little Grebes in Feb.

[Update] For those wanting to look for this bird, it is still being seen 10/11/11.


  1. Wow- what a patch bird! Might have to have a look next weekend if it sticks. A dusk watch from the ruins at Surlingham on Sunday proved fruitless. I too noticed the sightings in the bird report,one at Surlingham last year in November.

  2. greatbird to have on the patch James, well done, wish i had one all this time out in the field and haven't seen one yet this Autumn!

  3. Cheers guys. It was seen again last night around the same time (as reported on Yare Valley Website), so that's a minimum of 4 days its been present.

  4. Great bird James - must try to get down some time soon.
    P.S. Surely that 30 Little Grebe count must be an error? Unless anyone knows better, I'd guess it was submitted in error for GCG.

  5. I think you're right. The entry is actually for 35 Little Grebes! On my visit a few days before I didn't see any, and the week after I saw 1! I don't think I've ever got double figures at Whitlingham and the Birdtrack record is only 16 (from 1998).
    February was the period of huge G.C.Grebe numbers, consistently 30-40, and I (double!) counted 49 on the 6th.

  6. Managed to get away early from work today and arrived at Thorpe Marshes around 2.30pm. Wandered around more in hope than expectation of seeing the Short Eared Owl. Suddenly it flew up in front of me! I then watched it for at least 20 minutes as it proceeded to wheel around the marshes hunting and scattering all in it's path. What a magnificent sight! It's upper plumage almost took on a gold colour in the late afternoon sunshine. My bird ID skills are not in the same league as most people that read this blog but I did carefully check and consult a reliable bird guide as soon as I arrived home. Definately a Short Eared Owl! Out of interest as he flew over the marsh he scattered a couple of what looked like Jack Snipe. Is this a reasonable assumption for this site?

  7. Hi Paul.
    Thank you for your update, its great news to hear that the SEO is still around. They are marvellous birds to watch. Jack Snipe do occur at the marshes, but only occasionally. There has been up to nine Common Snipe there in the past few weeks, so its much more likely it was them. Behaviour is probably more like Common Snipe as well, Jack Snipe have a reputation for only flushing as you're about to stand on them!

    All the best,

  8. Hi James

    Thanks for your reply and clearing up my Snipe query. They were moving pretty fast and it can be hard to get a sense of scale. The Owl certainly spooked them when he was over them!