Thursday, 6 August 2015


 The young Fox above was in the meadow adjacent to the local woods in West Farleigh when I paid a short visit last week. This was the third Fox i'd seen that morning, they all looked like youngsters and were all on the skinny side. Maybe that explains their daylight hunting expeditions.

The meadow is usually quite good for butterflies and this Peacock was one of half a dozen prisitine individuals who were feeding along  the sunny margins. This is without doubt my favourite butterfly and apart from the white species, is the only one I remember from when I was a child. Stunning then and stunning now.

I left the butterflies in peace and walked the short distance into the wood. This is a fairly open but dark area and I didn't expect to see too much here apart from Squirrels and the odd Robin, so I was absolutely amazed when I glanced up and saw an Eagle Owl sitting on a branch, out in the open, looking at me with almost complete disinterest. 

It was directly above me and for a few seconds I froze, not knowing what to do. Would it fly as soon as I raised the camera? Would I be able to get a shot at all in the semi darkness of the wood? Was I dreaming? 

I needn't have worried. This Owl gave me a few curious looks and then went back to sleep! I carried on taking a few shots and then sat on a nearby log and just watched it. All was calm and peaceful in the woods as I made the most of the only view i'd ever had of an Eagle Owl. 

Then the Green Woodpeckers arrived! At least three of them, they were not amused by the presence of the Owl and made it plain with an awful din. If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make one of them out in the top right corner. A juvenile I think. They persisted with their taunting for several minutes as I watched from my log. I glanced down momentarily and when I looked back the Owl had gone. I heard not a sound as the bird left, not a rustle of feathers, nor a whoosh of air. I cursed the Woodpeckers silently and made my way through the wood.

With the Woodpeckers gone, all was pretty quiet, and by now the sun had just abut disappeared, so my search for dragonflies and other butterfly species was pretty fruitless. I did find the Spotted Flycatchers though, but they left as quickly as they had appeared. I checked around the ponds for the Marsh Tit which I found a few weeks ago, but alas no sign today. A couple of Treecreepers and a family of Chiffchaffs (junior pictured above), were of interest and deeper in the wood a chilling squeal suggested that maybe the Fox had managed to catch a Rabbit. Suddenly, overhead, a Buzzard called loudly and appeared briefly through a gap in the canopy, a very pale individual who piqued my interest but was lost to my eye very quickly. 

Before leaving the pond, I scanned the reed stems and found the only dragonfly of my visit. It was leaving its previous existence as an aquatic nymph and emerging into its more impressive life as an aerial master. Not sure about species i'm afraid.
As I write, there has been no other sightings of the Eagle Owl. A lucky, chance encounter I think.

***** When I first saw this Owl I thought it was a Long-Eared Owl and that's what I originally referred to it as in this post. Thanks in particular to Marianne Taylor and Jerry Warne who contacted me to say they thought it was most likely an Eagle Owl. Its origins are unknown, but is likely to be an escapee from somewhere.. It looked well fed, so it's either a recent escapee or one who has been able to hunt for itself. Either way, it wasn't what I expected to find in the local woods that's for sure!! ***** 


Greenie said...

Phil ,
What a wonderful visit to the meadow and wood .
Amazing to find the LEO , and for it to sit and pose for you .
Sure you weren't dreaming ?
Well done .

Warren Baker said...

That was some find Phil!!! Photo's as well, I want a dream like that :-) LoL

Mike Attwood said...

An amazing moment Phil

Marianne said...

Whoah, how amazing! However, that does not look like a LEO to me. My first thought when seeing the pics was that it was an eagle-owl species. It has an unstreaked belly, wide-spaced ear-tufts and lacks the LEO chestnut face. Thoughts?

Phil said...

Hi Marianne
I had the same thoughts initially. I sent a couple of pics to a chap in W. Farleigh who has been a birder all his life and keeps records for this particular KWT reserve. He seemed happy with it so I published , that's why it was a week or so after I'd first seen it before I did so. It didn't seem big enough for Eagle Owl, so I'll have to stick with LEO unless anyone can help.........

Marianne said...

Hmmm, well, it looks like no LEO I've ever seen! There are quite a few eagle-owl species btw, European is the biggest but some are a lot smaller. And it does look a fair bit bigger than the woodpecker, while LEO is only a little larger than Green Woodpecker (LEO 36cm, Green Woodie 32cm). I'll ask some other birder chums for opinions :)

Phil said...

Thanks Marianne. Just been looking at another book which gives LEO as being about Wood Pigeon size. I have to say this Owl was considerably bigger than a Wood Pig. This is my first (maybe) LEO so I have nothing physical to compare. Seems my claim to fame for first LEO sighting at this reserve is looking a bit shaky!

Marianne said...

Sorry for my slooow reply... I asked my two top blokes (former colleagues at Birdwatch) - one says probably LEO, and the other one says definitely eagle-owl. So that's not really added a lot to the debate...! but if it was much bigger than a Woodpig then yes, that would suggest it's not a LEO.

Phil said...

Thanks for that Marianne, much appreciated.
Had a text from Jerry Warne the other day, he had seen my blog and he also was pretty sure it was Eagle Owl, not LEO. In some ways I'm a bit miffed that it wasn't the reserves first LEO, but on the other hand it must be its first Eagle Owl, so I'll settle for that.
Thanks for your help!

Marianne said...

Yep, whichever way you look at it, it's a helluva find! And v interesting/instructive analysing the excellent photos too :)