Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Zwolle Hawk Owl (31 December)

bird of the year contender, at least this side of New Guinea

While at Portland with John King for the Brunnich's Guillemot I was talking to Martin Casemore and expressing admiration and some envy that he had been to Zwolle twice to see and photograph the long staying Hawk Owl (I thought Martin's photo of it on the grass was amazing).  John rather casually mentioned that earlier on his pager Garry Bagnell and John Lees had offered two spaces for a trip to Holland the next day.  I phoned Garry almost immediately, after a tense minute of so of John finding his pager and then the message for Garry's phone number.  One place had gone but Garry was happy to squeeze us both in.  Brilliant.  We left Crawley at 22:00 on 30th, Garry drove to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone for a very efficient crossing arriving just before midnight UK time, 01:00 on 31 December local.  
We drove to Lettele arriving two hours before dawn.  The car was a bit cramped so I slept for an hour on a couple of logs but it was a bit cold (and uncomfortable).  Two Dutch birders arrived as it was getting light, confirmed it was the right place for the Pygmy Owl and led us to the right area.  There we saw the owl briefly in a hole and then had prolonged views in nearby trees.  We left for the rather tense, for JK and I, 30 minute drive to Zwolle where the amazing Hawk Owl was showing very well.  We watched it for 90 minutes during which time I took about 250 images, before reluctantly dragging ourselves away to look unsuccessfully for Black Woodpecker in some nearby woodland - a Crested Tit was some compensation.  Another woodpecker site Garry & John had visited near Baarn three weeks previously proved harder to find, almost farcically so, and no more successful although by then we had little daylight left.  At least it was on the way home.  Garry then drove us to the tunnel at Calais, through some pretty awful weather, and back to Crawley and I arrived home at 23:45.  A brilliant day and a superb end to the year.  Many thanks to Garry for allowing us to come and some epic driving (not something I fancied doing), thanks too to John for being a bit squashed with us in the back.  Two new owls for £32, an amazing end to the year. Tengmalm's next?
Pygmy Owl near Lettele, only at the Hawk Owl did I realise my telescope lens hadn't been cleaned of the spray from Portland Harbour
a very fierce looking bird that flew like a guided missile
its powerful feathered claws were only seen when preening although this is another spray affected image
its breast feathers were like a cloak that covered its feet
the best goalmouth action imaginable


the fine spotting on the head was superb
the long tail is evident in this image making it quite unlike any other owl that I have seen
in the wind it kept it moved its body to keep its head static

it gave the impression that it didn't miss much

it always seemed to be concentrating so hard 
the pointed white necklace of feathers was brilliant, if often obscured
what an absolutely brilliant bird, thanks again Garry

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