On the trail of the Lunt Meadow shorties at Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s newest nature reserve

On the trail of the Lunt Meadow shorties at Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s newest nature reserve

Like This Video 3563 Louise Hussey
Added by February 2, 2016

Amateur wildlife photographer, Louise Hussey, goes in search of short-eared owls at Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s newest nature reserve.

I’ve never seen a short-eared owl. Well, that’s not strictly true, I was once told by a birder of great experience that the dot high in the sky that I was looking at was an individual of that species, but I’m not sure that really counts. Consequently, since recently ‘liking’ the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s (LWT) Facebook page, I was very interested to see that fantastic pictures of short-eared owls (or ‘shorties’ as they will from here on in be known) kept appearing on my news feed. These pictures were appearing almost daily and on closer inspection were found to be taken at the LWT reserve of Lunt Meadows.

Lunt Meadows  is a new wetland nature reserve located along the River Alt about four miles inland from Crosby in North Merseyside. The site covers 77 hectares of previously intensively farmed arable land; it also functions as a flood storage basin for the River Alt and is managed as a nature reserve by LWT. Habitats are in development and include reedbed, wet grassland, marsh and open water. As well as the site being of great interest bird life, the LWT website also states that the reserve has a large population of water vole and is also becoming of note for its dragonflies.

In the UK, shorties are the most diurnal owl, they can often be seen sitting on a post or quartering around open country. They are found on heaths, grass moors, marshes and sand dunes; in winter they are particularly found on coastal marshes and adjoining farmland (hence their presence at Lunt Meadows). These owls are resident in the north and east England, north and west Wales and the south and east Scotland with additional summer visitors from Scandinavia breeding in the Highlands and west coast of Scotland. They nest is on the ground hidden among grass, heather or reeds and feed primarily on field voles but will also take other small mammals and some birds.

Short-eared owl at Lunt Meadows © Louise Hussey

Short-eared owl at Lunt Meadows © Louise Hussey

So, I had to go and see (and hopefully photograph) these owls for myself; was it really going to be that easy to see them? As a participant in many a wildlife trip aimed at spotting specific species which has often resulted in disappointment, I was mildly sceptical. I chose a day of good light; I am not a photographer of great expertise but at least know one thing – light is important! When I arrived there were quite a few cars in the car park. There had recently been a few problems with flooding so wellies were essential. I did a circuit round the reserve for an hour or so; there had clearly been a lot of work done by LWT volunteers, building viewing screens, constructing paths, clearing water bodies and planting trees. There were some excellent views of kestrels and buzzards, but as yet no sign of an owl.

Short-eared owl at Lunt Meadows © Louise Hussey

As I got back to the gate leading to the car park I noticed a group of people standing on a path cutting through an adjacent meadow and went to investigate. Upon enquiry I was told there had recently been sighting of an owl but it had just gone to ground-typical!! However, I decided to wait a while and got chatting to some very friendly people armed with their long lenses and tripods who clearly knew the site well. They assured me I would have a good chance as this was the spot!. Sure enough a shortie appeared quartering over the meadow looking for voles. It was then followed by another and then another! During the last two hours of daylight left I had the opportunity of attempting to capture the birds in flight and also resting on convenient perches close enough to enable a few decent shots, although the light was fading slightly at this point.

What a brilliant day. I can certainly say with conviction I have seen a short-eared owl now. Lunt Meadows is a fantastic place and I am looking forward to a return trip; I am just waiting for a day of good light which has been in short supply of late. I will also look forward to visiting as the seasons change in the hope of seeing the reported dragonflies and maybe even a water vole.

More information about the reserve can be found on the Lunt Marshes and Wetland facebook page  and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust website 

The footage below of a foraging short-eared owl was recoded at Lunt Meadows in January 2016.

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