On Friday morning I had a most amazing wildlife experience. I’d seen on a local bird forum that there are short-eared owls at a pond near Seaham, so as my brain was fried after a hard week’s work and the weather forecast was good, I headed out there. The first person I met was Jaybee, along with three other local birders.
For the first hour there was no sign of the owls. (The short-eareds generally hunt in the daytime, unlike most others, such as the tawny and barn owls.) Indeed several of us wandered off to a nearby pond (where we proceeded to mis-identify a pair of swans). We kept an eye on what Jaybee was doing; we knew that while he was leaning back against his car, we were not missing anything. After about a quarter of an hour, he disappeared: something was happening! As we trekked back across the field, an owl flew straight across our path. The others followed it; I pressed on towards Jaybee; as soon as I approached he said, “there are four owls up!”
We watched as they flew around the fields across the road from where we were parked: turning, wheeling, flying fast along hegerows, skimming low over the ground, interacting with each other, shrieking, chasing off other birds: it was an absolutely stunning display. For about twenty minutes we watched as one bird after another came close to view, so that it was quite hard to know which one to focus on; then after a while they drifted off – still active and visible, but further away. I then had to return to lunch and an impending assignment!
This weekend my German friend Thomas came to stay: it was great to be able to catch up, and to hear about his recent marriage to Carmen. (I first met them when I was camping in Pembrokeshire after my first selection conference; I was not in a good place, but they looked after me one evening – it’s the kind of thing that makes an impression.) We had a look round the cathedral, then wandered up to Hadrian’s Wall: which is even more impressive west of Housesteads Fort than it is to the east.
Two more weeks in Durham this year: the final one of term, and then another week to try to complete a couple of essays due for the beginning of next term. Then back to Cheltenham to connect up with folks. All good!