A flying start to New Year’s Day was provided at Staveley Nature Reserve near Knaresborough by a barn owl hunting in daylight beneath a blue sky. It kept my son and myself entertained for half an hour as it did slow circuits over the rough pasture dotted with pools beside the East Lagoon (photo courtesy of David O’Connor).
It went to ground a number of times, on the first occasion apparently catching something for it attracted the attention of a male kestrel which appeared from nowhere and dropped on to it. There was a brief tussle before the kestrel flew off and the owl rose to resume its hunt with neither bird apparently retaining the prey.
Some time later the owl again appeared to have been successful for it crouched in the long vegetation, dipping its head as though feeding while casting frequent glances around it, presumably keeping an eye out for the marauding kestrel.
I have never before seen an interaction between an owl and a diurnal bird of prey although barn owls will regularly hunt by day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.
From the big hide with its picture windows overlooking the West Lagoon we later caught glimpses of another predator, this time a stoat hunting between the rough grass tussocks, perhaps for voles, while ignoring rabbits in the adjacent more open short grass meadow.
At the lagoon edges were hundreds of lapwings while among the assembled ducks of seven species were ten goldeneye including several immature males and a quartet of two mature males and two females, the males throwing their heads backwards in display to which the females responded with more restrained neck stretching.
Another hide, overlooking the north end of the East Lagoon, has well stocked bird feeders, a reliable site for greenfinches, tree sparrows and reed buntings.
As ever, it was tantalising to consider what we did not see, so on this occasion we found no otters which can pop up on either of the lagoons and there was no sign of the little egret we had watched on our last visit. I scanned trees and thickets in vain for roosting long-eared owls although even when present they can be almost invisible. The feeders brought in neither the increasingly scarce willow tits nor enticed water rails from the reeds to scavenge beneath them.
Even so, we left after a couple of hours convinced our wildlife year had got off to a great start.