Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Going Dutch...

Every birder has one particular bird that they want to see above all others, be it an amazingly coloured Bird-of-Paradise or spectacular Andean Condor, but for me, that bird has always been Surnia ulula or the Northern Hawk Owl.  Unfortunately for a British-based birder, most owls have a difficult time crossing water so although Hawk Owls have turned up in Britain on just 4 occasions, the most recent back in 1983 on the Shetland Isles, and so the chance of seeing one is remote and a foreign trip is invariably required.  Hawk Owls are found in northern Scandinavia, though in winter do occasionally venture further south as their food becomes harder to find and a couple of weeks ago one such individual did the honorable thing of making it as far south as the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands, which from Norfolk is but a ferry crossing away.
Other commitments over the past weeks have meant I have had to suffer looking at stunning photographs of the bird on the internet, but eventually I found time, the ferry was booked and we were off, leaving Harwich just before midnight on an overnight crossing.  Being woken this morning at 6.30am to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't worry, be happy" was not expected or particularly welcomed but once docked and we found our way out of Hook of Holland, negotiated Rotterdam rush hour and got completely lost in Zwolle, we eventually located the spot and thankfully the owl was still present, taking shelter from the wind and light rain on a floodlight stanchion on a playing field.
Over the next few hours the weather improved and the owl became more active, even catching a vole within a few feet of the gathered photographers, and although it spent much of the time up in a tree which photographically wasn't ideal, it did eventually drop to a lower tree and posed for the crowd.  All in all, a quite stunning bird and well worth the wait to see one and the trip to the Netherlands.