Despite the appearance of the first summer migrants the month of March was dominated by two species of Owl which resulted in all five commonly occurring British species being recorded in the Park this winter. The first to be discovered was due to detective work by a lady who spends all her time in the Park staring at the ground in front of her, often accompanied by her daughter. In this way she has compiled an interesting collection of feathers from a variety of birds. She also comes across owl pellets – packages of indigestible material that are coughed up. They usually contain bones and fur and insect parts and are useful indicators of an Owl's diet. Pellets of Little and Tawny Owls are distinctive, so when some blackish pellets were found containing many more complete bones of Voles than usual she was alerted to the possibility of a different kind of Owl present in the Park. Her research concluded the pellets belonged to a Barn Owl and this was eventually confirmed by a sighting on the 22nd. This species was last seen in the Park in 2002.
Meanwhile a belated report by a Park resident of a 'large Owl' hunting over grassland was followed up and more in hope than expectation a bird was seen at dusk on the 16th. Unfortunately the views were brief and inconclusive. A few more local birders gathered the following evening and were amazed to confirm the identification of the Park's first ever Long-eared Owl (although there are some unsubstantiated reports from around 80 years ago). The bird performed admirably over the next few evenings to an increasing audience given a rare opportunity to observe this elusive species hunting. Yet another unusual Owl sighting was of two Tawny Owls roosting together in the open and rarer still one was a grey-plumage morph.
The first summer migrants to appear in March were two Wheatears on the 14th in the Holly Lodge paddocks. There were also some lingering winter visitors in the form of 30 Redwings. The last sighting of Woodcock for the winter was on the 17th while the first Sand Martin darted over the Pen Ponds. A male Pheasant called at dawn in Pond Plantation and was then seen at dusk on Pondslade. A lone Lesser Redpoll was in Isabella Plantation. Two Chiffchaff on the16th were the first singing summer migrants. The wintering Snipe was last seen on the 22nd.
Trilling Little Grebes in the Upper Pen Pond reed bed indicated the possibility of breeding which has not occurred since 1973. The decoratively adorned pair of Great Crested Grebes performed their elaborate courtship ritual and began nest-building in the reed bed, as did the Mute Swans. It is hoped dog-walkers will observe the notices that will be displayed around the ponds to keep their dogs on a lead during the breeding season, so preventing the needless deaths of the cygnets, which are already vulnerable to the Park's foxes (20 killed in the last two years). Other wildfowl included calling Teal, a pair of Wigeon and two female Ruddy Duck. At least four Water Rails called from the reed bed. A Red Kite was seen at dusk on the 16th and two Buzzards were also seen overhead on the 13th and 27th.
A higher than normal number of 88 Common Gulls on the playing fields on the 13th was an indication that this species was beginning to move north. Interestingly they were absent from the Pen Ponds which normally hold up to 60 during winter. An incongruous sight was that of a Canary also flying north: even cage birds appear to have migratory urges.
Jan Wilczur, March 2009