Marley was dead, to begin with.

‘Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.’ So opens Dickens, ‘ A Christmas Carol’. Perhaps if the Short-eared Owl I had seen last month had been given a name, Marley would have been a good choice. But if that was his name, Marley was not dead, to begin with. I wrote the following two paragraphs.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl. Its broad wings carry its light body across the field before it drops on an unsuspecting vole. The sun is low in the sky and when it lands it disappears into the grass the colour of a fairy tale’s secret.

I know I am looking at a Short-eared Owl. It conforms to my image of one, built up of a composite of all the ones I have seen before. This image is constructed in the mind. Any description of a species tries to provide the essence of that species. This one is clearly more yellow than the last one I saw, yet remains a SEO. To misquote Edward O Wilson who worked on ants, ‘when you have seen one Short-eared owl, you have not seen them all’.

This was written last month. However, instead of being able to confirm there were three SEOs this winter on the patch; all I can say is there are two reported from Burdon Moor this week. The third, looks like this, or it did when it was found last week hidden inside a shooting screen.

IMG_0372 IMG_0373

photo by @ramblingwalker1

Decomposition has made it unable to confirm it has been shot. We can though, agree foul play has been carried out; neither romantic or prosaic. It’s just dead, as a Monty Python parrot, without the humour.

Being sent pictures like this is always a shock. The needless destruction of birdlife, whether it’s undertaken by Jonny Foreigner, on Mediterranean migrants; or by Grouse farmers in England and Scotland is not acceptable. When it happens, not just in the County but on your patch it is a tragedy with emotional attachment. It can take no skill to shoot a large slow flying bird that does regular circuits hunting for voles.

There will of course, quite rightly, be an out pouring of expletives when the photo is released onto the Durham Bird Club Twitter account. Having seen Red Kite, Kestrel and Buzzard numbers increase in the last five years on patch I hate to think of this as a dangerous precedent. However, don’t use up too much energy on this bird. Get out on your patch and make sure your tenant farmers know you’re there. Stay safe and use the Birders Against 3Rs (recognise, record, report). Share what you find.

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Birder in North East England. Interested in birds and keeping them flying. Bloging about birds on my patch at

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