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This has been an excellent winter for this species, with far more than normal wintering in some areas. Often, as you say, there have been groups of three or more together. That has certainly been the case in the Vale of York, near me.
My Flickr photos...
I don't like to question people with much better knowledge, however.....
I identified these birds both from
x the prominent ears in one of the photos, and
x from the streaking throughout its underparts, compared with "on Short-eareds the streaking ends at the breast" [Wikipedia].
Finally, my rather ancient (1986) book Kingfisher Field Guide by John Gooders indicates that the Short-eared is absent from much of central England - I am in N. Bucks.
More information would be most welcome.
yep, sorry to change my agreement, I saw the yellow eyes and took it for short-eared, then got confused by the tufts, I didn't realise they could be so prominent as orphrys points out
latest pics and diptera videos
I can understand perfectly why you came to the decision you did: Your birds are showing quite prominent ear tufts, but Short-eared does show that, sometimes. Still, Long-eared would have longer, much more prominent tufts. One good pointer towards Short-eared is the piercing yellow eye with a black surround. Long-eared has more orange eyes, and lacks that black surround. Also, if you look at the very coarse streaking on the back and wings, that would be much more finely streaked on Long-eared. The underpart streaking is only visible on the first picture, but it is fading away at the bottom of the breast, if you look closely, so does fit for Short-eared.
The comment on the range is mainly relevant to breeding birds, whereas wintering ones like these can occur across the country. As I said, this has been a really good winter for Short-eared Owl. Don't be surprised if, next year, you see none at all!
Lat/Lng: 51.9183, -0.8239
OS grid ref: SP809250