In the sticks, given time and the choice between driving the A roads and taking the country lanes, I’ll go for the latter. There’s a better chance of seeing something unusual.
Heading home from my daughter’s house is actually a straighter run via the lanes, though slower when meeting more than the usual traffic: the roads are too narrow for two cars to pass comfortably and one of you has to pull in.
I thought this was the case last night when an approaching car flashed its headlights, a signal to say they’d pulled in, but the closer I got, the more it flashed its lights.
It turned out to have stopped for a bird in the middle of the road. It was, I think, a barn owl though it appeared smaller than I believed them to be. Yet it had a distinctly ghostly white face and breast. Identifying it later, I see we have just five native owl species and the barn owl, or screech owl, is the only one which comes close to the bird we saw.
It was struggling to hold on to its prey; it may have dropped it on the road and had dropped to retrieve it as we came upon it. No sooner had we stopped, bookending it between the two vehicles, then it grasped the meat and took off in a low, loping swoop over the hedgerow, the span of its wings seemed disproportionately long making the bird suddenly look much larger. A nice spot.
Further on our journey home, another lane and another bird in the road. It was running ahead on little legs so we took it to be a game bird, something like a quail, but as we closed on it, it turned its head to show a slender but unfeasibly long beak. Then it took flight with a frantic blur of wings, following the road ahead for a while as if hemmed in by the hedgerows. Then it went to ground in the taller grass before we passed by.
What was it? Too brief a glimpse, especially in the dark, and relying on memory isn’t the best for identifying animals. The closest I could find was a snipe. It may have been a woodcock – a nocturnal feeder – but I believe it was too small. It may have been a jacksnipe, but these are less common.
Snipe are wading birds and though it wasn’t spotted near any water I know of, there has been some torrential rain and local flooding. Quite possibly the fields and ditches beside the road were flooded, or it was looking for permanent water somewhere.
The snipe has the binomial scientific name, gallinago gallinago, which to me sounds it should signify something special – like buteo buteo or pica pica – but it just means those birds are relatively common for their type.