Short-eared owls breed in the uplands of northern England and Scotland, making Cumbria a perfect place to spot them, and autumn is an especially good time to see one.

‘Shorties’, as they’re also known, are unusual owls as they like to hunt during the day, making them somewhat easier to see. They can be spotted flying low, sometimes hovering, over wetland and coastal marshes searching for prey below. Field voles are a particular favourite, but they also take other small mammals and birds, which are pounced on from a few feet above.

They are medium-sized owls, about the same size a barn owl but with longer wings. They are mottled yellowy-brown above, paler underneath, and have a round grey face with dark circles around their yellow eyes. Short, barely visible ‘ear-tufts’ inspired their common name. Unlike other owls they are rather quiet; both sexes give hoarse barks when disturbed.

Often described as nomads, short-eared owls are a bird of open country that spend long periods soaring on their long wings wherever prey is abundant. As they cover a wide area, more than one bird may be seen hunting over the same ground, sometimes alongside other birds of prey. In summer they are a bird of the uplands, nesting on the ground in scraped-out hollows lined with grass and downy feathers. In autumn and winter resident birds wintering around coasts are joined by migrants from Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland, so are seen more widely.

A good place to see short-eared owls in Cumbria this autumn is Drumburgh Moss Nature Reserve near Drumburgh village in the north of the county. They can be seen hunting over the moss in this stunning nature reserve, where major restoration work has been carried out on the precious peat bogs – their recovery can be seen in the 13 species of Sphagnum moss recorded here, along with other damp-loving plants such as round-leaved sundew. You may also glimpse the Exmoor ponies that graze here.

Another good place to spot short-eared owls is at South Walney Nature Reserve, on the southern tip of Walney Island. Autumn is probably the best time to visit this nature reserve, as thousands of wading birds will also been seen here over the coming months, roosting at high tide between feeding in Morecambe Bay’s rich invertebrate life. Autumn also brings the promise of seal pups at South Walney, the North West’s only grey seal breeding colony.