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Friday, 25 February 2011

Owling Marathon - on 24th February, 2011 + Owling Update

For most of this month, I have been busy with the complete refurbishment of our bedroom. The result is that I'd only seen Little Owl at three of my sites, and Barn Owl at one, during the month. However, the carpet went in on Wednesday, and good weather was forecast for Thursday, so I decided that I'd visit as many of my Little Owl sites as possible during the day. I'd got 16 LO sites, and so priority was given to those at which I'd not sighted a bird during February. Furthermore, I'd leave looking for new sites for another day - the name of the game was to get round as quickly as possible, but to be reasonably thorough when I got there

Before I start on this, however, I'll just include a few images of Owls seen earlier in the month.

On 8th February I went onto my local patch near Packington. The barn at my LO Site No.12, where the owls nest, has been full of hay during the winter. Now that it's starting to empty, the owls can often be seen up in the roof. On this day, one sat there whilst I took its picture. It's very dark in there, and it was a dull day, which didn't help. Fortunately my new camera works amazingly well at extremely high ISO values.

Little Owl - my Site No.12

A short walk away, the sole surviving LO at my Site No.02 was sunning herself in her favourite spot.

Little Owl - my Site No.02

On 12th February, I went to the farm near Snarestone where I have two LO sites. Nothing seen at Site No.05, but one of the owls (the very confiding one!) was out at Site No.06.

Little Owl - my Site No.06

Now to the 'marathon day' yesterday. My first stop was at my Site No.01. at Staunton Harold. I've only ever seen one owl here - and not since January, 2010. I spent a good twenty minutes checking out the surroundings, but nothing seen.

Next stop was just down the road and five minutes walk from the car, at Site No.08. I last saw a single bird here in August, 2010, and had not seen a pair since March. I thought that I was out of luck again, but whilst I was searching the locality for evidence, I found that the little blighters had moved home and taken up residence in a new hole in a tree about a hundred metres away. I managed a very distant safety shot of the bird that I'd found (see below), but it fled when I was about a fifty metres away. Feeling it was safe to go and check out this new tree, I missed seeing the second bird, which also took off but didn't go so far. I did manage some slightly closer shots of this bird without disturbing it further.

Little Owl (1st bird) - my Site No.08

Little Owl (2nd bird) - my Site No.08

Next stop was Site No.14 at Farm Town. I'd seen a juvenile here twice in August, 2010, but not since. It was, at that time, living under the corrugations of the roof of a barn, accessing it from the external guttering. I didn't have any expectations of it being a lasting home, due to the slope of the roof!. I was not, therefore, surprised at not locating it again.

Next on the list was Site No.07 at Whitwick. I've not seen a bird here since the nest was taken over by Jackdaws in March, 2010. I've not given up on the possibility that it might be re-occupied one day, but nothing seen on this day.

I fared no better at Site No.16 near Newton Burgoland, where I saw a bird in freezing fog in December, 2010. Locating the bird's home will probably be a project soon.

Site No.05, near Snarestone, where I've only ever seen one bird, and then not since October, also let me down.

Moving a bit further from base, and for the sake of completion without any real hope, I set off for Upton, and my Site No.03. I think that, when I found this site in January, 2010, it is possible that the nest tree had just suffered catastrophic damage, as much of it was on the ground. Although I saw a bird here in February and March, I suspect that it was revisiting its old home, but has now moved on to pastures new. It wasn't around on this day.

Feeling that the day was not going too well, I arrived just after mid-day at my Site No.09, near Sibson. Bingo! - a bird was well-hidden against the trunk of the nest tree (see first image below - click to magnify). The bird that I usually find here is extremely nervous - sometimes disappearing before I open the gate 200 metres away. I think that this was the bird, but I did get a bit closer this time. Once away from the nest, the bird gets more confiding - I guess it's just protecting the nest location. I hoped that the resident Barn Owl would be sunning itself in its favoured window frame, but it wasn't there.

Little Owl - my Site No.09

Feeling the pangs of hunger, I decided to head to a nearby farm, where the girlfriend of the young farmer at Site No.09 had said that she'd seen LO last year. I sat in my car and was eating my sandwiches when I heard a magic sound from the barn beside me! I couldn't resist calling back. We were having quite a conversation when a Little Owl emerged and landed on a discarded tractor tyre - but the calling was still coming from the barn! The bird did not stay long on the tyre, but soon after, the calling bird emerged and landed on the nearby roof - still calling. New Site No.17!!!

Little Owl (1st bird) - my new Site No.17

Little Owl (2nd bird) - my new Site No.17

From here I returned to my local patch. I did have four LO sites here at one time. My first call was at my Site No.10. I saw two LOs here briefly after dark in April, 2010. I have not managed to relocate them since, but the farmer deciding to use the area for a vast permanently smouldering bonfire does not help - no better luck this day but I wasn't expecting any as I probably pass this way three times a week!

Site No.11 on my local patch used to contain a nesting pair. I found the site soon after the farmer had done some drastic surgery on all the trees in the area, including using a chain saw to take off a thick branch immediately under the nest hole - i.e. within 15cm of the nest hole. The birds stayed for a month or so after I found them, but then disappeared. Subsequent investigation revealed that the hole had been taken over by nesting bees. I checked the hole this day - the bees are gone, and a spot of lime told me that something had been perching on the edge of the hole - maybe they will return. No LO was visible at my Site No.02 (not on the day's target list, but I have to park beside it to get to No.11!)

I now had a bit of a dilemma. It was 2.00 p.m. but my last remaining three sites were my most distant, with two being in one direction and the other being diametrically opposite. I decided on the nearest site (my No.15 near Croxall, Staffordshire), and would review visiting the other two when I'd finished there.

I arrived to find an owl sitting outside the nest hole. A stealthy approach resulted in some images, but then suddenly a second owl that I hadn't seen flew out of the tree and across the field to close to where I'd parked my car. I don't know where it came from as I'd spent at least ten minutes scanning the tree beforehand. I've only seen a single bird here before. I got some closer images of the remaining owl - a worryingly skinny-looking bird, complete with out-of-place feather, and then returned to my car, grabbing a distant shot of the second owl as it returned to the nest tree.

Little Owl (1st bird) - my Site No.15

Little Owl (2nd bird) - my Site No.15

By now it was just gone 3.00 p.m. My sat-nav told me it was going to take two hours to get to my Sites No.s 4 & 13, so I decided to go for it. I arrived at the location near Rothley at It was then a fifteen minute walk, past Site No.13 (quick scan - found nothing) to Site. No. 4. I spent some time here searching but no LO seen. On the way back to No.13, however, a Barn Owl came by and started quartering the meadow in the distance. I stayed in the hope that it would come closer but it soon caught something and took it off into a very distant tree. This long journey had been suddenly made worthwhile - it's always a privilege and a delight to see a Barnie!

Barn Owl

I had a more careful look at Site No.13, but nothing found, so decided to head home. For me it had been a really exciting day - Fifteen LO sites visited in nine hours, seven LOs seen, one new LO site, two new LO pairs - and a Barnie to end the day.

Full of joy I returned home to find that, yet again, I'd been upstaged by my mentor, and good friend, Paul Riddle, who'd found himself (and photographed) a Long-eared Owl out in the open, as well as seeing a couple of Barnies and a couple of LOs - Well done mate!!!


  1. Hi
    Enjoying reading here
    you have some great shots too

  2. Thank you Stevie. Paul (Rid) is my mentor, but I take great inspiration and encouragement from your own exploits and blog!

  3. A great post Richard, a really nice read and well done on the new site!.........Paul.

  4. Thanks Paul - only 138 to catch you up! - or is it 148 by now!!!


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