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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Owl Ringing - on 6th June, 2011

I was very privileged last Monday to be invited by Leicestershire owler, Paul Riddle, to an evening ringing session at some of his owl sites. I met up with Andy Smith (of Leicestershire Rosefinch fame), and Nigel and Chris of the Charnwood Ringing Group in a pub car park. We then had a call from Paul to say that he was running late (now there's a change!) and asking us to meet him at his Little Owl site No.91, near Kilby Bridge. We didn't have to wait long before Paul arrived with friends Daz and Colin (Daz and Colin are the ones that do all the dangerous work for Paul ;-} - Daz has already had a ladder collapse under him this year, and Col was recently struck in the middle of his forehead by a hammer at one of Paul's sites ( by himself!!)). For this session, however, it was Andy who did all the ladder work.

Andy Smith at Paul's Little Owl Site No. 91

Andy reported back that there were three chicks in the nest, and the interior of the box was absolutely putrid and seething with maggots.

A not so pleasant part of the job!

Whilst the chicks were being ringed on the ground, Andy bravely did some housekeeping up the ladder, regretting that he'd left the Marigolds behind! Unsurprisingly, the three chicks here were also absolutely filthy, but they all seemed healthy enough!

Little Owl chick near Kilby Bridge

Paul Riddle - the proud stepfather!
From here we moved on to one of Paul's Barn Owl sites, where there were five chicks in the nest box. Because of the protected nature of Barn Owls, the majority of us had to hold back from the nest site, although the box is in a farmyard in a working barn. The team emerged from the barn with five Barn Owl Chicks. However, two of these were rather small, and were not ringed. It is a sad fact of life that there is every chance that the two small chicks will end up being dinner for their larger siblings.

Ring application to Barn Owl chick

Col's turn to ring a chick - under the strict supervision of Chris & Nigel

Better send this one to Australia, Col - you ringed it upside down!
Having finished with the Barn Owls, we set off to another of Paul's Little Owl sites (No. 68, near Peatling Magna). This is where Daz had his accident a few weeks ago. However, Andy had no such problems (it helps to be slim!). Just two chicks were here, but in great condition, well advanced, and quite lively - one even tried to fly away!

Andy at Paul's Site No. 68

Little Owl chick at Paul's Site No. 68
We next moved on to another site, near Blaby. This nest box was quite low down and, disappointingly, only contained three chicks - ten days previously it had contained five.  These three were all quite thin, and seemed undernourished. I won't go into details for security reasons, but there is every reason to believe that the parents had been frightened away from the nest for maybe even a couple of days, a few days previously, and maybe they hadn't fed the chicks. They were, however, keeping an eye on us as we went about our business in the gathering gloom.

Parent bird keeping an eye on things at a distance at Paul's Site No. 21
Little Owl Chick at Paul's Site No. 21
It was nearly dark by the time that we arrived at Paul's Site No. 35, near Broughton Astley. This was the only natural nest site, rather than a nest box, visited that evening, and a slightly different approach to access was used, with Andy standing on the roof of Paul's Landrover. Here the three chicks all looked healthy, and very clean. This is where I got my turn to ring a chick - it was a magical experience.

 Accessing the nest hole at Paul's Site No. 35

Ringed chick at Paul's Site No. 35
It was now too dark to do any more ringing, and so the evening ended with eleven Little Owl chicks and three Barn Owl chicks having been ringed.

My thanks to the team for a truly amazing experience, but particularly to Paul for having invited me along. It's something that I shall remember for the rest of my life.

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