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Sunday, 16 March 2014

Positives and Negatives - Mid-March, 2014

In spite of relatively good weather, I've not managed to find much time to go out owling over the past couple of weeks. Those times I have been out have left me with a mixture of concerns and encouragement!

But first a disappointment. My Little Owl Site No.29, where I've not seen an owl for seven months is officially 'no more'. The nest tree has now been sawn off less than half a metre from the ground.

My most recently found site, No.46, is now giving concerns. The following image was taken from beside the road on 7th March.

Little Owls - my Site No.46
OK, so no concerns visible here, with both owls present, one of which is sitting in what I've come to think of as the 'bum hole' (I hope this doesn't offend my readers!). However, there was a Kestrel in the tree several hours earlier when we passed (neither owl showing), and Kestrels and Little Owls don't always get on well together!

In my last post, I said that obtaining a closer image at No.46 was going to be difficult. However, on 10th March I was granted limited permission by the farmer to enter the field and set up my hide. Fortunately neither owl was out when I arrived and I managed to set up unseen. Not knowing how these owls would react to my hide, I still kept to a safe distance of approximately 30 metres, and I also sat to one side - partly to only make the hide visible to one aperture, and partly to reduce the 'bum hole' effect. Within a few minutes of me being set up an owl appeared in the hole. I needn't have worried about the effect on the owl of my being there - it was curious at first and then for the next hour or so, ignored my position for most of the time, even taking a nap for a while. It then disappeared back into the bole of the tree. There was not much action going on, so I took the opportunity to depart unseen. This session was not an easy one as the light levels were up and down like a yo-yo. However, the worst problem was the strong wind which was vibrating my hide and my camera (even though it was on a heavy tripod). Here are some images from this location - sorry there's not much variety, but they may be my last from here as I will explain later!




Little Owl - my Site No.46
On my way back to my car there were three Red Kites flying around. I'm not sure whether Red Kites are a threat to Little Owls but they are being increasingly seen in this immediate area, which also hosts at least two other active Little Owl sites.

However, of greater concern is that, since that session on 10th March, it appears that the nest tree on this site has been taken over by a pair of Kestrels. On 13th March the Kestrels were going into the tree, and only one owl was seen - staying by the hedgerow on the opposite side of the field. I passed that way again on 14th March and there was no sign of the owls, but the Kestrels were still there.

After the session on 10th March I popped round the corner to my LO Site No.41. This is where the nest site had been destroyed in a gale and we'd erected an owl box. The box wasn't being used, and the owls were staying out in all weathers on the far side of the field. However, with the advent of better weather we'd not been seeing them so much there, but they've being showing up in the original nest tree. We're hoping that they will now occupy the box for breeding. It's a little frustrating as they are now being seen very close to the road, but we don't want to risk frightening them off by being intrusive. This is one that I managed to grab that day as I passed by.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
I was out owling with my pal Titus on 13th March. The afternoon started off a bit misty, but it was warm and sunny, and the mist eventually cleared for a few hours. Seeing a couple of owls on my way to pick up Titus, I ended up having a ten owl day - rather less than I expected, given the weather conditions.

At my LO Site No.34, both owls were visible.

Little Owls - my Site No.34
This site was found in January last year, and by March the owls had been evicted by Jackdaws. I'd only once seen the owls out of their nest hole. It was really exciting for us, in November, to find that the nest was re-occupied by owls. Because the entrance to the nest hole allows both owls to sit there, sheltered from the wind and rain, it seems they find little need to leave the nest except for feeding. In numerous sightings since November, I'd only once seen an owl out of the nest hole. We were, therefore, delighted when the hindmost owl pushed past the other and sat out. All these images were taken from the roadside at about 50 metres distance. I've got permission to put my hide in the field, so hope for some closer images one day



Little Owls - my Site No.34
Not too far from No.34 is my LO Site No. 42. I'd only seen an owl here once, although Titus has seen one here on three different occasions. It seems that the owls here are very fussy about weather conditions and only sit out when it's warm and sunny, with no wind. On 13th March, an owl was out and in a tree beside the public footpath. I grabbed a few shots from the roadside at about 100 metres distance.

Little Owl - my Site No.42
I thought that I'd try and see how tolerant the owl was of human intrusion and opened the gate to the start of the footpath. I soon got my answer as the owl departed immediately!

So, a mixed couple of weeks although, overall, things still look encouraging for a good breeding season.

24 comments:

  1. Richard, you have got to write a book about these owls. I will be the first in line to order a copy.

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    1. Thank you, David. I have already had several recommendations to write a book a book on "The Memoirs of a Tour Leader". I guess that I'd sooner do a book on the owls, however. It'll probably have to wait until I'm no longer able to get out amongst the owls!!

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  2. Love the shots from site 34,setting up an hide,and sitting in one,takes a lot of dedication.
    Well done Richard

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    1. Thank you, John. It doesn't take much to set up one of the Stealthgear Chair Hides, and they're relatively comfortable to sit in - to the extent that (on a warm day) I have a tendency to go to sleep and miss the action!

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  3. Your photos of Athene noctua are fabulous!!!! Congratulations!
    Greetings

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  4. I've seen kite around other LO sites and don't appear to much of a problem to each other, the kestrels are always a problem so fingers crossed they find another tree close enough to the original. Great images Richard

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    1. Thanks for the comforting words about Red Kites, Doug. I was worried about the Kestrels as many times I've seen then take on Short-eared Owls, so they'd make mincemeat of a Little Owl. However, Paul, in his comment below, reckons that they can co-exist OK, so there's hope.

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  5. Richard....Leaving the story in general behind which I read with interest. I just want to say, good luck with the Little Owls this summer, and....your Little Owl images are always EXCELLENT and second to none.

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    1. Thank you, Pete, for your extremely kind words.

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  6. I have one Little Owl site where the birds use a natural cavity in an old Ash tree, no more than two feet from their nest entrance is a recess that has for the last two years been used by a pair of breeding Kestrels, they all appeared to get along fine. So there may still be hope for your owls and Kestrels to co-habit in the same tree?

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    1. Thank you for those comforting words, Paul. As I mentioned to Doug, above, I've seen plenty of dog-fights between Kestrels and Short-eared Owls, and didn't give much for the chances of a LO in the same situation! I'll still be keeping my fingers crossed.

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  7. Second comment Richard. It's always a dilemma when species are in competition with each other but you realize that it's all part of the natural world and you don't want to interfere, even were that possible. I once had exactly the opposite experience. I used to own fifty acres of mixed swamp/pasture/woodlot in a small town called Woodville, about two and a half hours northeast of here. I erected a nest box for America Kestrel. I didn't get the kestrel but an Eastern Screech Owl was happy to use it and fledged its four youngsters.

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    1. As you say, David, there will always be competition between species, and within species, and intereference with this is often/usually not an option. A Kestrel is always a delight to see, but I'll be disappointed if I lose a Little Owl site so soon after its discovery.

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  8. Despite the negatives you have done well with your photos and I hope that we see photos of little uns before very long. Keep well Diane

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  9. Gorgeous series of captures!

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    1. Thank you, Linda. They're my favourite birds, by far!

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  10. Superb post, Richard! Of course, we share your concern about the Kestrels, as much as we love seeing them we hope they won't interfere with the owls' breeding.
    Overall, the picture looks good for your owls this year!

    I'm happy to report we're locating potential breeding owls in our area as well. Last week I was buzzed by an Eastern Screech Owl several times just before sunrise, a fair sign there may be a nest site nearby. We located two different nests of Great Horned Owls, one with two healthy owlets. Three Barred Owls were located but we haven't confirmed nesting yet. The highlight was finding three nesting sites of Burrowing Owls. All in all, a very successful owl week for me!

    All the best - Wally

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    1. Wow, Wally! I'd swap your owling week for one of mine in an instant!

      I'm pleased to say that I think my fears of the owls and kestrels was probably unfounded. I witnessed an owl see off one of the kestrels last week.

      Thank you for your comments.

      Richard

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  11. Great sighting Richard, they are superb.

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  12. Great pictures - I love these little owls!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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