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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Lucky Sunday - on 29th June, 2014

On Sunday 29th June, I went out for an evening's owl watching. My main objective was to try and photograph some juvenile Little Owls and, in that respect, I totally failed. The evening was, however, far from a washout!

It was dull cool weather when I left home, but the forecast was for better later. At the first Little Owl site (No.47) I came to, an adult was out in the nest tree but, although I know there's a pair here, there's no sign yet of any youngsters.

Little Owl - my Site No.47
By the time I'd reached my Site No.44, a few minutes later, it had started to rain. Fortunately an owl was out, although well tucked in to protect itself from the elements. It looked tired!


Little Owl - my Site No.44
It was still raining later when, whilst talking to the farmer at Site No.41 who said that he'd not seen the owls for a while, a Little Owl flew across the road, about 150 metres away, and onto a distant telegraph pole. I didn't try for any photos.

At my Site No.34 it was still raining but an adult was out in the distant nest tree. I didn't bother with any photos, and moved on to site No.42, where an adult was braving the rain - only record shots taken.

I returned to the position from which I can watch Sites Nos.34 and 36, and found an adult still out at No.34, and an adult out at No.36. I sat and waited and the rain stopped, but it still remained cloudy and dull. At 19:31 a juvenile emerged from the nest cavity at No.34 - and just sat beside the cavity entrance for the rest of my stay. A juvenile emerged from No.36 at 19:46, and then a second a minute later - and they didn't do anything before popping back into the nest hole.

By now I was a little disappointed and, with the light levels really low, at about 20:15 I started to retrace my steps homeward.

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering why the heck this post is entitled 'Lucky Sunday'. Well, I'm about to reveal all!

I'd just crossed with another car on a country lane, when a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of me - and the sun had started to come out! I stopped the car immediately, but the hedge was too high to see over, so I drove up the hill to a point where I could park the car and look back down over the hedge. I couldn't see the owl. I then walked over to the other side of the road and scanned the fields on that side too - but still nothing. I was walking back to my car when I spotted it in a roadside tree - about 100 metres away (measured on Google Earth).

Barn Owl (male) - undisclosed location
Not wanting to miss a photo opportunity, I attempted to get a little closer, but the owl flew after I'd only gone about 10 metres - and then settled back into the same tree! It wasn't obscured by leaves any more, but a branch covered part of its head.

Barn Owl (male) - undisclosed location
As soon as I moved again, it was off, and headed down the fields to the left of the road that I'd just come up - and it was then I saw that it was carrying prey.

Barn Owl (male) - undisclosed location
I returned to my car and headed back down the road to see if I could see where it had got to, but didn't manage to locate it again. I'd given up and started to set off homeward again, when I saw the owl - back in the same tree! As I approached in the car it flew out, round in a circle, and back to the tree, where I was able to hang out of my window and take a couple of shots. Fortunately, the sun had gone in by now as these would have been into the sun


Barn Owl (male) - undisclosed location
After the owl had transferred the prey from foot to mouth it again flew - this time to the back of the tree, emerging a few moments later and flying off. It was then that the penny dropped. This probably wasn't a roosting male owl, but an owl feeding its young. By being here I was delaying it in its purpose, and so I departed immediately. Without a special licence, which I don't have, it's illegal to, wittingly, interfere with nesting Barn Owls. 

Having phoned my wife to tell her I'd be late home as I'd been distracted by a Barn Owl, I headed homeward, stopping briefly to record a Little Owl at my Site No.46.

Postscript

The Barn Owl tree had looked far too small to harbour a sufficiently large nest hole. Furthermore, I pass this point at least twice a week on average, and the nearest Barn Owl I'd seen previously was probably around 5 miles (8 km) away. I felt, therefore, that I should carefully check this site out. As I was due to have an evening out with pal Titus the following evening (he knows a bit about Barn Owls - he's not called Titus White for nothing!), towards the end of the next evening we parked beside the road at a point 140 metres from the suspected nest tree, and sat quietly in the car. At 20:50 the Barn Owl flew past on our right, landed in the tree, transferred the prey from foot to mouth, and flew into the back of the tree. A few minutes later it emerged again, started to approach us on our left hand side, but only got about 20 metres before it dropped down into the field. A few moments later it was up again with a small item of prey which it took directly to the back of the tree. It then reappeared almost immediately and flew past us on our left. This confirmed to us that we'd got a nest and this bird was either feeding young or feeding his lady who was sitting on eggs. No photos were taken during that session. Although the road sees a reasonable amount of traffic (cars, farm vehicles, and dog walkers) we shall still be treating the site with a great deal of respect and only observing from a great distance, or as we drive past.

Thank you for dropping by.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Richard: What incredible good fortune to have such a close encounter with this Barn Owl, to say nothing of your Little Owls. I have never seen a Barn Owl in Canada; in fact my North American total is pretty small. I have seen two in Arizona on two different occasions for a total of four in that state, and a singleton twice in California, one in Sacramento and one in Davis. That's my entire output for North America, Without going through my records, I think I have four others in the rest of the world. I hope you will be pleading with this family to renest there next year so that I can see them!

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    1. Hi David. These were only my third and fourth Barn owl sightings this year, so they're not that easy to find. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that there will be a whole family present in August next year!!

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  2. What a great find. The barnie with prey has been an image I have always wanted, so so jealous. Well done.
    Love the look of the Little Owl on the second image

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    1. Thank you, Doug. I'm just hoping that the Barnie population builds up so that we start seeing more of these fabulous birds. With all the work that Paul Riddle is putting into Barnie nest boxes it's a strong possiblity in these parts - bearing in mind that Barnie juveniles often set up home a very long way from their natal sites.

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  3. Oh wow, what great photos and I just love the Barn owl in every shot. Wish I could have been with you. Keep well Diane

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    1. I wish I got this sort of excitement more often, Diane! Thank you for your lovely comments! My best wishes to you, too.

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  4. Oh wow, the Little Owl is out of this world, but, you have taken the last two photos are superb, cheers Richard.

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    1. Thank you, Bob. This was one of the luckiest breaks I've had for a while!

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  5. An excellent find buddy (the Barn Owl site), with it apparently using a natural site (hole in a tree) one would think that area would probably benefit from some boxes being put up? Great post and images........

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    1. Thank you, Paul. Sadly, the surrounding land is part of a huge country estate, and the landowner's reputation discourages me from approaching him. Otherwise, Titus and I would have a box or two up nearby in no time! But I've just had a thought! Watch this space.

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  6. Lucky Sunday, indeed! A sighting like that, not to mention locating a Barn Owl nest, would make my whole year! Your count of successfully nesting Little Owls seems encouraging, too. I'm afraid if I found a Barn Owl nest, I wouldn't be phoning home to tell my wife I'd be late. I would simply have her deliver food to me once in awhile!

    Superb images, Richard!

    Hope your week is off to a great start. We've had torrential rains here every day for the past two weeks. No worries. Once it stops, the birds should be really hungry!

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    1. Thank you, Wally. Titus and I were out again last night, and watched the Barn Owl deliver three voles in the space of about half an hour - an impressive perfomance! They say that the vole population is booming this year, and the Barn Owls need it after a disasterous winter of 2012/2013 when it's reckoned that up to 80% of the UK population was lost in many areas, and with a terrible breeding year in 2013 with a massive reduction in pairs left to breed, a very low vole count, and weakened birds not fit to breed.

      I don't think our weather has been as bad as yours, of late, but it's been a bit windy and it's been a while since we've had a day without some rain. I hope that you're seeing some improvement over there soon.

      Best regards - - Richard

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  7. Love the little owl shots,but your Barn Owl captures are just stunning,loved to have been right beside you.
    Hope this site becomes one of your regulars,looking forward to seeing more terrific photography.
    John.

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    1. Was out there again last night, John, but only observing the Barn Owl from a distance, so no photography. It's going to be difficult to get any more images, unless the owl decides to pay us a visit down the road at our observation point - sadly, there are no nearby posts for it to perch on - maybe we should rectify that situation?!

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  8. Hi Richard! It was very lucky sunday for you :-). In this year we saw a Little Owl only few times, but not in our country :-(, only in Morocco, where we spent holidays. Long time we not observed a Barn Owl in our area...It is very sad :-(
    As usual your pictures are excellent! Our compliments!
    Thanks for your visit on our blog and very nice comment :-).
    Best regards/ Michał and Piotr

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    1. Thank you, Michał and Piotr.

      It seems that Barn Owls have been having a bad time in very many areas of the world. One of the problems is re-development of derelict farm buildings.

      For me too, the only Little Owl I've seen outside England was in Morocco - a country that I'd love to return to.

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