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Friday, 18 June 2010

Of Little Owls and Other Things - w/c 13th June,2010

Just lately, my birding has been largely confined to my 'local patch' near Packington. The attraction here for me is four Little Owl sites within a relatively small area, that I am monitoring. On Sunday I set off for this patch, stopping first at my LO site No.10. I saw two LOs here on 21st April but, in spite of many visits, I have not seen one here since. I then went to site No.12, and found one of the two owls in a barn, but only managed a really rubbish image with a safety shot. The owl then departed unseen by me whilst I was adjusting my camera. One thing that I have learned about Little Owls is that they are often clever enough to wait until you are not looking before they fly, so you just don't know where they went!

I then had a small chore to perform. The farmer here has had Barn Owls for many years in another building, but is concerned that they may have gone. There are hundreds of Barn Owl pellets in the building, but they all seem to be relatively old. My task was to clear the largest pile, which was under an old empty water tank (presumed to be the nest site), so that I could easily check for any fresh pellets in the future. The pile was that big that it took a while to clear it with a shovel!

Having done this, I moved a little way down the road, passing my LO site No. 02 (where I believe that the male was victim to a Sparrowhawk). No owl was seen, so I continued down the footpath to my site No. 11. I've not seen either of the owls here since the middle of May. The last couple of times that I've set up my hide and waited, I've noticed bumblebees coming and going from the nest hole. A thorough search of the area didn't reveal an owl, but the Fox cubs were still around.

I then set off back to my car by site No.02 - and the owl was out on her favourite perch! The bird was a lot more confiding than usual, and didn't fly off when I moved around to take photos from different angles

Little Owl - site No.02

By now, it was time to go home, with still no owl at site No.10 when I stopped for a while.

I decided that Tuesday would be spent trying to visit as many of my Little Owl sites as possible, taking sandwiches with me for lunch. I started with my four local patch sites, as mentioned above - and didn't see a single owl! Not a good start. I then got distracted from my mission by heading round several fields to get to a derelict barn at the very edge of the farm. I'd not been here before, and the farmer had indicated that it might be interesting, but warned me to be careful not to fall into the Badger set. When I got there I found that the set had undermined virtually the whole floor of the barn, and some of the area outside too. There were well-worn tracks leading from the set, but I did not see any evidence of recent badger occupation (no 'rubbish disposal'). It made me wonder if this had been taken over by foxes. There was also no sign of bird occupation - it had been suggested that Barn Owl might be present, but I suspect that there was now too little roof left for this. The only images I came away with were of my first Large Skippers of the season.

Large Skipper (male)

Large Skipper (female)

My next port of call was to be my LO site No.03 in Upton. However, just before I got there, I thought that it was time to call in to see a nearby farmer who has a camera in a Barn Owl box. I arrived to find him busy (as farmers always are), but during a short chat he invited me to explore the path to the Barn Owl box as he believed that there was a Little Owl on the way. This I did, but to no avail during an hour's searching due to so many trees to choose from. On returning to the farm, he called me over and invited me into the house to see, on the screen, the female Barn Owl attending the two chicks that were less than a week old. Wonderful!!

At Upton there was no sight of an owl at my site No.03 (no owl seen since February) but the foliage of the chestnut tree was dense. I then moved on to my nearby site No.09 near Sibson. I was not too hopeful here, as the farmer's kitchen window overlooks the nest tree and he has not seen the owls for a while. I last saw an owl here in mid-March, and heard one in April. I quickly checked to see if the Barn Owl was out on the perch that I'd found him on in May, but no owls were seen.

This was not good! I'd visited six sites and not seen a single owl. Time to visit a couple of 'old faithfuls'! My two sites on the same farm near Snarestone were the target. I first stopped on the road beside site No.05. I've only ever seen one owl here, but this is probably my most reliable site for sightings. He was there, but well-hidden, with just his middle visible between two branches. I then went to site No.06, and immediately I got through the gate I spotted the male on a fence post. I decided to try the slow zig-zag approach, taking safety shots as I went. I did reasonably well, but in retrospect, I think I should have gone for the slow direct approach as this has worked in the past with this bird. He did fly off before I got very close, and he flew to a tree beside the gate I had to exit from. I manage to find him and tried the direct approach - which worked. The bird did not fly at all! At last I'd seen two owls - not a good total for eight sites, but at least I got photos of one!

Little Owl - site No.06

On the Thursday, I thought that I'd better try and check on the rest of my sites, but ruled out site No.04 as being a bit distant (it was on a route that I used to travel regularly but no longer do so). I first went to site No.01 - as you might guess, my first Little Owl site. I found this site on the Staunton Harold estate, with one solitary bird seen, at the end of December, and have only seen a bird here once since. Unfortunately, the nest tree is in the centre of a large field sown with wheat, so is off-limits for close inspection. My site No.08, on the same estate, is, however, on cattle pasture, and is accessible. I spent a good hour and a half trying to find an owl, but with no success, although I'm 75% sure that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across in front of me. My search was not made easy as I had never established which was the nest tree, with three trees, out of several, being the most likely candidates. I did, however, take a shot of a pair of Common Blue Damselfly setting up to mate.

Common Blue Damselfly

My last site to complete the week's 'tour of inspection' was my site No.07 at Whitwick. Having seen the bird regularly in March, it seemed to disappear. I suspect that the nest was taken over by Jackdaws, but the start of building work about 50 metres away will not have helped. No bird was seen.

Just up the road from here is another likely looking site for LO, so I stopped to check it out. I didn't find a LO, but I think that I may have been near a Buzzard's nest, as one seemed to take particular interest in me, circling around, calling continually.

Common Buzzard

With no owls seen, I decided to round the day off by returning to the four 'local patch' sites. At site No.02 the female was peering over the top of the ivy on the chimney stack (not photographable), my first Cinnabar moth of the season was beside the barn, and a pair of (newly emerged?) female Black Tailed Skimmers were sunning themselves on the footpath across the field. No owls were seen at the other three sites - an enjoyable day, but a bit of a failure owl-wise.

Cinnabar moth

Black-tailed Skimmer (female)

Sorry if this has been a bit wordy - I'll try and make future postings a bit more brief!


  1. Some super images Richard, particually the little owl from site No2 where it is peering over the wall.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I had been hoping that, with twelve Little Owl sites under my belt, I might get some good and varied photographic opportunities this year - particularly with emerging youngsters. It's beginning to look as if I will be thwarted in this respect!! My main hope is currently for site No.06 (as above).

    I think I need to get out there and find a few more sites!


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