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Wednesday 20 May 2015

April Owls - April, 2015

I'd intended to do this post before now, but things got in the way. I'll try and keep this post from being too verbose. Sorry, but this post will be more of a record of sightings than a gallery of fine images!

Wednesday 1st April

I'd been over to a meeting near Rutland Water and, on my way back, I spotted a Barn Owl on the roadside grass verge of a country lane. This was good news, as this was only a few hundred metres from where there were breeding Barn Owls last year. The bird flew up and onto a newly cut hedgerow before I could stop. I managed this distant shot in the gathering gloom.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my Barn Owl Site No.18
Thursday 2nd April

An afternoon/evening out owling with pal Titus had us seeing nine Little Owls over six different sites. Here's a couple:

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.36
It was only when we looked at our photos later that we realised that there'd been two owls in the tree at No.36 (look below the more obvious of the owls in the image!

On the way home we arrived at where I'd seen the Barn Owl the previous day, and found the owl flying towards us before we were stopped. It veered off before it got to us.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my Barn Owl Site No.18
Sunday 5th April

I had an extremely early start this day, leaving home at 03h30, as I was looking after people visiting a photographic hide. Wending my weary way homeward in the afternoon, I did manage to see seven Little Owls during my travels, and the Barn Owl was sitting in the nest hole at BO18 as I passed. Here's some of the Little Owls. You'll see that the LO in the first image is being just as as difficult to spot at it was in the previous image from Site No.36! The two owls at No.41 were very obliging as I took some photos from the comfort of my car.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.36

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Tuesday 7th April

I went to check on the situation at my latest Little Owl site which is not very far from my home. I found one of the owls busy defending his nest from marauding Jackdaws. He was doing a splendid job! He then tucked himself away where he could keep guard away from the nest opening.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
Thursday 9th April

Another owling afternoon/evening with Titus gave us just five LO sightings over four sites, although the site with two birds (No.40) gave us much excitement as this was the first time we'd seen two birds here - a site that I'd first found two years previously!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.40
We'd seen a Barn Owl in the nest entrance of BO18 as we drove past on the way out, and on the return journey we stopped in a gateway 450 metres away from the nest tree to have our tea. The light had gone by the time the owl flew past us, and no useful images were obtained.

Monday 13th April

Another very early start had me seeing the Barnie at BO18 at 04h29 as I drove past. Wending my way homeward before lunch I saw five LOs over four sites. Here's one from No.41.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Tuesday 14th April

I wanted to visit my LOs at my latest site (No.49) to check if they were still fending off the Jackdaws. However, on a previous visit I'd heard a LO call from a few hundred metres behind me when I was looking at the owls, so I went to investigate. Bingo! New Site No.50!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my new Site No.50
Everything seemed to be fine at Site No.49, which is only about 450 metres (as the crow flies) from new No.50.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
Wednesday 15th April

A walk on my local patch (somewhere I've rather neglected this year!) resulted in three Little Owl sightings at three different sites. The last sighting was particularly exciting for me as it was the first sighting at this location (Site No.11) since May 2014.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.11
Thursday 16th April

Another owling session with Titus produced six Little Owls over five sites, and a glimpse of the Barn Owl in the nest entrance at BO18 as we drove past on the way home. We were particularly pleased to see a LO at Site No.46 - the first sighting since December, in spite of passing this way 2 to 4 times a week. I also got my best ever image from Site No.40 - although there's still a lot of room for improvement!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.46
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.40
Sunday 19th April

I started with a visit to my LO Site No.03, and one of the owls was out.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.03
I then went off for a chat with a farmer friend who used to host one of my LO sites until the nest tree disintegrated in a gale. He'd been seeing a Barn Owl, and wanted to discuss putting up a nest box. I was tasked with a bit of investigation. More on this one later.

On the way home, a Little Owl was out at my Site No.02

Tuesday 21st April

I had a quick trip out to check on my two latest Little Owl sites (Nos. 49 & 50). I found one owl out at each site.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.50
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
Wednesday 22nd April

I had a quick visit to my LO Site No.17 where I'd not seen an owl since October, in spite of several visits. I was pleased to see an owl, even if I only got a distant record shot.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.17
I then went back to my farmer friend to discuss the Barn Owl box situation. This resulted in me heading off to some derelict buildings in a very remote area of his farm where I saw a Barn Owl a few years ago, and which even he rarely gets to visit. This was with a view to erecting a box in these buildings. I soon found that this would be a non-starter when I found a Tawny Owl roosting in the late evening sun. I also found that the buildings had deteriorated beyond redemption since my last visit. The light was actually very much worse than it seemed to be and I only managed a few distant record shots before it disappeared. At least I'd had my first (and so far only!) Tawny Owl sighting of the year!

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) - my Site No.TO14
Thursday 23rd April

Out with Titus again, and five Little Owls seen over four sites, including a pair at Site No.44 which is where we were seeing a pair until they disappeared in August and didn't reappear again until a single bird in February and now a pair seen again in April. Fingers crossed this time! On the way home we saw a Barn Owl at my site BO10 where I'd not seen an owl since last May. Only a record shot was obtained, but this is the owl that came up trumps big-time as the subject of my previous post, and features on my header whilst this post is current!

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my Barn Owl Site No.10
Sunday 26th April

I went to check on my two most recent LO sites, and drew a complete blank. However, it was getting near dusk and I went off to do a little prospecting - and came up with a Barn Owl. Unfortunately it showed as I was rounding a building and this got in the way of the only shot I managed to get in. It then disappeared and I couldn't relocate it.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my new Barn Owl Site No.22
I've since made a return visit and have now seen the owl dip into a hole in an old Oak tree. I'm not sure if this is a nest or a roost site. As the owl was aware of my presence, I've not made any further visits yet as I must avoid disturbance, but I have now sussed out a way I can view at a distance, and unseen by the owl, to try and establish the nature of this site.

Thursday 30th April

As usual on a Thursday I was out with Titus. We saw seven Little Owls over five different sites. In the last image, you can just detect that there's a second bird to the left of the obvious one.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.40
For me, from an owling point of view, April was a remarkable month. I've only ever had one month with a greater number of Little Owl sightings, and that was in June last year when numbers were boosted by juveniles. By the end of this April I'd had twelve Barn Owl sightings - I'd had none by the same time last year. 

This month (May) has been a bit slower for various reasons - most of which were outside my control.

Thank you for dropping by.

Friday 8 May 2015

O-M-G !!! - on 7th May, 2015

I'd intended that my next post would be a report on April's owling adventures, and this would have been quite a lengthy item. However, I just felt that I had to substitute this post instead. I'm not usually given to using modern 'text speak' but 'OMG' seems to be appropriate in the situation I'm about to describe. Here's the story:-

Yesterday I was booked to do a turn of duty on the Osprey Project at Rutland Water. For the first time in many years I was on the 13h00 to 17h00 shift. My pal Titus, who is usually with me on these occasions, is unable to be available at this sort of time, and so I headed off on my own. The day didn't start with much promise as I only saw one Little Owl en route, when I'd usually expect to see 4 or 5 at this time of year, but the weather was a bit showery.

Shortly after my arrival at the Lyndon Visitor Centre at Rutland Water, there was a heavy rain shower which lasted about fifteen minutes or so, and as I wanted a word with the Centre Manager, I was later than intended in setting off down to the hide. However, en-route to the hide I had my first sighting of the year, plus some fair images, of Yellow Wagtail.

Titus showed up at around 14h00 and the turn of duty was pleasant, but uneventful - with one notable exception - after around 16h00 people were arriving saying they'd seen Otters at Tufted Duck Hide, less than 10 minutes walk away. This is particularly exciting news as, although there are believed to be two breeding pairs elsewhere on Rutland Water, the report of three Otters in this area indicates that we possibly have a third breeding pair. Titus told the couple that had the good fortune to see the three at once (with one of the Otters only 5 metres away!) that they were now banned (in good humour, of course!). When a second couple admitted to having seen them, and taken photos, they were banned too!

We spent half an hour at Tufted Duck Hide at the end of our shift but to no avail and so we set off back to the car park. So as not to be tripping over each other at our usual owling points on the way home, I set off homeward immediately, leaving Titus having his tea in the car park. However, he was arriving as I was leaving at the first Little Owl site on our route. 

I didn't see Titus again that evening and I did manage to pick up just another three Little Owl sightings on my way home. 

Now we come to the nub of my story. There's a point on our route where it makes a transition between country lanes and fast roads. This is the point where we usually stop to sort out the cameras on the way out and put them away on the way back. On this occasion, as I had an empty seat beside me, I didn't need to put the camera away, but I did need to 'answer a call of nature', so I stopped. I got out of the car and was heading towards a gap in the hedge when I saw a Barn Owl working its way down the road towards me. I quickly forgot my need, returned to the car, wound down the window and picked up the camera. Sadly I'd forgotten that, fifteen minutes earlier, I'd taken some shots of a distant Little Owl against a grey sky and my camera settings were totally inappropriate.

The owl passed by me, went a little way down the road, and then came back on my side of the road. My settings were a little better by then, and I was standing beside my car waiting for it.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10 (yes, I have seen an owl here before!)
Unfortunately, it dipped behind the hedge before it got to me, and I spotted it again further up the road, near where I'd first seen it. It then turned round again and came back behind the hedge but didn't show until it was past me. I took a few wasted shots of its backside disappearing down the road and my heart sank as it turned right and headed out into the field - but it came back and started a fourth pass up the road. 

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
When it got about 30 metres from me it transferred to the far side of the hedge and disappeared. 'Ah' I thought 'it's avoiding me'. How wrong was I? Suddenly it came up from behind the hedge and settled in the tree directly opposite me - between 6 and 7 metres away!!!! This was a real OMG moment. It wasn't avoiding me, but checking me out! My first shot was pretty poor as my set up was more suited to flight shots, but it does show that the owl knew exactly where I was.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
It only spent a few seconds looking at me standing beside my car, and then totally ignored me! I can tell from my photos that the owl was there for at least 50 seconds. That doesn't sound a lot but it allowed me to change my settings three times and still rattle off 62 frames! If only the light had been better! I've had to do some colour correction as the images were very blue with the failing light. Here's a few of them, all shown in strictly chronological order so you can see how relaxed this owl was with my presence.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - my BO Site No. 10
I'd had to wind my zoom back to 380mm to get the bird in frame, so when the bird eventually took off I couldn't hold it in frame, although I tried, but my settings were geared towards a static bird anyway, so would have been poor if I'd succeeded.

I've not told Titus about this, and if you see him, please don't tell him. If he was going to ban those poor folks for seeing the Otters, I reckon it's a lifetime ban for me!

I know I've been rather self-indulgent with the images, here, but my excuse is that I'm unlikely to ever have another intimate session like this with a wild Barn Owl. 

Thank you for dropping by. Have a good one!