My adventures with the little owls started a bit later this year than before, as I had wrongly assumed that the introduction of a pig-pen into the area right beneath the entrance to the owls' nesting area and favourite tree, had spooked them into leaving. I had visited several times since the porkers arrived, but failed to see any of the owls.
Whilst cleaning away the mud, cow and sheep poop collected on my car from the Mull Photo Tours one Saturday in July, one of the lads from the farm parked up at the end of my driveway, and informed me he'd seen the owls recently. The cleaning was rapidly finished off, and I trundled over to the farm with some intrepidation to see what was going on. Were they really back? What had I missed? Had the pair bred again?
Within seconds of me parking up beside the barn, one of the adult little owls swooped down from the oak tree, scuttled along the roof and then stared at me, as if to say "Where the hell have you been?"
Little Owl Workshop for the season, and it was a race to get the site presentable for visitors, some of whom had been patiently waiting for news on the owls since the winter months.
By the end of that first frantic week, not only had I reconfigured the site for visitors, let all the punters know it was open for business again, but also realised that the owls had managed to raise three owlets this time, and all had successfully reached the safety of the tree.
Into August, and all of the owlets were confident enough to start visiting some of the perches I had put out for the adults to collect food from. Also by now, the two adults had become one, and just the male was left. This happened last year, when the female (I assume, as the male tends to hold on to breeding sites from what I have read) left just after the young branched, leaving the male to do the remaining work. Perhaps the effort of creating and laying the eggs, followed by intensive brooding in the nest, and then the frantic, relentless gathering of food takes its toll on the female, and she leaves to allow herself time to recover. It must be an incredible effort for her each year, and by the time she departed last year, she looked like she needed a break.
I wondered what I might miss during the weeks away...
While I was gutted to leave Mull in early September, I was keen to catch up on the little owl family on my return.
The farm is of course inhabited by a number of predators of these small owls. As well as the buzzards, there are tawny owls and perhaps even the barn owls from down the hill may have strayed up to the area where the little owls hunted at night. Add to that the possibility of cats, stoats, foxes and maybe even badgers when the owls are on the ground feeding on worms and grubs. Or maybe it was hit by a vehicle on or near the farm. I will never know, as I didn't find any sign of feathers or a body, just a gap on the branch where there were once six taloned feet perched.
I know these owls are wild, but it's hard, when spending so long with them, not to become attached to them emotionally. They're not pets, and the young will disperse at the end of the breeding season, but it is upsetting at times when Mother Nature shows her harsher side.
The remaining owlets were quite different in their appearance. One remained fairly fluffy, with signs of the large defined "eyebrows" forming, as well as some adult feathers coming through on its breast area.
The adult was starting to look rather dishevelled, mainly from the moult kicking in, and feathers were missing or hanging loose from all over him. Not that it affected his ability to bring back food for the youngsters, though they were more than capable of collecting their own, and often beat the adult to any put out.
As with last year, the start of October saw the departure of the owlets. From what I have read, this is fairly typical for them, and I was pleased that this season, my grumpy-looking feathery friend had managed to increase the local little owl population by two. His hard work done for the summer, now he can relax and concentrate on surviving the colder months, before rekindling his relationship with the female, for next years' brood.
firstname.lastname@example.org). I will be adding new images over the winter from any visits I make, and sharing any news from the site, via Social Media.