Friday 7 August 2020

Little Owls To The Rescue

"Has he disappeared from the face of the planet", I hear you ask. I'm guilty of yet again neglecting this blog, though this year has been an unusual one.

With CV19 preventing travel to Mull during June and most of July, the tours I had planned on the island, both bespoke ones and those co-run with Andy, have had to be postponed for 12 months. Needless to say, this has left a whacking great hole in my earnings for the year.

So as soon as the lockdown eased, I drove over to the farm where the little owls live, and have focused almost entirely on them since.

This is a bit like history repeating itself, in that the first year I watched the pair, I was able to watch the parents taking food into the barn, and the nestlings fledge, or branch as it's called for owls. And like that first season, just the one owlet made it to the trees.

As I am unable to see into the nest, I can't ever tell if the eggs all hatch, or if the nestlings make a meal of one another, or if they are lost when branching. All I get to see is an inquisitive and very fluffy character staring at me from the foliage of the oak tree one day, and I can tell you, it's always something special to witness.

Unlike the first time I observed the family, I was more familiar with the sight of the owls this year and less wowed by the novelty of it all, and noticed a lot more this time round, and I have to hold my hands up. I got it wrong. It's not the male that I see, that does the lion's share of the work, but the female.

How do I know? Well when watching the owls before the owlet branched, I noticed she had a patch of ruffled feathers around her underside, and when she preened, I could see her skin. A brood patch, and only the females get this. It's a good job I didn't publish an article about it in a local wildlife magazine. D'oh!

The male tends to sit further down the line of trees, and while I have seen him bringing in food, he's generally on lookout, sounding an alarm call should a buzzard, or more recently red kite, stray too close.

As with previous years, I enjoyed watching the female come down for food, repeatedly, and take it into the barn. During this stage of the nesting, I was able to practise getting flight shots, and found the 100-400mm lens was best for this, as it allowed a wider view initially, then zoomed in when I could guess where she'd fly.

And by rigging up a beam, I was also able to capture some more running shots, with the female scuttling towards me.

When the lockdown eased in July, I opened the site up for workshops, though with a change because of the social distancing measures. Rather than the clients sitting with me in my car, they have had to use their own. And it's been great, to be honest. While I miss the banter in the vehicle, the clients are able to have all their gear to hand, and not perhaps be concerned about messing up my car.

On 15th July, on a day off between workshops, I called into the farm like usual, and spotted something rather fluffy in the oak tree. An owlet! Naming it "Acorn" which seemed appropriate, I scanned the trees for siblings, and tried to listen for other hissing calls.

During a subsequent workshop, Acorn was perched down where the male likes to watch out from, and suddenly we heard hissing, the begging call of an owlet from within the barn. Was there another?

No. The owlet that I had assumed could only walk and climb, could fly already, and had flown from the furthest tree, out of sight, and back into the barn. If it could fly from the trees, might it fly down to the roof soon, and entertain the paying public?

Barely a week later, on a Sunday afternoon, I called in briefly to have a look, and down fluttered Acorn, to the roof, to beg for food from its mother. Fantastic.

Since then, both clients and I have been enjoying some wonderful views of Acorn and its mother, on the roof and occasionally on the perches. Acorn isn't quite ready for those yet, as I have seen it fall off of the barn roof a couple of times, though always flying off, to style it out.

Currently Acorn is tending to entertain clients as it charges around on the roof, occasionally flying or jumping, but mainly just standing there, looking utterly gorgeous.

Hopefully the family will remain safe and well right through until mid October when the relationship between parents and the offspring breaks down, and Acorn will have to find its own territory elsewhere.

If you would like to join me for a workshop, please take a look at the website page (Click Here) and either fill in the contact form, or drop me an email. Spaces are going fast, and the owlet, Acorn, is getting less fluffy with each passing week.

While the workshops are never going to make up for the lost income of the postponed Mull tours, they are providing some sort of a living for me currently, and entertainment for me that is going to last long in my memory, and has firmly put a smile on my face.

1 comment:

Germán Ibarra Zorrilla said...

Unas fotos espectaculares del mochuelo, me han gustado mucho todas. Enhorabuena Pete por este gran trabajo. Tienes un nuevo seguidor desde el norte de España.