Category Archives: wild birds

The Tawny Owl – Stotfold, Thurnscoe, 1942

After reading of my adventure with checking out the owl’s nest, my friend John Davison sent me this poem which tells of an adventure from his boyhood in 1942, when he was around 13 years old. John and his friends would spend many hours in the fields and woods around Thurnscoe, Hickleton and Hooten Pagnel, out all day long  exploring together in a way that youngsters rarely experience now.

 

JOHN 1954

The Tawny Owl – Stotfold, Thurnscoe, 1942.

So typical of old ash trees, its crown was torn away,
But why and what had caused it, I really could not say,
Very likely putrefaction, or lightning on the prowl,
All I know, there was a hole, wherein dwelt a Tawny Owl.
Scores of pellets, regurgitated, were littered everywhere,
Confirming, absolutely, an owl was nesting there,
Wait here, I ordered Judy, at that moment somewhat rash,
And immediately began to climb that ancient rugged ash.
Staring down on that owl’s nest, I could not believe my eyes,
Five curious chicks glared back at me, all of a different size,
Then suddenly the larger one lunged vengefully at my face,
And I was fortunate to escape in that confined space,
[Quickly I remembered that photographer* and a Tawny Owl,
Which assailed him as to blind him in an incident so foul]
So when the owl attacked me I raised a hand to shield,
And felt the bird brush by me to glide smoothly to the field.
I saw it floating to the ground then quickly thought of Judy,
Who usually was a gentle dog but could be somewhat moody.
If I did not get down in time she could kill that helpless bird,
That in mind I rushed down that tree as if by the devil spurred.
Oh, how dreadfully wrong I was, how misguided was my fear,
My Judy was the victim, the owl seized her by the ear!
She squealed so loud and pitiful, her blood in copious flow,
Speed was then essential to make the needle claws let go.
I placed the owl beneath a bush, as if in a nightmare dream,
Tenderly soothed that bloody ear in fresh water from a stream,
That trauma ended our meanders, no further would we roam,
And I with Judy, and the owl, made our weary way back home.
I kept that Tawny Owl for months until it could strongly fly,
Then returned the bird to Stotfold and waved a fond goodbye !

*Eric Hosking

John Davison 2015

owl pelletA tawny owl’s pellet

 

 

 

 

 

Checking on an owl’s nest – you’ll need armour

In the far corner of Ruth’s orchard, there is an old shed where her late husband stored some of his work materials. It’s become a little run down and there is a large pane of glass missing from the door, but there is something appealing about this old shed in the orchard with long grass and cow parsley growing around it. Ruth’s son had asked about clearing it out, but Ruth had heard movement in there and suspected that a bird was nesting inside,  possibly an owl. She asked me to check and find out.

orchardThe orchard

Intruding on an owl, or any bird, during breeding season isn’t a good idea and I had some misgivings, but said I would check, very quickly, as it would be better than Ruth’s son entering without knowing if there really was an owl. Not without precautions, though, for as soon as she made the request, an image came to mind of a nesting box I’d photographed some years ago. It was a box for owls and on the front of it, in big red capital letters, was the stark warning ‘Goggles must be worn’, probably alluding to the experience of bird photographer Eric Hosking, who lost an eye after being attacked by an angry owl.

gogglesAnd make sure you do, too!

With the image of ‘Goggles must be worn’ flashing in my mind, I wondered how to  approach the shed safely without becoming the target of an owl’s talons. I had on a thick waxed waistcoat and there was a pair of heavier gloves in my bag, but what of my head and face? Inspiration struck and I asked Ruth if she had a compost sieve. She did, so we brushed it off and it became my owl armour, held at an angle in front of my face and over the top of my head.

sieveOwl armour

Thus protected, I crept towards the door with the missing window pane. At around 1.5m from the door, there was a whoosh and a large bird erupted through the window, flew over my head and sped towards some nearby conifers. It was a Tawny owl (Strix aluco) and its appearance during daylight hours set off alarm calls from every bird in the vicinity. I was expecting something like this, but the experience left me trembling and I returned a little unsteadily to where Ruth was waiting at the edge of the orchard. ‘You have a tawny owl’, I said. ‘Oh good’ she said, ‘Let’s stay away from it and keep it secret’. The location will remain unspoken and no one will be allowed near that shed until August, when the young ones will certainly have fledged and, left in peace, the owl should sort out the garden’s rabbit problem.

Robins come calling

The robin is getting bolder all the time and has begun standing on the window ledge and staring in at us through the window. Sometimes he looks at us from the washing line.

robin-line

This morning we offered mealworms through the open window and he came straight for them.

robin-windowEnlarge the picture and you’ll see the blackbird watching from the path

I know that this could become a bit of a  nuisance when we want to have the windows open, but we’ll see what happens. For now, it’s fascinating to see these birds close up and catch the details that we’d otherwise have missed, such as the whisker-like feathers just in front of the beak.

whiskers

I have one picture, above, where you can just make out these feathers and there is a clearer look at them here.

The robins have changed territory – and the blackbirds have discovered mealworms

It’s all go for nesting birds just now and I’ve noticed that the tension of mating season has resulted in new robin territory borders. Where we previously had two male robins coming to us for mealworms and not fighting about it, we now have only one. As April drew to a close, the garden robin and courtyard robin became increasingly intolerant of one another and began posturing and then fighting.

robin-new-territoryThe garden robin surveys his new territory

Now the courtyard robin has left the territory, which has been taken over by the garden robin. It’s a shame because the courtyard robin was the more interesting bird – to start with, he was the bolder of the two and the one who kept looking at his feet. I hope the courtyard robin found somewhere else suitable to move to.

Almost as soon as the garden robin established his new territory, I noticed that he had a mate and was engaging in courtship feeding. He’d come for mealworms, eat a few and then fly away with one before repeating the routine.

robin-maleOn the doorstep, gathering mealworms

The female asks for food by emitting high-pitched cheeps, lowering her body and excitedly flapping her wings until the male feeds her. Having bonded, this behaviour will continue for several weeks as the male provides much of the female’s food while she is incubating eggs in the nest.

robin-femaleThe female being alluring

Once the eggs have hatched, both birds will be involved in finding food for the young robins still in the nest. I’m wondering how long it will be before we have a flock of robins approach us whenever we go outside, as the parent birds are sure to introduce their offspring. Still, it won’t last long for they will disperse at the end of summer and we’ll be back to just one robin following us about.

courtship-feedingOn the doorstep

The mealworms are still attracting the pair of blackbirds and both male and female are coming for worms. The nest is in the thick ivy that grows over the wall and I’m glad that the neighbours haven’t cut it back as this is the second year that blackbirds have nested in the same spot. Their eggs started hatching around May 7, shown by her gathering as many mealworms as she could cram into her beak and taking them into the ivy.

blackbird-eggBlackbird egg shell

 It is said that nest-failure is very high amongst blackbirds but hopefully this nesting attempt will be successful and we’ll see the young birds in a couple of weeks. I think we need to order more mealworms.

We now have two tame robins

We have an interesting development in Robin Land – we’ve realised that we are on the boundary of two territories and that there is a robin visiting from each of them. We have what we call the courtyard robin and the garden robin and, whilst the border is fluid and both robins intrude on to the other’s territory, the house appears to be a definite dividing line.

courtyard layoutRed line showing the territory boundary

Continue reading We now have two tame robins

The bold robin has become bolder still

All images enlarge when clicked.

When I wrote about the robin previously, it was bold but not yet confident enough to take mealworms from the hand.

After we got the mealworms, we thought it would take a few days for the robin to work up the confidence to take them from an open hand, but we didn’t take into account that this bird was already bold – it had already spent a good deal of time watching from quite nearby when anyone has been working outside and would fly into the garage and perch somewhere if Karl was working in there. As it happened, it took just three and a half hours for the robin to pluck up the courage to land on an outstretched hand and grab its first worm. Since then, it will come down often and takes most of the mealworms held out for it.

miranda-robinHow could you resist that face?

Continue reading The bold robin has become bolder still

A very bold robin is keeping us company

 

The cold weather is making the garden robin (Erithacus rubecula ) bolder than ever and it seems that every time one of us steps outside the robin will be there within moments. We’d wondered how it is that the robin spots us so quickly and we think it might be alerted by the rough sound of the garage door opening.  It doesn’t mind its picture being taken, so we’ve managed to get a few.

20-01-2015-robin-1

It started in autumn when Karl was working in the garage with the door open and the robin would come in and perch nearby. Being kind, he would go and get some seeds for it, or some other tasty morsels like bits of cake or hard fat mixed with old bread and jam. These are all received with relish and each time it seems that this little bird is less nervous than before.

Continue reading A very bold robin is keeping us company