It started off as a Good Barn Owl day when half- a-mile from home I spotted one of the local Barn Owls hunting the roadside fields in the half light of dawn. Heck I’d not travelled more than another 200 yards when there was a second Barn Owl, but this time one lying dead at the roadside. After jumping out of the car to retrieve the body of the poor bird I could see that it was the victim of a vehicle some hours previously, the lifeless body now cold and feathers with a layer of overnight frost. The bird’s left leg bore a BTO ring GC29419 - I will post the record online to the BTO today.
What made the event even sadder was that the bird was so close to the first owl I’d watched just seconds before so I knew they must be a pair. The morning had quickly turned into a bad Barn Owl day. When back home I examined the corpse more closely, the lack of obvious barring on the tail and the primary feathers, coupled with the extensive white throat pointed to the dead bird being the male. Collisions with traffic (mostly road, but also trains) are the one of the main causes of death to Barn Owls, the other most frequent reason being starvation during weather which prevents them from hunting or when prey is scarce.
I was on the way to Rawcliffe and the feeding station, passing Town End when yet another Barn Owl appeared ahead of the car but luckily this one took evasive action by flying off pretty smartish.
With the drama over I reached the farm and tried to concentrate on ringing and birding even though I hoped to see more of Barn Owls. I set the camera on ISO3200 and waited in the car for a while, warming hat, gloves and feet with the full-on heater before daring to venture off into the cold air to erect nets; instead I hoped for glimpses of the Barn Owl pair from the next farm. Sure enough one appeared not too far away but flying quickly away to avoid an encounter with the silver coloured car which lives on the track it wants to search. After several minutes of searching distant ground the owl turned and headed in my direction, turning the morning into a still sad but not completely bad owl day with a couple of grainy shots. Those are willow catkins in the background which might as well be snowflakes so cold is the weather now.
Both the ringing and birding were extremely quiet and after some clear nights I do now suspect that the vast majority of Bramblings and Chaffinches of recent weeks have headed north and even the reliable Reed Buntings thinned out. Just 8 birds for my troubles - 2 Brambling, 2 Chaffinch and 4 Goldfinch. A couple of interesting weight extremes came to hand with a worryingly light adult male Brambling of 18.4 grams and a heavy female Chaffinch of 24.5 grams and bulging biceps.
Here on the moss Spring migration is hard to detect in a normal year, doubly difficult this year and on this occasion less than 10 Meadow Pipits and 2 Pied Wagtails were an improvement on the week before. A single Linnet is harder to place in context but 1 Peregrine, 2 Little Owl, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 25+ Corn Buntings and 11 Skylarks are definitely local birds.
The Corn Buntings appear to spend most of their time hiding in the hedgerow from passing traffic but at this time of year the winter flocks have normally broken up and the birds returned to wherever they originate.
It was about 10am when the wintering Hen Harrier gave a rapid fly through, a lone and distant flash of pale which looked for all the world like a Barn Owl until binoculars found it still hurrying east. Curlews and Golden Plovers remain on the fields towards Pilling, 130 and 40+ respectively.
Well it wasn’t a bad day after all, life and death and all it entails is part of the joy of discovery.
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