Monday, November 2, 2009

Owl About

I had a net in the garden this morning while minding little Olivia. She wasn’t too keen on the Starlings, “too noisy, Grandad” she said, but she quite liked the Goldfinch. It got a bit too windy with a few spots of rain, a prelude to the rest of the day.

It could be my only bit of ringing all week as I look at the Atlantic chart but maybe a bit of windsurfing or extreme yachting is on the cards. Let’s hope there are at least some bright spells to offer a little birding.

So to fill the page today I have posted some old owl pictures freshly digitised, each with a bit of a tale or account included. Alright maybe the quality isn’t all it should be, but owls can be a bit difficult to get to grips with lately; I haven’t had an owl within snapshot range since acquiring my new camera in August.

There used to be a regular spot near Moss Edge, Cockerham where a Tawny Owl always sat inside the broken stump to merge into the background, invisible to most passers by except the birders who knew of it. I’m not sure what happened to the tree but it was probably taken down under the auspices of “Health and Safety”. The second picture is of a Tawny Owl caught at a winter roost, either the Singleton or Clifton thrush and finch roosts in the years before the halls were converted to housing and industrial use respectively, following which we lost the opportunity to study there.

It seems that the Tawny Owl has often been seen as an omen of bad luck. William Shakespeare used it as such in Julius Caesar – “And yesterday the bird of night did sit/ Even at noon-day upon the market-place/ Hooting and shrieking." John Ruskin is quoted as saying "Whatever wise people may say of them, I at least have found the owl's cry always prophetic of mischief to me". Well that autumn call can be a bit spooky but bad luck or not I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more soon.

Next, a couple of pictures of Little Owl from Over Wyre some years ago. Maybe they are not as common in recent years, especially on the roadside in the daytime because there is so much passing traffic now. But I know of several quiet places where I can still find Little Owls, especially early morning or situations where they become accustomed to the comings and goings of people and farm vehicles.

The last picture is of Great Horned Owl at “1”J stage i.e. fledged but not fully able to fly. I found this at Long Point Bird Observatory, Canada one morning c1990 whilst carrying out the daily transect bird count when I spotted the young bird watching me. As I walked towards it to get a better look it took off on what it thought was a flight that turned out to be a 20 yard glide to the floor of the woodland, where it crashed unceremoniously down. Fortunately its reaction to me turned out to be less fearsome than the yellow eyed stare promised as I bundled it up in my coat to return to the ringing station for a very large ring.

The tree they bred in was well known, an obvious spot to pick up a pellet or two, but no need to look too hard for them as they were pretty easy to see.

Oh, I nearly forgot, the mystery bird from last time was a young male Pine Bunting caught one October morning in the 1990s on North Ronaldsay. I hope everyone got it right.

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