Sunday, June 23, 2019


There was 30 minutes to spare before the meet with Andy at the Sand Martin colony so I stopped off at a place I know. 

Barn Owl

 Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Regular readers will be familiar with our Sand Martin dilemma. “How do we catch martins when the tightly packed colony of 400+ birds is some 40ft up a sheer face of slippery sand and gravel?” Well the answer is - “we don’t”. 

In the morning shade we set a couple of mist nets on the floor of the quarry but the martins had little difficulty in outsmarting our tactics. The paltry five we caught consisted of four adults and one juvenile, so for the time of year, not a truly a representative age sample of the 400+ present when lots of youngsters should be around. 

Sand Martins have superior eyesight, supreme manoeuvrability and great flying skills; how else would they catch insects on the wing and as a side skill, be able to avoid a mist net? So it’s back to the drawing board and Plan B for our next visit. 

Sand Martin 

 Sand Martin colony

Sand Martin colony

A local Kestrel hung around at the top of the quarry most of the morning, waiting on a fence post or hiding against the grass tussocks. It is more than likely a regular visitor looking for an opportunity to snatch an inexperienced youngster or pounce upon fledglings that leave the nest tunnels prematurely. It’s an easy meal that takes little effort.  We watched a Carrion Crow stick its head into a nest tunnel until a gang of martins chased it away. 

But when a small raptor dashed through the quarry and dropped into our net, it wasn't the anticipated Kestrel but a young male Sparrowhawk, also on the lookout for a quick snack. A colony of several hundred Sand Martins will always attract predators, mammalian or airborne. 



In Sparrowhawks  the iris colour changes with age. Brownish-black at hatching, the iris becomes pale lemon yellow within a couple of months.  As the birds age, the iris goes from yellow to orange and, in some adult males, wine red.



Back soon with more news and views. 


Lowcarb team member said...

A beautiful barn owl.

Hope Plan B (whatever it may be!) will work for the next sand martins visit.

Fabulous pictures of the Sparrowhawk, and thanks for the information about the colour of the iris.

Good wishes and good birding for the coming new week.

All the best Jan

Tanza Erlambang said...

barn owl is one of my favorite birds...
They control pest in plantations in south east asia....

great photos of sparrow hawk.

Have a wonderful day

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Good evening Phil: As you point out Sand Martins are wily creatures and may be able to outfox the most determined bird bander. I am sure that predators take a few birds, and colonial nesting species always attract bird of prey, and mammalian predators for that matter, but I suspect that the impact on the colony is minimal. This location looks to contain a large number of nests and I hope that the birds have a very productive breeding season,

italiafinlandia said...

Your shots are great, as usual. How I would like to watch the Sparrohawk from close-up! It sometimes hovers over my garden and a couple of times I saw him take a Blue tit away...

natalia20041989 said...

Owls are full of magic, love them, have a lovely week:)

Jenn Jilks said...

It is amazing seeing them close up! Good work.

Wally Jones said...

A cup of coffee went well with catching up on your last month's worth of blog posts. My apologies for not keeping up with you on a more current basis. I blame age. Or chores. Or laziness. (Seeing as how I have no actual excuse, now I REALLY feel guilty.)

Good luck in solving the dilemma of catching the martins. Somewhat reminds me of a poem by the great Ogden Nash about a hunter hoping to outwit a duck. The Sparrowhawk is a handsome creature and perhaps could provide some pointers on capturing small birds.

Kudos on freeing up the young Lapwing from his woolen trap. Around here, fishing line is a bird's worst nightmare. Bowland appears lovely and the book about the Curlew sounds intriguing.

We're trying to get back to some semblance of regularity after a period of several unscheduled trips due to ill family members and a funeral. Fortunately, our own health is good and we have begun planning for a few summer forays.

Gini and I hope you are both well and we look forward to the "Martin Solution".

NCSue said...

All wonderful images, but WOW! I love the curlew in your header. Such a striking bird!
Thanks for linking up at

eileeninmd said...


Awesome captures of the Barn Owl. The Sand Martin and the colony is amazing. Wonderful closeups of the Sparrowhawk! Great post. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week!

Rhodesia said...

Love the barn owl always one of my favourites, but I also love the sparrowhawk, gosh it looks angry. My boss in Rhodesia (many years ago!) was a licenced falconer and he also had a sparrowhawk that he had reared from a baby. It did not have a good temper either. Have a good week, Diane

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Barn owls are magnificent creatures

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