Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Barn Owl Box
I'm glad that it rained last night as it has filled the ponds and streams up and also that it stopped raining this morning and in blew some nice clear blue sky so I could work all day. So, today with the help of my parents we got the first barn owl box up on the east side of Scrag facing out over the long grass field. Every time I look out at this field of an evening I yearn for a ghostly barn owl to quarter across the tops of the pale grasses. I know they are around as I get reports of them from my woodland and farming neighbours and I may have even located a barn where a pair are regularly nesting. So, I figure that providing a few more available nest sites may cater for their offspring and I would feel incredibly proud if it was ever occupied and managed to raise a few generations of these beautiful and very threatened birds.
If you've been close to a barn owl nest box before you'll know how big and hefty it is, so it was a bit of a struggle using ropes and ladders to get it into place, about 4m up on an old oak. The mature gentleman posing in the picture is my father by the way and before you complain about me sending some geriatric old fool up a ladder with a big barn owl box, I did do all the heavy work but am very grateful for his help today. It was also a job and a half to manipulate it into a good position and fix it securely. I also lopped and cleared a few of the branches around it so that any passing barn owl will get a clear view of a new potential home. Several years ago I was involved in organising a barn owl box being installed in Little Meadow at Woods Mill nature reserve because I'd observed a pair of barn owls hunting together. On this occasion, 2 hours after the new box went up, I watched a single barn owl glide past the box, appear to do a mid-air 'double take' and then fly straight into the newly erected box! It was incredible to see and it never ceases to amaze me how aware birds are of changes in their territories and are prepared to take full advantage of these changes if it suits them.
I don't think the box at Scrag will be occupied quite so soon but maybe in the next few years!
While struggling with the box today I got a splendid view of a sparrowhawk, bank over the field and then fly low into the wood just a foot or so off the ground. The olive grey-green back and slightly larger size interestingly meant that this was a female; most of my sightings at Scrag are of a male who generally hunt inside the woodland more. As an aside, in London, I yesterday witnessed a female sparrowhawk kill a blackbird by chasing it into a dense hedge. The hedge was so dense that you would not expect a raptor to be able to get through the tangle of undergrowth. But, although I did not see the blackbird in the hawk's talons the squealing noise that went on for a couple of minutes made it obvious that the attack was a success. The noise also brought in 2 magpies that hung around just pecking at the ground but not willing to take on the hawk, but still hoping for an easy scavenge. 10 days ago in more or less the same location, I witnessed another blackbird being chased by a female sparrowhawk, again through low and apparently impossibly dense undergrowth. I did not see or hear the end of this chase but I feel that the location and similarity of hunting technique probably indicate the same bird. What a predator!
Anyway, back to barn owls. Well, that's one box up, I have another barn owl box and 3 tawny owl boxes to go!