Monday, 28 June 2010

Creatures of the Night

Moon (not Mars!)
Tawny Owl Youngster
Tawny Owl [female]

Last night was the first of the Robert Fuller Owl Safaris. The evening started well with a Poplar Hawk Moth (above) on Robert's gate post, and several orchids nearby. Everyone then waited patiently for a Kestrel to come down to some food left on a post. We waited for quite a while, and it flew towards the food a couple of times but it was probably deterred by the presence of a large, but appreciative crowd. Later, Victoria, Robert's wife, informed us that it spent the rest of the evening on the post, and first arrived shortly after we'd gone! We set off on foot & located 3 young Tawny Owls on a single branch directly above the road, unfortunately they took flight and headed towards the final tree in the field. Someone then spotted what was probably the female owl nearby, and she remained where she was, permitting everyone to get prolonged views. We then travelled a fair distance by car to another location to look for Little Owls. This pair had fledged at least 2 chicks only 4 days previously, so hopes were high, and right away one was seen apparently sunning itself in a hawthorn bush. Robert showed us all a Little Owl pellet, which seemed to shine with iridescence as it caught the light - it was made up largely of beetle wing-cases.
Originally, we had planned to go elsewhere to an area a Barn Owl favoured, but because the weather had been so good, and the Barn Owl chicks were so well fed, and everyone had already enjoyed good views of Barn Owls we stayed with the Little Owls a little longer. The Little Owls got used to us, and after some high-pitched squawking one of them continued hunting moths & beetles in an area of pasture, occasionally running towards us on the ground. On an opposite hill a Barn Owl came into view hunting, but it was being watched. It plunged to the ground and presumably made a successful kill, because it was several seconds later before it took to the air again. The watchers then sprang into action and tried to intercept its catch - a pair of Kestrels attempted a little bit of kleptoparasatism - as far as we could see they were unsuccessful, but this would be unusual. Both Robert & myself have witnessed this behaviour before, and each time we've seen it the Kestrel always proved victorious over the Barn Owl. This time the owl went over the brow of the hill, and we failed to witness the final outcome. Also on the hillside was a Roe Deer - not a common sight on the Northern Wolds at this time of year.

We went for a walk, but failed to find the Redstarts & Tree Pipits, but what we did locate more than made up for the deficiency. Further up a hill alongside which we were walking someone spotted a running Badger, and most people managed to locate this speeding mustelid before it disappeared from view. Shortly afterwards we saw another calmly snuffling for food above its sett. This was a first for several people, so what with the Tawny & Little Owls some participants managed to see 3 "lifers" in one evening.

We walked back to our cars & then drove all the way back to the gallery for the piece de resistance! Robert had nailed several food items securely to a branch in front of his kitchen window. On the other side of the glass were 12 seats for the comfort of last night's lucky dozen. The lights were dimmed inside and then one by one the night visitors began to arrive. The adults were first, and then one well-grown chick after another arrived until some participants were able to see 7 individual Tawny Owls! When the owls were comfortable Robert slowly increased the light via a dimmer switch & the owls were illuminated so everyone could discern the adults lovely markings. I only wished I hadn't left the camera in the car! We were able to watch their comings and goings for over half-an-hour before all the food had been taken. It was after 11 o'clock, but everyone made the long journey home very well satisfied. I can hardly wait for the next one!

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