Monday, 16 July 2012

At the Eleventh Hour

Little Owl Chick
On Friday & Sunday evening the final events associated with Robert Fuller’s summer exhibition took place.  On both occasions we started in the new studio extension.  From the window on Friday we could see a young Great Spotted Woodpecker on the peanuts, and a Tree Sparrow fledgling being fed by its parent on a suet cylinder.  Then we saw the male Kestrel come down to  a small bird table.   Yesterday we only had the Kestrel, but this time at least 2 individuals were seen.
Immature Great Spotted Woodpecker (but in Hull)

We then shared cars to a hillside where we settled down to wait for Badgers.  As we waited on Friday we were surrounded by the gentle farts of House Martins, the cheerful twittering of Swallows.  There were plenty of Finches in the area, including Goldfinches, Linnets, Greenfinches and Chaffinches, which flew over us throughout our vigil gathering food for their chicks.  A Yellowhammer was also seen on both nights.  A Buzzard hunted nearby on Friday, whilst there were 2 on Sunday, but they didn’t approach as close to the waiting group.  On both evenings the plaintive mewing of a young Buzzard could be heard calling from the wood on the hilltop, presumably asking to be fed.  

On both nights we waited for over an hour keeping an eye on the higher sett, which we were told was the one currently occupied and that the cubs were due to emerge about 8.45.  Nothing happened on Friday until one participant spotted a head emerging from the supposedly vacant lower sett at 8.50.  A female emerged several times & collected fresh grass and backed into her tunnel.   We waited for quite a bit longer without any further sightings, so we packed up ready to return to the gallery.  We had all exited through the gate when someone spotted movement at the higher sett.  Everyone stood entranced for 10 minutes or so as 4 cubs capered about & seemed to play before setting off into the cultivated field.  Sunday was similar but this time all the activity was at the higher sett.  The telescopes were aimed at the upper sett, and everyone enjoyed miraculous close views of the energetic playing of the young Badgers.
Badgers (last year at a nearby location)
(c) 2012 Vince Cowell
 Tawny Owl (same location, but from 2010)
(c) 2012 Vince Cowell
On returning to the gallery it was about 10pm when the Tawny Owls arrived & these were watched for at least half an hour tucking in to their evening meal.  This year the owls in the trees near the gallery have failed to raise any offspring, but the adults are coming down to food, as are another pair from 2 fields away.  Apparently, there is considerable tension between these 2 families, but we only saw a couple of amicable owls. 

Tawny Owl (same location, but from 2010)
(c) 2012 Vince Cowell

 Little Owl (same location in 2010, is this the bird that was eaten earlier this year, or the one that paired up with another after the death of its partner?)

You may have read on Robert’s blog of the death of one of his adult Little Owls at the beginning of the breeding season.  Robert therefore assumed that the Little Owls were a write-off this year, but scientists say there is always a surplus population, and sure enough another bird must have moved in, because on Thursday evening Robert found a Little Owl fledgling – nearly a month later than other years.   They hadn’t used their accustomed nest-hole, but had utilised a previously ignored special nest box instead, which had been in position for 7 years.  We shared cars to this area on both nights, and Robert managed to locate a chick on each evening, which remained in place, transfixed by his torchlight.  The scowling youngster provided a fitting ending to the evening’s sighting, especially for the chap on Sunday, who’s Birthday treat for all his friends to enjoy, was the reason this event was taking place.  This year the evenings began inauspiciously, but perseverance paid off and by the end all the targets were achieved. 

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