Earlier blog entries were published on blog.rushcliffebarnowls.co.uk and these can still be enjoyed.

The Rushcliffe Barn Owl Blog

by Howard Broughton

1000 chicks ringed!

13th July 2016

Today we were relegated from the headlines by the appointment of a new prime minister but nevertheless, RuBOP's 1,000th chick made the telly!: East Midlands Today.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

27th June 2016

I spent time over the weekend ringing chicks and had pleasure in showing the land owners the birds. Both boxes also contained the female owls which can nearly always be found in the boxes until the chicks are a month old.

I ringed three chicks and controlled a female that I’d ringed at Hickling Pastures 2 years ago in the first box and 2 chicks and a female that was an old friend; I’d ringed her as a chick at Holme Pierrepont in 2011 and caught her in various boxes another 8 times!

Today, I had boxes around Bunny to look at; Gordon Ellis came with me and at the first box, we found 2 adults, both ringed birds and the female was very light in weight. I’d ringed her in Wysall 2 years ago and the male was another old friend, ringed at Plumtree in 2009 and caught in various boxes since. I suspected that they’d bred and had a brood somewhere and sure enough, another box nearby held 3 chicks which were soon ringed and returned to the box.

The last box was also full of birds; a breeding pair of adults and 2 more chicks. The female was another 2011 bird from Gotham and her young man was a chick from Barton in Fabis last year.

So a good weekend with 10 chicks and 6 adults controlled; the year total of chicks is now 23 and we’re now only nine away from our 1,000th chick. Hopefully we’ll reach this landmark next week.

A Wet Start to the New Season

23rd June 2016

A notice from the Barn Owl Conservation Network advised that Barn Owls were late in breeding and although nest box occupancy was expected to be higher than last year; brood numbers were expected to be medium!

The wet weather in early June suggested that the owls would be having a hard time of it so inspection was delayed again until the weather improved.

Our first day out inspecting the boxes was last Thursday with Neil and I checking boxes from Keyworth out towards the Leicestershire border!! The first 2 boxes drew a blank but at the third, a box not used by Barn Owls for several years, we were pleased to see a Barn Owl sitting on the box front.

We stopped to watch it for a while, hoping that it would go back into the box but on our approach, it flew off. I opened the box to find two medium sized chicks inside which soon became our first ringed birds of 2016.

The next few boxes had been used by Jackdaws so were full of sticks, grass and debris which I removed.

I’d been told by the lady at the next farm that they’d had a Barn Owl around the farm for some time so we had high hope as we drove up. As I got out of the truck; a Barn Owl exited the box and there were 3 chicks inside. This was the first time this box had been used by a Barn Owl so I rang the house and the farmer and his wife were soon looking at their first owl chicks.

The next box; not too far away was one that’s had regular use over the last few years and sure enough; there were 5 chicks in this one; things were looking up.

Our good fortune continued at the next box which had an un-ringed female inside with one egg and 5 very small chicks! Mother was soon ringed and back with her babies.

Just one box to do and again, 3 chicks to ring making it 13 for the day; one adult ringed and a brood of 5 to look at in 6 weeks!!

Today; I had an appointment with a family who had reported Barn Owls in a box in their field. Chris and I had put the box up last March so Barn Owl occupancy had been fast though not as fast as the Jackdaws that had built a nest in the box first. The female in the box was a bird I’d ringed as a chick at Hickling Pastures 2 years ago and she had 3 chicks in with her. I removed all of the chicks and emptied the box of the Jackdaw rubbish, giving the chicks a nice open area where they can play football with an owl pellet!!

So 16 chicks ringed this week and who knows, we’re now very close to ringing our 1,000th Barn Owl chick which could happen next week!!

What do Rushcliffe Barn Owls eat?

26th January 2016

Neil has now analysed pellets from 58 boxes across Rushcliffe and identified the remains of 908 mammals of 10 species. The most uncommon was a mole from a box at Sutton Bonington and there were also 2 unidentified birds (which aren't on the chart below.)

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU BARN OWL FANS; HERE’S HOPING FOR ANOTHER BIG YEAR!!

25th December 2015

It’s not often that we have good news about any Barn Owls injured and subsequently picked up on the road; particularly fast dual carriageways!

The British Trust for Ornithology, (BTO) constantly send out notifications of ringing recoveries; occasionally these give good news of one of my birds being caught breeding in a box in another area; one this year was from deepest Cheshire and it’s great to learn of the occasional long distant dispersal of a chick from one of my boxes.

Sadly though the notification usually gives me bad news of a bird either picked up dead on farmland or on a road. Unfortunately, Barn Owls often hunt along the verges of main roads which are often good habitat and are not the brightest when it comes to good traffic sense. Very few road casualties live to tell the tale so it was very unusual to get an email early this month telling me about an adult female picked up on the A46 in south Notts. The story’s a bit vague but the bird was eventually found in rehab at the Raptor Foundation in St Ives, Cambs by a local owl ringer. He found that I was the bird’s ringer so got in touch, advising me of the bird’s story and suggesting that the bird should be released in the area where it had been originally ringed.

My records told me that I’d ringed the bird on eggs at Widmerpool last summer, another of this year’s failed breeders!

Just before Christmas, I was contacted by the man at the Raptor Foundation and arranged to meet him near the A1 where he handed me the owl and a few dead mice to leave in the box.

Two days before Christmas, Neil and I took the bird back to the box in Widmerpool, blocked off the hole and put her inside. We waited 5 minutes, removed the blocker and walked away; she stayed in the box so hopefully she’ll survive the winter and I’ll see her again in May!!


Late fledging Barn Owl chicks have a hard time while chicks that fledge in July and August have a much easier time when kicked out of their natal box by their parents - who might go on to have a 2nd brood. Chicks from these 2nd broods or late breeding pairs are left to their own devices in late autumn with a drop in temperatures, high wind, possibly more rain and even floods!!

They have a week or two flying and hunting with their parents and then get driven off into the great unknown; many chicks fail to survive their first winter and we never see them again!

On the morning that I picked up the adult Barn Owl on the A1, I received another notification from the BTO. It looked like more bad news.

One of the chicks from the late brood that had featured on the film clips on this blog in October had been picked up injured and taken to the local vets for treatment. Vets are very willing to treat wild Barn Owls free of charge and I’ve taken several injured bird to them over the years, unfortunately all of the owls I’ve taken to them have failed to respond to treatment. I called the vets' practice the next morning and they told me that the bird had been passed on to the local Wildlife Warden for rehabilitation!

I asked them for details but said they would ask this lady to phone me which she did 10 minutes later.

She told me that the bird had an injured eye and wouldn’t be suitable for release; however, it would be taken to a Government Bird Of Prey Sanctuary on the South Coast where it would live out its days in comfort and luxury!! Lucky bird and it’s great to end the year with a couple of good news stories!

BOXING CLEVER

21st November 2015

Just over 15 years ago; the founding members of the Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project and me (ladder carrier), stood at the top of a large field near Radcliffe on Trent gazing down towards a massive Ash Tree about 200 yds away!

There in the box entrance hole, we could see a white dot; this was the face of a Barn Owl looking out and we were all elated as this was the project’s first sighting of a Barn Owl in the 3 years of its existence!!

The box had been erected in Sept 1999 and Barn Owls had been reported by the farmer on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the birds didn’t breed that year but the project did celebrate the millennium with 2 pairs raising 2 chicks each in boxes at Tollerton and Scarrington!

A year later and this box became our third to raise Barn Owl chicks becoming our first to raise 5 chicks!! Strangely, there was no more breeding until 2006 but since then, the box has had owls every year producing 22 chicks.

However; this box does have its drawbacks; the tree stands in the middle of a massive arable field where the farmer grows various crops; most of which are fine if you don’t mind having a ton of soil on your boots when you walk out. Then, one year, the farmer grew the dreaded oilseed rape. This was OK in May when we checked the box but by July when the chicks needed ringing it was impenetrable and we missed a couple of chicks and this happened again this year.

Last week, after a night of heavy gales, I wondered if any of our boxes and trees had come down which does happen occasionally. That morning, I received a phone call from the farmer’s wife to say that the box had come down.

Neil and I went out there next day to find that half of the tree and the box had come down but fortunately the box could be salvaged. Considering the state of the tree, we decided to look for another and found one at the bottom of the field next to the track. A reconditioned box was soon in place and never again will we have to battle through the oilseed rape to get to the box; hopefully the Barn Owls will soon find their new home!!

FUN WITH PELLETS

9th November 2015

Bronwen Laycock has sent us these photos of her grandson's dissected Barn Owl pellets.

The second image shows assorted bones with rodent jaws and two bills from an unknown passerine. It is very unusual to find remains of birds in Barn Owl pellets.

VIDEO OF CROPWELL BISHOP OWLS

October 2015

VALE OF PLENTY!!

25th August 2015

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of taking out a couple of young guests to see some Barn Owls; Amelia who is doing a Masters in Zoology at Nottingham University and Alex, an Environmental Science and Natural History Photographer who also studied at Nottingham.

Howard with Alex and Amelia.

Checking Barn Owl boxes this year has been difficult, nothing is guaranteed with many pairs laying eggs and then deserting and some not laying eggs at all. The last thing you want is to take people to see Barn Owl chicks and then find the nest empty; very disappointing both for them and for me!

I had a few boxes to look at in the Vale of Belvoir where I’d found birds on eggs and small chicks 6 weeks ago and we could also check some boxes where I’d already ringed chicks which might be still in the boxes.

As usual when in the Vale, I picked up our friend Jo who sees Barn Owls regularly from her garden and has a couple of boxes behind her house though neither were used for nesting this year.

The first box was one where I’d already ringed 4 chicks back in July so there was a good chance that birds would still be present; I was delighted to find 3 birds in the box, all ringed and full feathered and it was great to see the look on the faces of Alex and Amelia as I showed them their first wild Barn Owls.

Checking the ring numbers, I discovered that only one bird was a chick, the others were Mum and Dad, the female ringed as a year old bird in this very box in 2012 and the male ringed the year before as a chick in another box on this same farm!

The birds were checked, photos taken and we headed off to the next box. There’d been eggs and small chicks in the box in July but now only a Stock Dove on eggs; the owls had deserted with only owl pellets and an egg with a hole in it, probably caused by Jackdaws, to show of the owl’s earlier residence!!

The next box proved better though, I’d ringed 2 chicks here and they were both still at home though one managed to head butt the hole blocker out and made its escape, The other though was a beautifully spotted female!

A beautifully spotty female.

I was still hoping to find some chicks to ring so we headed for Bingham and another box that had eggs and chicks when I last looked. With three car loads of Farmer, family and friends turning up as well, I had everything crossed when I climbed the ladder and was relieved to find 2 gorgeous chicks, well grown but still downy like 2 dandelion clocks.

Amelia with big chicks.

I ringed both chicks, photos were taken and we headed off to Cropwell Bishop to check another box that had eggs last time I looked.

Both adults departed and there were 5 chicks in the box, 3 downy and 2 pink, looking like some small pre-historic reptiles. Nothing big enough to ring so a job for 4 weeks time when I hope to see Amelia and Alex again; I’m sure they’d like to come!!

Owls among the hay bales

10th August 2015

Ain't it great when you give someone advice on a subject, they take it and everything works out OK?

A few weeks ago, a farmer rang me to say that he’d been taking hay bales from a barn and come across two small Barn Owl chicks. He seemed quite anxious that the parents would continue to feed the chicks and what could he do to keep them together to fledging.

I suggested he find a large box or disused water tank to contain the chicks and leave it on the bales close to where he found them. The adults would hear the chicks calling and continue to feed them! He readily agreed to try this and I heard nothing more.

Then last week I received a text from Colin Shawyer of the Barn Owl Conservation Network to say that he’d been in contact with a farmer at Epperstone who had 2 Barn Owl chicks in a cardboard box in a barn and would I be able to ring them. I told Colin of my earlier contact with the farmer who’d obviously taken my advice.

The Epperstone escapers.

Yesterday, Neil and I went over to Epperstone to ring the chicks, we met the farmer and his wife in the yard and went over to the hay barn to get the chicks but looking into the box, we were dismayed to see that it was empty, oh no, could they have been taken by a cat or fox or just flown away. I started to search amongst the bales and eventually found one perched on a metal beam under the roof. I asked Neil to fetch my net and a metal pole and managed to get the chick into the net. The bird was near a new nesting box under the roof beams and we found the 2nd chick snug down in the box. After a good Spiderman impression, I was able to get it out and both chicks were ringed, photos taken and released to continue growing!!

Also that day; we’d ringed a big chick at Radcliffe after having to wait until the farmer had harvested his oil-seed rape crop and found a newly fledged bird in a box at Owthorpe; this bird was unringed so must have fledged from a natural nest site and found our box to its liking; a good day all round!!

Radcliffe solo.

Spot the male!!

21st July

Usually Barn Owls are easy to sex; females have spots on their breast and underwing and males don't - they are pure white beneath.

Today though I found 2 adults in a box with eggs and a small chick. I grabbed the first bird, noticing big spots on its underwing and put it into the holding crate. I then caught the second bird and was surprised to see that this too had spots! Possibly 2 females sharing a box which happens, but only rarely.

Weighing the birds was the clincher; one weighed 390 grams and the other only 330, the heavier bird was the female and she also had a large brood patch on her belly; a bare area with engorged blood vessels to aid the brooding of eggs and chicks. The bird immediatey below is the female and the lower one is the male and he has heavier spots than the female!!

Typical Female Barn Owl.
Very untypical Male Barn Owl.

Guest Blog - Neil P

16th July

In a generally disappointing year, today was one of the more rewarding days out, not least since Howard and Neil were joined by two lovely ladies (though one was Neil's daughter Zoe, so she doesn't really count). The other was owl-fan Jo from Sutton cum Granby with welcome (and not so welcome) news about her visiting Humming-bird Hawkmoths (one got squashed!)

The day started badly with a box with eggs a few weeks ago, now abandoned and occupied by Stock Doves, but a trip to Elton on the Hill to a pole box, that had not been visited for some time and which was very full of accumulated owl-debris also housed three very large chicks just days from fledging. The nature of the box necessitated the rare circumstance of Neil up a ladder and you can probably see the distrust he has of the rotting, woodpecker-drilled pole, in being able to withstand the vector force of his generous mass.

Howard and Neil get high together (Combined age: 133).
A damned good clear-out lightened the load and gave the living accommodation more of a 'febreze' element.

More chicks followed at Langar and other pairs were present, some with eggs (one with a clutch of 6) and others may yet lay and if the voles (and shrews and mice) get their act together, this could still turn out to be a decent year. And, to round things off we had the nice bonus of three Little Egrets and a Red Kite.

Barton Babe

26th June

Barton in Fabis has a bouncing baby Barn Owl. Only the one but in the scheme of things this year, that's quite an achievement.

Harriet with the chick
Paul with mummy and babe

AMAZONIAN ADVENTURES

Tuesday 22nd June

The first Barn Owl boxes erected by the project were seven pole boxes at the newly developed Rushcliffe Country Park, just south of Ruddington.

Back in 1997, both the project and the park were in their infancy and to be honest, neither had much idea about the placement of the boxes. For a start, 7 boxes was at least 4 too many for an area that size; 5 were positioned in newly planted trees which was fine at first but were eventually engulfed by the trees and became useless for Barn Owls though to be fair, 5 of the boxes were used by Barn Owls before the trees grew too high.

This is by no means a criticism; the project did a fantastic job and most of the boxes erected by them in the Rushcliffe countryside have since held nesting Barn Owls! The project had been running for about 2 years when I joined; not that would have made any difference to the RCP boxes as I didn’t know anything about nesting Barn Owls either!! My expertise was more in the use of ladders, ropes and pulleys which improved our nest box erection procedures.

Back to the RCP boxes and after about 6 years, new boxes were fixed to the existing poles and 4 of the old ones were given to a local farmer who wanted to put them up on his land.

In 2005, I phoned him to see if there’d been any use and he said he didn’t know as he’d never looked. By this time, I’d taken over as the project's field work manager and had just completed a ringing course; I drove down to the boxes and was rewarded by the sight of three Barn Owls flying around the pole boxes. They were on a strip of very wild land covered in nettles, thistles, brambles and grasses, all about 4ft high; no one had been in there for years and to make matters worse, the Fairham Brook ran between the access track and the boxes.

I went down there with 3 helpers, we crossed the brook using a ladder and beat a way through the undergrowth to the first box in which I was able to catch a female Barn Owl. She was ringed and was a bird I’d ringed earlier in the year at a box about 3 miles away; she’d had one chick, hence the 3 birds I’d seen flying around the boxes, the whole family had moved over to these boxes and I caught and ringed birds here for the next few years.

Eventually the boxes fell foul of the weather and began to fall apart; I had a word with the farmer who said he’d plant one of the poles on the other side of the stream to make access easy for us, I put a new box on the pole so for the last few years we’ve easily reached the box and though we’ve had Barn Owls inside; they’ve never bred!

This week, I phoned the farmer to ensure that the gate to the field wasn’t locked; he told me that he’d sold the field and that it was all locked up, we’d have to gain access from his farmyard.

Chris and I went there on Tuesday and the farmer led the way through fields of sheep and maize to the rough ground. Trouble was, we were now on the wrong side of the brook again; back to square one!! The farmer used his buggy to beat a path through the chest high nettles and undergrowth up to the brook which ran through a steep sided cutting. I dropped the ladder over and negotiated the crossing OK but decided to go down the bank to get the ringing bag off Chris!

However; the sides of the bank were wet, my foot slipped and with the grace of John Sergeant in Strictly, lost my footing and fell flat on my back into the brook. I didn’t stay in for too long and after Chris had stopped laughing, he managed to cross as well, we retrieved the ladder and continued to the box. As we approached, a Barn Owl left the box and we found a female sitting on 2 eggs inside, she was very heavy and will probably lay more eggs. We’ll be back in 6 weeks time to ring any chicks and the farmer has promised to put a bridge over the brook to make our crossing easier. Well worth a soaking though; I went hope to change my clothes and Chris and I continued with our owling!!

What's on the menu?

25th June 2015

Neil has spent many happy hours rummaging through pellets collected from the boxes to collect data for the Notts mammal atlas project though the results are of interest in themselves. The results from 17 locations so far are:

SpeciesNumberPercentage of Total
Field Vole 164 55.2%
Common Shrew 69 23.2%
Wood Mouse 27 9.1%
Bank Vole 25 8.4%
Pygmy Shrew 7 2.4%
Water Shrew 4 1.3%
House Mouse10.3%
Harvest Mouse10.3%
Brown Rat10.3%

A pair near Upper Broughton seem to have the most varied diet with 6 species on the menu including the only rat and harvest mouse found so far.

ONE OF THOSE DAYS!!

“J'ever have one o those days boy, j'ever have one of those days; when nothing goes right from mornin’ to night; j'ever get on o those days?”

So sang Elvis Presley in GI Blues. Well yesterday turned out to be one of those days!

Chris and I were trying to get to an owl box on the far side of a large field; trouble was that the crop of oil-seed rape had grown over the track we usually use so we had to find a new way in. This entailed driving along a track around a fishing lake and, coming around a corner, there was a mound which raised the nose of the truck so I couldn’t see the track immediately in front and there was a wet muddy ditch right waiting there; my front wheels dropped in and despite going into four wheel drive, we were well and truly stuck and the rear end was sliding towards a deep ditch!!

I telephoned the farmer who was fortunately at home but in a meeting with an insurance assessor so it was an hour before he reached us. He turned up in a Land Rover which was unable to pull us out so he went away and returned with a massive tractor which soon had us out.

We continued to the box, driving around the field edge which had very long grass and ran over a large fallen branch; this clonked underneath and I had to drive home with shaky front wheels. We also nearly ran over a Muntjac which shot in front of us!!

To make matters worse, we checked 6 boxes, 5 were full of Jackdaw nests, one had fallen off the tree and we found no owls!! Definitely one of those days!!

Earlier in the week, Neil and I went to look at boxes at Ruddington; I’d had a call from a landowner to say that he’s got Barn Owls in his box which is just a few yards from his house but had been used for breeding 3 times in the past, the last being 7 years ago.

Looking in the box, I could see a pair of Barn Owls inside and started to clear some of the debris from around the door but you have to be careful as owls can move like lightening and can easily shoot through a 4” gap at the bottom of the doors. My reflexes are still quite good and I've often caught owls as they've tried to escape. I'd put the ladder onto the tree and was holding onto the back of the box while leaning back to clear the door when an owl shot through the gap; I grabbed it with my right hand, just as the other owl made a bid for freedom. I automatically dropped my forearm onto this bird so I had one in my right hand and one under by forearm but couldn't let go with my left arm as I'd have fallen off the ladder. So what to do? I went down the ladder one rung to get more stable and was then able to grab the one under my forearm with my left hand and pass it down to Neil.

There were six eggs in the nest, the female was unringed but the the male was ringed as a chick last year at Lady Bay!

We also found nesting birds at Bunny Hill where the same adults as last year were again in the box. I'd ringed the female here last year but the male was an old friend, I'd ringed him as a chick at Plumtree in 09 and caught him again on 5 other occasions. They had 3 small chicks in the box!!

First eggs, Katie and the puzzling ring number

4th June 2015

The end of our first week of box checking and after the last record-breaking year, things are disappointingly quiet. The Barn Owl Conservation Network had circulated a message that many pairs were slow in getting started and we’ve found a few pairs in boxes that have yet to lay eggs.

I went out on Tuesday with Chris Hughes, looking at boxes around Widmerpool; we found our first birds on eggs, the first a female that I’ve seen on 4 other occasions; I ringed her as a chick at Holme Pierrepont in 2011, caught her a year later in Keyworth and twice last year when she raised 5 chicks.

She’d laid 6 eggs this time and we’ll be back in 7 weeks to ring the chicks.

At the next box, a male Barn Owl flew out leaving his lady in the box; there were no eggs and her ring wasn’t one of mine; she was ringed by Jim Lennon as an adult in a box near Southwell last year so she’d flown a few miles to join our breeding programme. The last box we checked had been used last year for a 2nd brood that failed after they’d raised 5 chicks in a nearby box. I’d ringed the female as an adult in a box at Keyworth in 2010 and again a year later on eggs.

Looking in the box, I saw a pair of Barn Owls and 4 eggs but both birds were surprisingly unringed!

Not for long though and they were soon back in the box with their eggs.

Yesterday, with Neil Pinder; I’d arranged to meet Ruth Testa at the NWT Skylarks Reserve to check the 2 boxes I’d erected there 2 years ago; however, it wasn’t Ruth who met us but Katie Last, an Assistant Reserves Officer at NWT. The reserve had changed enormously since my previous visit last year with a lot of grassland removed and replaced with pools and scrapes which should suit wading birds and Katie is deeply involved in the development of the new reserve.

Both boxes had breeding Stock Doves but as the reserve improves, there’s a good chance of Barn Owls settling there.

Another box at Holme Pierrepont was disappointingly empty after being used by Barn Owls last year but we were determined that Katie would see her first Barn Owls so travelled to Stragglethorpe to a farm where the farmer had told me that the owls were in his box.

Sure enough, the owls were at home with 5 eggs; the male was a new bird but the female had a ring that was only 7 numbers less than the one that I’d just put on the male. Back home, I found that it was the female I’d found roosting in the box that was hanging face down off a tree nearby on 10th of April, (see below).

Katie Last and barn owl
Katie and Stragglethorpe Barn Owl.

So not a bad day; we’d met the lovely Katie and Katie had held her first owl; I think she enjoyed the day!!

Pellets from Stanford Park

1st May 2015

Neil has dissected a handful of pellets from an occupied box and found the remains of 13 Field Voles, 3 Bank Voles, 1 House Mouse, 5 Common Shrews, 2 Pygmy Shrews and the unidentified skull of a large finch-type bird (going by the short, thickset bill).

Jaws of Common Shrew (top 2) and Pygmy Shrew.

Predictions for the Barn Owl year ahead!!!

21st April 2015

The last two Barn Owl years couldn’t be further apart; 2013 was a disaster with poor winter weather causing a massive crash in the vole population; hundreds of Barn Owls were reported dead and very few pairs carried on to breed. RuBOP had only 7 pairs breed raising only 16 chicks.

The recovery last year was equally dramatic; most of the non-breeders of 2013 were still around; the winter was favourable, the voles bred prolifically and the Barn Owls put on weight, laying large clutches of eggs. Reports from throughout the country indicated one of the best breeding seasons ever with remarkable numbers being mentioned. RuBOP, like most other groups had a record year with 39 pairs raising 183 chicks.

Colin Shawyer of the Barn Owl Conservation Network estimates that 10,000 – 12,000 Barn Owl chicks were ringed; the highest ever recorded. Colin thinks that we’re ringing on average, about one-third of all Barn Owl chicks in the UK, so we could estimate that about 30,000 young were produced in 2014.

So for 2015: with so many new birds reaching breeding age and with the winter being kind and not too much juvenile mortality we should have a big increase in breeding pairs and a good uptake of our boxes. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we will find a good number of occupied boxes when we start our inspections in May, and the 80th chick we ring will be the 1,000th for RUBOP!!

Urgent Action Needed

10th April 2015

I was messaged on Facebook by a lady who was out walking and had come across a Barn Owl box which had become detached on the top bracket causing the box to fall forward with the entrance facing down.

As the box had been used last year it required urgent attention and Neil and I went out to the box today; I walked underneath it to look up through the door and despite its sorry state, there was a Barn Owl looking down at me!

I fetched my big net and she was soon in my hands; the first of the year. It was a female and a bit lightweight for breeding but there's still time. She was not ringed so I put a ring on her and she was placed in the holding cage. We removed the box and replaced it with a nice new one purchased from the Barn Owl Centre -courtesy of Rushcliffe's conservation fund; we put her back in and she stayed put which is a good sign.

Hopefully we'll see her again with a box full of chicks!

Neil dissected a handful of the pellets that had fallen from the box to add records to the Nottinghamshire mammal atlas project and found a Water Shrew skull and jaws. The pellets also contained the remains of 24 Field Voles, 4 Wood Mice and 5 Common Shrews. Water Shrews have fewer than 10 records in Rushcliffe.

Shrew jaws
Jaws of Common Shrew (top 4) and Water Shrew.

Call that an owl? That's an owl!!

On my recent trip the Belarus, it turned out that one of our guides, Denis Kitel was an Owl Man; putting up platforms for nesting Great Grey and Long-eared Owls and monitoring nest holes of Tengmalm’s Owls. He was able to show us Great Greys and Long-ears on the nest but Tengmalm’s were absent. One day, knowing that I did a bit of owl work myself, Denis asked me if I’d like to ring an Eagle Owl chick. Would I?? Bring it on!!

We drove into a town to a housing estate, a funny place for an Eagle Owl nest I thought but we were just picking up a man who was the guardian of the forest and knew where the Eagle Owls were nesting. We drove to the edge of the forest and walked along a path into the woods; eventually coming to a large patch of feathers and bones on the ground beneath a large pine tree. A look through the feathers revealed the wings of a Long-eared Owl and Jay feathers. There were no chicks in the nest and after a brief search around the nearby trees we found two hiding behind trees, playing dead but peering at us with just the one eye!! After admiring them both, Denis pulled out a ring and a pair of ringing pliers; while the rings I put on the Barn Owls are about half an inch across, this was about the size of a 2 inch jubilee clip.

Denis bent down and pulled out a leg, the claws on the feet were about an inch long but the chick didn’t attempt to grab him but just clapped its beak together a few times, nothing more. I watched carefully as the ring had 2 tags on it that had to be folded together with a nipple located in a hole. We approached the other chick and I pulled out a leg; again a bit of beak clacking but nothing more, I slipped to ring onto the leg above the massive foot and folded the tags together and eventually locked them into place, the ring was quite hard and I had to use both hands on the pliers to squeeze the tags together. It was done to Denis’s satisfaction and photographs were taken before we moved away.

The mother had been seen briefly in the forest and no doubt she was keeping an eye on us as we worked on her chicks and we were pleased to get out of there intact.

A GOOD DAY FOR UPDATING MY BLOG!!

On a horrible cold snowy day, a good day for updating my blog; so what do Owlists do in the Winter??

Well, there’s always something to do though nothing is that urgent and much depends on the weather. Some owls stay around their box area throughout the Winter though might prefer roosting in a barn while others disperse to where I know not, only to reappear in February and March. If both birds have survived, then they can pair off early but if one doesn’t return, then the other has to find a new mate which can involve a lot of flying and a lot of screeching!!

This Winter, we wanted to take down some of the boxes that had never had a Barn Owl inside and move them to hopefully better areas. However, we were thwarted at 3 boxes by finding Barn Owls roosting inside; hopefully, they’ll stick around but as they were all on farms that had a number of other boxes in regular use, we might be able to move these in the Summer if the owls choose to nest in one of the other boxes. We did move a couple of boxes though to cover the loss of some farm buildings that were being demolished and the owls will hopefully move into these.

Another thing we did this Winter was to replace our project vehicle. 10 years ago, when I took over as Field Work Manager, I was looking for a cheap 4×4 vehicle and was fortunate to buy a 1984 Mercedes G Wagen, a real iconic vehicle which became quite well known around the Rushcliffe area. This was a superb vehicle, built like a tank and renowned as the finest off-road vehicle ever made. In all our time out in the fields and through some of the wettest Summers on record, it ploughed through everything and never got stuck. When there was snow, we went out and had a great time pulling cars up the steep hill where we live; remarkably, it got a grip on sheet ice and never failed to tow them out. Unfortunately, the engine began to wear and it was feared that it would fail the next emission test on the MOT and be very expensive to repair. With great reluctance, I passed it on to a G Wagen enthusiast, getting back the same price as I’d paid for it; he rebuilt the engine, fitted an automatic gear box and he’s now using it as a runaround in the USA! So der Eulenwagen has gone to a good home and is still going strong!!

Our new Owl Wagon

So we were looking for a new vehicle; over the years the group had done quite a lot of fund raising and thanks to attending shows with sales goods and donations from Parish Councils and County Councillors, we had enough cash in the bank to get a new vehicle; I added a bit myself and we purchased a nice Ford Ranger 4×4 pick-up. I bought a cab top off ebay and it’s made an ideal vehicle for our purpose with enough room in the back for 3 owl boxes.

Come some better weather and we’ll be out there again, exploring new sites and putting up some new boxes in good habitat. Mid May and we’ll be back into the breeding season which is always an exciting time for us, never knowing what we’re going to find and whether the vole population will enable us to have another fantastic year!!

HEDGING MY BETS

All my life I’ve loved ladders; from being a 4 year old toddler climbing up the diving board at Bulwell Lido to a life on the Fire Service, then doing the Barn Owl Project; ladders have always played a big part in my life. I’ve been up them all, from precarious Hook Ladders that hooked into windows on the building you were climbing, Roof ladders that you had to manhandle onto roofs from another ladder; 50ft Escapes, the ones with the big wheels to 100ft Turntables that disappear into the night sky; I loved em all!

50 ft Escape Ladder.

The good thing is that I’ve never fallen off one; this can be quite serious and to be avoided at all costs.

Yesterday, for the first time, I fell off a ladder. Neil and I were erecting a box on a tree on a field edge at Kinoulton; Neil was pulling the rope on the hoist while I was up the ladder guiding it onto the headless nail that we use to hook the box onto before nailing into place. However; the box slipped on the rope and swung into me, knocking me off balance. I grabbed for the ladder and missed and went out backwards like Tom Daly doing a reverse dive but without the double somersault piked!! Not to worry, I was aware that there was a wide Hawthorn hedge below me; I put both arms out, relaxed and landed flat in the hedge. While my body dropped down in the middle, my legs got caught in some brambles so when I stopped, my legs were stuck up in the air. It took a bit of time to extract myself; I told Neil I was OK but he couldn’t help as he was still holding the rope to stop the box from dropping down.

Trimming the hedge

We then saw the funny side and started laughing, then I remounted the ladder and we got the box up onto the tree!! My dive scored 6.5 from the judges and 5 on the Richter Scale!!

We had a couple of mornings putting up boxes this week; Gordon and I went to a farm to move a box that in 12 years had never had a Barn Owl in it; guess what flew out of the box; yup, a Barn Owl. I removed the Jackdaw nest from inside to give it a bit of room and hopefully it’ll stay to breed next spring.

We also went to Holy Cross Convent to put a 2nd box in their orchard; they have a box there that’s regularly used and a second box will give the owls another roosting place and an alternative box that might encourage a 2nd brood.

Der Eulenwagen

While here, for the first time ever, the old G Wagen; Der Eulenwagen refused to start. I called the AA man who diagnosed a sticking petrol pump, gave it a tap and away we went!!

Thanks AA for a speedy turnout!!



Also, whenever Neil has a day out with the project anything of interest gets a mention on the Keyworth Meadow Log page