Sunday, 24 February 2013

Crashing owls all round...


"Oooops! Crashed again!!"

We were treated to another Barn Owl visitation yesterday evening...
it crashed in front of the kitchen window.

Actually...
it didn't crash... the picture above shows it mantling its prey...
that is, shading it from view by spreading its wings out and around the prey.


Two more pictures of mantling the prey.


It tore its prey, probably a vole, apart before swallowing each piece...
in contrast to this morning's visitor... more of which later.

Have you finished it?
Yes... if you don't mind?

The Barn Owl [Tyto alba] Effraie des clochers stayed around for quite a while as dusk fell...
this is the first time we've ever seen a Barn Owl in daylight!
It was wonderful to watch as it glided across the meadow...


back and forth, hunting methodically...
it struck a couple more times whilst we could still see it...
but I'm sure it hunted for a while after.

Strike two...
Oooops... not quite!      Pounce...

Aha! Got it!!

If that guy's still watching... I'll eat elsewhere!!


As you can see it was a handsome bird in good plumage...
whether or not it is a new bird that has rapidly come into the territory vacated by the one the Buzzard ate...
or the original one that's been present all the time...
the latter being unlikely as the average lifespan is only four years...
but it might be, as this is a fairly calm area, all told.
They can survive in the wild for up to 12 years.
I have put some general Barn Owl facts about survival at the bottom.

Strike three by the dead willow...
It also ate this elsewhere!!



This morning's visitor was a Long-eared Owl [Asio otus] Hibou Moyen-duc [which we've had here before]...
I saw it first while I was feeding the cats...
it was sitting on one of the fence posts of the potager, quite near the snow covered road.

First sighting... what's that?
It's an Eagle Owl... er... perhaps not? No... it's a Long-Eared Owl

It then moved to the weather station...
now is this why I'm having to replace the wind-speed whirly?...

I think it has got another vole? It ate one before it flew here...


...before taking up temporary residence, close to the field feeder, near the faux-gatepost in the dividing tree line... both Pauline and I were surprised to see the the small birds on the feeder seemed to be totally blasé about it...

The orange base to the primaries can be seen here...
The above four shots were taken through the big telescope... but hand held. [see note below]


whereas they scatter if the Hen Harrier comes through...
like it did yesterday morning...
[or the female Kestrel, who has recently taken to attacking in a Sparrowhawk fashion.]

 Hen Harrier coming through yesterday morning...

I cannot now remove the major part of the dead willow as it and the Barn Owl began using that as a hunting perch...
as does the Kestrel...
and, probably, as the wood is of little calorific value, it is better to leave it there as both bench and seat for us....
and highpoint perch for the raptors.
So I'll just tidy the top up so that I can maintain the ground around it and let it rot away quietly...
providing also food for the woodpecker...
a breeding place for beetles...
and a hiding place for other insects and arthropods.


As I type [6PM] the Long-Eared Owl is still hunting the field...
and it doesn't bother tearing the voles it catches into pieces...
three or four jerky gulps and they're gone!!

I missed getting that on film...
as well as a threat display, very early on by the road, as the Kestrel came and hovered over it...
I was looking down the 'scope both times...
no time to get a camera!

The threat display was magnificent...
I had the owl in the scope and saw the Kestrel appear...
the owl leaned forward as if to take off...
and, while looking at the Kestrel, and remaining hunched forward....
slowly spread the wings to display only those bright orange feathers at the base of its primaries.
It was all the warning not to mob that the Kestrel needed...
it stopped hovering and flew on into the walnut.
The owl resumed it position on the post...
but "ears" up...
alert...
for further attack.

As well as not cutting the big willow apart, I shall be erecting a faux-fence line, straight down the length of the big field, using posts reclaimed from the riverside as I clear the barbed wire...

Cold and snowy it might have been, but we've been treated to a wonderful display by the local fauna!



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Average life span for a wild Barn Owl:
Due to the following dangers and environmental factors, wild Barn Owls do find it very difficult to thrive...
the majority of young owls will sadly perish within their first year.
Harsh or severe weather conditions such as prolonged rain & snow can have a great effect on the Barn Owls ability to survive. Many die from starvation under severe conditions. They simply struggle to find prey.
Motorways, busy roads & railways, loss of grassland habitat & hedgerows,
the loss of suitable roost & nest sites, [for example old buildings & barns being converted into dwellings like at La Forge],
a shortage of natural tree hollows due to removal of old trees to "tidy up" the environment all effect their survival.
The life span of a Barn Owl in the wild can average anywhere from 1-5 years, the average for a mature adult being four.
In a more protected & safer environment a Barn Owl, including captivity, can live up to 20-25 years.
And some ignorant or plain misinformed gamekeepers still shoot Barn Owls!!

The majority of this paragraph was gleaned from:
The Barn Owl Centre's website
and Wikipedia's Barn Owl page

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Because of the very low light, all the above pictures were taken at 1600 or 800 ASA... this is why they are grainy... the sensor has to act like high-speed film to grab a picture.
The colour differences are also down to colour balance setting between the Pentax Optio and the Pentax K7... and no time to re-set!!
The "dodgy"scoped pix, that I hand-held, exhibit vast differences in exposure and in some cases vignetting... it involved holding the camera in one hand... focusing the 'scope with the other... holding the 'scope, camera and tripod steady with the third.... and pressing the shutter button with... the fourth!!

'Twas wonderful fun!! We now need to repaint the white walls... they've turned blue!!

9 comments:

Niall & Antoinette said...

Fabulous!!

We were treated to a barn owl hunting the field in front of a cottage we rented [one October 1/2 term] at Helhoughton in Norfolk. It was wonderful to see it quartering the field in the late evening light.

Tim said...

Helhoughton... arrr, thart boieee nar Farkenham, thart boieee... I used to live near Swarffham... moi brarther still do... you should see his barn owl pix... knock moin into a straw hat! [You can find his pix via my flickr site or where I've credited him on this one!!] He also got a pair of Bitterns at Sculthorpe Hawk and Owl Trust reserve the other week... lucky ess-oh-dee!

Colin and Elizabeth said...

Great shots Tim. We have/had an Owl roosting outside the bedroom window but never managed to see what it is. Never ever see it in the day either. Note. I once surveyed (2003) Swaffham Community Hospital along with most other health premises in and around that area. Ahhh the past life...

Susan said...

Lovely to see how successfully the barn owl is hunting. We saw one coming home from Tours on Friday at La Chapelle Blanche, hunting in a field just before sunset. The Long-eared owl is great too. I had no idea they had that orange on the wing. Great observations as ever.

Jean said...

Great photos and information on the life of owls.
It's a shame that most of the barn owl babies don't make it. But then I feel sorry for the voles, too.....being eaten alive like that.

Pollygarter said...

I once watched a barn owl hunting in daylight in the Derwent valley, east of York. When I turned away an hour had passed, though it seemed like no time at all.
Lovely to see such a successful hunter after the disastrous fate of the old owl. I don;t think the voles have time to suffer much.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Great post with masses of info. We seem to only have the Little Owl around here but I have never managed to get a photo of it. Take care Diane

Tim said...

We've also got Little Owls... they live at the farm just up the road, but visit our barn regularly... often perching in the dusk upon the end of the roof... I got scolded by one once, inside the barn, when I went in to get something... most indignant it was!!
Tawny Owls call regularly from the woods either side of the valley [about a kilometre or less wide at our portion] and overfly us... sometimes stopping off for a hunt in the meadow.

Tim said...

Susan,
both the owls were hunting successfully... so either the vole population has moved back in at speed... or the have invented their aqualing!!