Return of the owls.

Sunrise: 04.58  Sunset: 09.15

I mentioned in ‎about owl perches in trees alongside North Pond, when ground cover was not as dense as it has been of late.

I photographed this tawny in May 2012 . I‎ am hoping that improvements around the pond will encourage this owl, and others like it, to return to the safety of the pond area.



Tawny owl.

21st May 2012: I had planned to go owling yesterday evening, but the light wasn’t good enough. I had an idea of an image I would like to shoot, and I wasn’t going to get it without strong evening sunlight. Instead, I sat on my recliner, in front of the television, eating biscuits and drinking beer like a regular couch potato.

This evening was a very different story. The weather was warm, sunny and still, under a cloudless powder blue sky.

It really was an idyllic evening down at North Pond. The only thing spoiling the peace was a dog walker with two unruly black dogs: a Labrador and spaniel; both barking incessantly and chasing everything that moved. Unfortunately, ‘No access signs’ are sometimes ignored by local dog walkers. I heard a water rail alarm call and a lapwing escaped to the island across the river.

I often sit on a log watching the sunset over the pond. Sometimes I feel I would like a deck chair and to chill with a can of beer and chocolate cake. I don’t do this because I would be eaten alive by clouds of flying, biting insects. I would probably end up eating more flying insects than cake, if I was to try. I’m allergic to biting insects, and spray myself liberally with Jungle Formula insect repellent; this has a very bitter taste and can spoil a marsh cake eating experience. Cake eating is best left until winter or early spring; Christmas cake is a particularly good marsh snack in winter.

Finding a tawny owl on a leafy branch in early evening is often not easy; I see this one regularly, though. They are so still and well camouflaged that it takes me a while to get my eye in. I crept slowly along a line of trees, scanning them vertically and horizontally; even then, it’s easy to miss a perched owl. I walked up and down the tree line twice, before I found this one. I had looked high, and the owl was sitting low. Anyway, I achieved my goal this evening.

This owl looks like it is sleeping, but it is watching

the ground. It knows that mice will soon leave their underground nests, and it plans on eating one. The tawny will sit on its perch, motionless, until its prey appears. A mouse will poke its nose out to sniff the air. It will move slowly out into the open, sniffing the air and generally mooching about. Other mice might follow, all acting similarly: sniffing, nervously looking about in all directions, waiting for something to happen. I have watched this scenario play out:

The owl stiffens, awaiting the moment. The perch is five feet from the ground. It releases its grip on the perch and falls forward into a slow, noiseless, dive. Its wings open, talons outstretched, and it hits the ground. Mice scatter in all direction, and the owl takes off to eat its kill in another tree.

You gotta be there to see it! You could watch something similar on a television nature program. How often, though, do you see an owl make a kill on the telly, and I can tell you that it doesn’t have anything like the same impact of actually being there.

Time to take account!

(Click on images to enlarge)



16th May 2012: We have wild carrots, turnips, garlic, mustard and a surfeit of Canada geese on the marsh at the moment. If potatoes grew here too, I would have all the ingredients for a decent marsh Sunday dinner. Stuffing one of the five good-sized puffballs that are growing at the edge of the swamp, with something tasty – pheasant, rabbit and duck, perhaps – would make an excellent mouth-watering snack.

In the days before Wilden Village shop, I imagine the local peasants who scraped a living by taking advantage of the natural things around them, might tell their better halves that they were off down the marsh to gather the Sunday dinner.

View across a shallow section of North Pond.

View across the narrowest part of the marsh nesting area.

A lot of rain has fallen on the marsh during the past eight weeks; not that I am complaining. I am happy enough as long as it’s sunny and dry when I am on holiday. It’s noticeable that the thick mass of four feet high vegetation is pulling more water from the ground than the rain can replace. The marsh water levels have dropped by around 100mm in seven days. In May of last year, we were praying for rain. If the wet weather continues, the Himalayan balsam, and giant hog weed, will reach a height of seven or eight feet in a few weeks. It’s not easy photographing animals in eight feet high vegetation.

The Shetland cattle have been moved from the marsh to return when the Himalayan balsam needs to eaten. I must find out why the cattle are not allowed to eat the balsam when it’s young and succulent. I remember the cattle eating the all of the balsam along the corridor to the tenant farmer’s field during the second week of September last year.

Red Comfrey.

White comfrey.

I photographed the heron chicks during the second week in June last year. I must make sure that I don’t leave it too late this year. Nature wise, things seem to be happening a couple of weeks later this year. My signal to brave the swampy conditions around the heronry is the clacking noise made by hungry begging chicks, and I haven’t heard any heron chick calls so far this year.

The animals have been busy in the long grass over-night at the south end of the swamp. I counted six newly dug badger latrines; some of the badgers had taken the trouble to cover their droppings, whilst others couldn’t be bothered. I gave up counting the flattened grass beds. It looked like the badgers and muntjacs had a tremendous time. As well as digging latrines, the badgers have been aggressively digging for worms. There was definitely something out of the ordinary happening on the marsh last night; an associated event that I am not aware of must have triggered the increase in activity.

Wild garlic and  mustard and garlic plants.

Wild turnip.

I disturbed an otter as it rooted about in bare soil close the lightning tree, on the east bank of North Pond. I have seen otter paw prints on this site before and an otter in the pond, but not on the bank. There are a few holes here too, which I have assumed belong to rabbits. I have placed a camera trap pointing at these holes on several occasions, but it revealed nothing of interest. I’ve even toyed with the idea of sitting out one night in the hope of seeing something, but I haven’t tried this as yet.

I counted six juvenile tawny owls on branches around the lightning tree, late evenings last week. I posted an owl chick image earlier in the week

On the 6th May, I heard my first cuckoo of this year. I saw a cuckoo, it might have been the same one, in a tree at the north end of North Pond last Monday night.

This afternoon I was at the far south end of the marsh, among the ancient pollarded black poplar trees. I had just finished photographing the blue tits. I was on my hands and knees looking deep into one of many brash piles that we build purposely as wildlife habitats. Earlier, as I waited for the tits to arrive back at their nest, I thought I saw movement in this brash pile; it was very close to where I found the dead weasel recently.

RAF search and rescue helicopter flying low over the marsh.

Anyway, as I crouched low on the ground, peering into to darkness of the wood pile, I felt vibrations travelling through my fingertips. These grew in intensity to the point where my attention was solely concentrated on the effect and in trying to find its source. I looked around as I felt the vibration through my knee-pads. Seconds passed as I remained puzzled. I was thinking that the source might be underground, when the air around me roared as a big RAF search and rescue helicopter flew directly over me. Needless to say, I didn’t see any wildlife under the brash pile.


Tawny Owls

(Click the links below to hear the owl calls)

It’s owl watching time for me in Hoo Wood and on the marsh. The hooting, tooting and screeching is hard to ignore on dark, cold autumn evenings. In local wildlife terms, owls are at the top of the tree in my estimation: above herons and buzzards.

There are Tawny Owls, Barn Owls, Long Eared OwlsShort Eared Owls, and Little Owls living in the Wilden area. Whilst often heard, owls are not so easily seen. As silent flyers, they rarely rustle a leaf when landing on or taking-off from tree branches. One minute they are hooting from the tree on the left, and the next minute from a tree on the right. If you are observant, you might see the ghostly form of the owl as it flies from perch to perch.

Tawny Owls are the commonest and the most vocal species on either side of Wilden Lane; they are larger than Barn Owls. Their call is the ‘towit twoo’, the call that people often associate with owls. The ‘towit’ is the female call, and the ‘twoo’ is the male answering the female ‘towit’. Barn Owls are light-brown and buff in colour, with a white face and underside. The Tawny owls are a brown colour all over. Barn Owls make shrieking calls that can seem unearthly on a quiet dark night on the marsh. It is the Barn Owl, with its white face and underside, which can give the impression of a ghostly figure moving silently through the night sky. It is not difficult to see how ghost, ghoul and vampire fables end-up being associated with the woodland creatures of the night – particularly flying creatures.

It’s a pity that I don’t have suitable infra-red cameras to photograph owls at night. I’ll just have to be satisfied with watching them.