This blog covers the period from June 2010 to April 2015
Visit the new Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project Blog
This blog covers the period from June 2010 to April 2015
Visit the new Rushcliffe Barn Owl Project Blog
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, then we could consider 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 with 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 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!!
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.
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!!
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!!
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!
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.
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.
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!!
David Stock who keeps an eye on some boxes at Hathern called to say that he’d seen Barn Owls around a box that we hadn’t checked due to the birds having already nested in another nearby box. It sounded good and I arranged to go over late afternoon after David had finished work. When I got there, I found he’d invited half of Hathern along but no problem, the more the merrier and it meant I didn’t have to carry any kit out to the box!!
David had been right; there were 2 well grown chicks in the box which were well photographed by the appreciative onlookers and then ringed and returned to the box!!
A few days later, with Gordon, we went to mop up a few late breeders, we checked 6 boxes and found 2 with chicks, ringing 2 in each. This was both disappointing and surprising as all of these pairs were well established and experienced pairs who would normally be expected to bring off second broods but possibly the wet weather and drop in temperature finally got to the vole population!!
We also had a look at some of Gordon’s boxes where it had been reported that owls were still around; we found a couple of adults but no more chicks!
So an end of a long season blighted by bad weather but the owls battled through and I ended up ringing 90 chicks plus 2 more that I couldn’t reach making it RUBOP’s 2nd best ever year while over in Broxtowe, we had a record year with 10 pairs and 20 chicks; all in all, not a bad season after all. Thanks go to my loyal band of helpers, Gordon, Chris and Neil for their valuable help!!
I started the day with some trepidation; after finding 2 broods of dead chicks last week, we were scheduled to check 2 more boxes that should by now have good sized chicks, one at Stragglethorpe that had already fledged 2 chicks this year and the other at Bingham where the first breeding box had fallen off the tree, breaking the eggs but fortunately the female had survived the fall to breed again in another box nearby.
Gordon came round and we were soon at the first box. I slid the door open and was delighted to find 3 big chicks, all females with two being heavily spotted and the other with a few very small spots that I could hardly see!
On then to the Bingham Box; potato harvest was in full swing and we had to take to the field to get round; the G as usual coped well with the mud and deep ruts but last week’s jet wash was now just a distant memory!
Opening this box and the first thing I saw was a large dead chick which I removed. However, there were 2 more that were very much alive, both males and the biggest soon had a tight grip on my finger and I had to enlist Gordon’s help to release the grip. 5 more chicks then to our total ringed and we’re now on 84 with some more to ring next week.
From here, we drove to Stanton on the Wolds Golf Club. The box here had been up for over 10 years and had never been used by a Barn Owl; only Stock Doves had ever ventured inside. One of our tasks this autumn is to relocate boxes that have never been used so down it came and after a repaint, will be erected in another place, hopefully to get a Barn Owl of its own!!
Last year, I had a call from one of my farmers, Jo, a lady at Skinner’s Lock Farm at Cotgrave. She told me that she’d found a dead Barn Owl chick in her pig barn but could find no trace of a nest. Intrigued, I went over and was shown the dead chick, about 3 weeks old, lying in one of the pig stalls. I had a good look round the barn, finding many signs of Barn Owl presence but no sign of a nest. Barn Owls like an enclosed box, shelf or loft to nest in, somewhere well out of the way of predators!
In the end, I gave up and came to the conclusion that the owl chick had been taken into the pig barn by a cat!
This morning, Jo rang me again; “I’ve found another chick in the pig barn, this time, a live one”. I went over with Clive and met Jo in the yard. “It’s gone” she said. I looked at the stall and noticed a slurry chute into the back yard. I went to have a look and found the chick on top of the slurry which I found to be quite deep when I went over the fence to retrieve the chick. It was quite lively and I took it back inside the barn where Clive and I did a thorough search of the premises. High in the apex of the roof where two roof beams and nailed to these were long strips of polystyrene. Part of this was broken and there was a hole in the end making an entrance into a long tunnel below the ridge of the roof. I put the ladder up and shone my torch along the length of the tunnel and there they were, 2 or 3 Barn owl chicks huddled together at the far end.
Mystery solved then; the tunnel would have been snug and safe but there was nothing to stop an excited chick from falling out of the end. I stuck a couple of house bricks in the tunnel entrance to create a barrier that could be easily cleared by the adults as they entered the hole.
I put a ring on the chick’s leg and popped it back in the nest to rejoin its siblings.
The mystery of Skinners Lock Farm has been solved!!
Rushcliffe Country Park at Ruddington could be said to have been the first home of RUBOP; our first boxes were erected here and though the provision of 7 boxes would be considered now to be overkill; in 1997, the project founders didn’t have the knowledge they have today. Having said that, nearly all of the boxes have held Barn Owls which have bred in four of them and the boxes have also proved welcome homes to various Kestrels, Jackdaws and Stock Doves so most of what they did was of benefit to the avifauna of the park!!
It was always an ambition of the project to get a camera in one of the nest boxes with TV pictures piped through to the park Education Centre!
With this in mind, we managed to get a grant to purchase all the equipment required to further our ambition. Unfortunately, no one told the Barn Owls who set up home in a box 2 km from the Education Centre and with buildings of the adjacent Business Park blocking the direct line back to the Centre and they stayed here for the next 3 years!!
Eventually, the Barn Owls stopped using the box and disappeared off the park. We decided to take matters into our own hands and cut down an existing box that was now in the middle of the BMX track and moved the pole to a new site with good habitat that is within direct sight of the Education Centre. With the pole planted, I set about converting an old pole box to take the camera, transmitter pole, battery, switchgear and brackets to hold the solar panel that will charge the battery.
With the box ready, we waited for a good weather forecast; yesterday started off with lovely blue sky but by the time I picked Neil up it had started to rain but fortunately, it soon cleared up. Chris was waiting at the Park with 2 RUBOP founders, Clive James and David Brown and we were soon at the site erecting scaffolding around the pole.
Work progressed well with the steel box collar screwed to the pole and the box bolted to the collar. All holes had been pre-drilled so it was then just a matter of erecting the transmitter pole, bolting the hopefully Jackdaw proof zigzag entrance tunnel to the front, screwing the solar panel for battery charging to the roof and connecting the battery. That done, the scaffold was dismantled and we drove off in the hope that the TV signal would be received in the Education Centre!!
This morning; Clive and I were back to test the reception using my office TV, we connected the receiver aerial to the TV, switched on the mains and held the receiver as high as we could and switched the TV to video; after a couple of seconds, we were relieved to see a clear picture of the the interior of the nest box; mission accomplished; whoopee, all we need now is for a pair of Barn Owls to set up home within the box!!
As an addition to yesterdays blog on second broods; today wasn’t so good!! First the morning rain wasn’t expected, the so-called weather forecasters cocked up yet again and after yesterday’s promise of a dry day, the early morning drizzle came as a surprise but I suppose we should expect this by now. By 11:00, the rain had stopped and I picked up Neil and headed for Kinoulton to check some boxes that had been inaccessible due to the crops in the field! The best thing about going out at this time of the year is that all the fields have been harvested and it’s easy to drive around on the stubble. By the time we hit the fields, it was raining again and I got quite wet looking into the empty boxes!! Nothing there and a mental note made to relocate both boxes to easier access areas!!
Finally the rain stopped and we headed for a box where the female had been on a late clutch of eggs 6 weeks ago and any chicks should be ready for ringing by now. However, things looked bad when I found an almost fledged chick dead in the grass close to the box. There was a chance that this bird had fallen out and that there was still live chicks in the box but nothing doing, there were three more dead chicks inside!!
Next, it was on to a barn where we’d ringed 2 chicks back in June; the chicks had fledged and the box empty but there were 2 more boxes in the area that had been used by this pair before. The first had become detached from the tree and was removed for repair. The second was emerged in a high crop of sweetcorn and took some finding and it was sad to find another dead brood of 3 small chicks!!
The next boxes we looked at at Langar were empty and we drove over to see our helper and No.1 fan Jo at her house at Sutton where the tea and coffee was most welcome!!
With Jo along for the ride, we headed over to the nearby Elton Park to check the box where we’d ringed 2 chicks in June; a pair of Barn Owls left the box and there were 4 cold eggs inside so she’d laid eggs then decided not to sit on them!!
While here, Jo and I indulged in Owling, a new craze that involves having your photo taken whilst squatting on a perch; I was up the tree but Jo doesn’t like heights so squatted on a low stump!! Google ‘Owling’ to see what it’s all about. A bit daft, I know but good for cheering us up on a bad day!!
To make matters worse, I returned home to find an email from Mary Julian at the Holy Cross Convent to say that a local farmer had given her a freshly dead Barn Owl he’d found in his barn, it had a ring and was ringed by me as a chick close by earlier this year.
So with 2 broods of dead chicks, another with abandoned eggs and a newly fledged chick probably starved, I have fears that this could be the fate of many of our second brooding chicks; only time will tell but I think they’re in for a hard time as winter approaches!!