STARTING EM YOUNG

Right from it’s conception, RUBOP recognised the importance of taking the project out to schools and the public at large and even before we’d even seen a Barn Owl, our founder Clive James and captive bred Barn Owl Speedy were out visiting schools, Women’s Institutes and other bodies to spread the word on nature and conservation as a whole. Get out and spread the word to the kids and hopefully they’ll grow up  respecting nature and the countryside in general.

RSPB Juniors with owl chicks!

At the same time; our treasurer Pauline Hall bought some Owly sales good, cards, pottery, soft toys etc, we purchased amarquee and information boards and started attending village shows and fetes. Speedy always proved to be a big attraction, attracted a crowd and raised hundreds of pounds for the project. Into the new millennium and our nesting boxes started to attract Barn Owls; I trained to be a ringer and we were   happy to take kids and parents to see Barn Owls close up.

Clive and Speedy with the Mayor!!

Over the years, Speedy must have been patted and stroked by just about every kid in Rushcliffe and we attended the Rushcliffe Borough’s annual Lark in the Park event held in August in the park in West Bridgford and this was also a good money spinner for the project. In 2006, Clive and Speedy were awarded the Mayor’s Prize for service to the community and Speedy sadly died at the good age of 18 in 2008. Clive acquired Misty in 2009 and she has done a great job for us since.

Joe, Sam and Ruby with chicks!

Last Saturday, we had a  barbecue so that some of my family could meet my new Granddaughter, Gracie who was visiting us for the first time. My Nephew Mike brought his two lads over and I arranged with a local farmer to ring some chicks that were growing in his nesting box. Mike with Sam and Joe and my 5 year old Granddaughter Ruby came along as well. At the box, the Farmer along with his 2 sons, Daughters in Law and Grandkids turned up as well so it was with some apprehension that I climbed the ladder to the box. Last May, the box had held 4 chicks but I’d found quite a bit of infant mortality so I had my fingers crossed when I opened the door. Fortunately, there were 2 big chicks alive in the box and these were soon past around the appreciative crowd. Ruby is now an old hand in holding Barn Owls and the others soon got the knack of holding onto the feet. A great success all round!

Showtime!

But next day, it was a different story; a box at Keyworth had 3 chicks in May and I went round with Ruby again and her Mum, Lisa. The householder, wife and daughter were also present but there were no owls in the box; just a load of sticks brought in by the local Jackdaws; back to reality!!

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TANKS FOR EVERYTHING

29th June.

A regular reader of these blogs will know that nothing in Barn Owling is ever straightforward; something unusual nearly always happens which is good; it stops me being bored and hopefully keeps you entertained.

Zoe with owl and an audience!

I had 2 helpers today; Neil who still wants to come along  despite me writing unkind things about him in this blog and his lovely Daughter, Zoe who you’ve seen before and who will brighten any day with her presence!

Today was intended to be an easy day, a follow up visit to a farm on the southern edge of Keyworth where we’d found a lone female in a box on the 24th May. She’d been very heavy and I suspected that she was about to lay eggs.

Day old chick!

However, the box held only a Stock Dove and we moved on to another box nearby and there she was with a newly hatched chick and 4 eggs. It takes Barn Owl eggs 4 weeks to hatch from laying so she must have laid her first egg within a couple of days of us finding her.

The Landowner here had told me earlier that he’d seen a Barn Owl  several times around a derelict farm he owned and he said it OK for us to have a look around.

Plenty of pellets and whitewash!

No sooner had we pulled up in the farm when a Barn Owl left one of the old cowsheds. We started to look through the 2 rows of sheds that had the track in between and the first shed had much evidence of prolonged Barn Owl occupancy with many pellets and white-wash splashes under roof struts used by a roosting male. I’ve never seen Barn Owls nesting on the floor of a barn; they like to lay their eggs on a platform, shelf or box at a high level as protection from predators. High up the wall was a metal water tank; ideal for nesting owls and I put the ladder up to have a closer look. It would have been perfect but unfortunately it had a lid on it. The lid had a pigeons nest into which the owl had coughed up several pellet. I made a note to ask permission to remove the lid!

Water tank nest box!!

I moved to the cowshed across the road; again, many pellets and whitewash and another water tank. I put the ladder against the tank and a Barn Owl flew out. In the tank were 2 chicks which I ringed.
So a day when things had gone right with 2 new, unexpected broods; not like the other day when we turned up at a farm to find that the box where the Farmer had regularly seen Barn Owls and probably held chicks was surrounded by an impenetrable oil seed rape crop and it’s unlikely that the chicks will still be in the box when the crop is harvested. To make matters worse, the gear linkage on the old wagen came apart and I had to drive 7 miles home in 2nd gear!!

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THE KINOULTON GHOST

A couple of weeks ago; I received an email from local ringer Pete Leonard who told me he’d visited a Kestrel box near Kinoulton and that a Barn Owl had flown from a nearby Barn Owl box.
Yesterday; with Chris Hughes, we were checking this box and approached with our usual stealth though creeping up on a bird that can hear a mouse fart at 40 paces is never easy.
The owl must have been asleep as I managed to get the blocker in before he came out but did his best to shoulder it out before I got up the ladder. Like most males, he was very feisty and wanted to shake hands but I chickened out and went for the easy option, opened the door and he was in the net quicker than the man fired from a cannon in a circus.
Usually, male Barn Owls are easy to tell apart from females that have spots of various density on the breast and inner underwing, sometimes they have a lot, sometimes so few that you think you’ve got a male but they usually have some!

Pale Male wing

This little lad was the palest Barn owl I’ve ever seen and I must have had about 7-800 by now. The upper wing feathers on Barn Owls always have rows of big dark spots but this boy had hardly any, just a couple on the outer 2 primary wing feathers. Also his tail was all white.
I put a ring on his leg and he was back in the box to continue his snooze.

The other box on site was where they bred last year and on the way there, a presumed female came out!

A normal wing!

I expected to find some chicks inside but the box was empty though the male had dropped a couple of voles into the box to keep her sweet so perhaps they will be late breeders?
It was a funny sort of day; a couple of boxes where we expected to find breeding owls were empty while a new box had a female with chicks and a box that was empty last year had a pair of owls but again, no eggs or chicks!!

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A FRUITFUL DAY

Tuesday 20th June.
Taking advantage of the nice weather, an early start had Gordon round to help but we would be finishing early as the poor man had to travel to the airport later to catch a flight to Madeira.

After yesterday’s mishaps, I was wearing clean trousers and shirt.
First we headed out to look in a box that belonged to Colin Shawyer; the UK Barn Owl Guru whose Wildlife Conservation Partnership had boxes along the Trent and a few in Rushcliffe. We struck lucky straight away and found a female sitting on 5 eggs and we’ll be back here in 6 weeks to ring any chicks.
Next, we were off to a site that we never look forward to doing. Most of our boxes are on trees but we have a few in barns and this one is difficult, first, the track leading to it is very rough, even for the old G Wagen and the farmer always plants his crops over the track near the barn so we have to walk the last 100m carrying all the kit before wading through waist high nettles and weeds. The box is in the roof beams on the 1st floor and all of the stairs have gone meaning that we have to use a ladder to get up to the 1st floor then another to reach the box. To make matters worse, all of the floorboards are rotten and I have to walk on some old doors. A good thing though is that the box here nearly always produces owls and struck gold again with 2 big chicks. Getting the first out of the box and guess what; it pooped down my trousers!!    
Towards the end of last year, a man at Kinoulton contacted me about some advice about building a Barn Owl Box; I pointed him in the right direction and he was in touch again about where he should hang it. I went over to see him; his box was fine and he had a very big garden backing onto open fields and some nice trees to hang it on.
We had it up in no time and when I rang him this week, he told me he had Barn Owls in his box.
We made this our last call and found his lower garden to be now a mass of beautiful wild flowers.
Opening the box, we found a young male that I’d ringed in the aforementioned Barn last year and  an older female of unknown origin. They were on 5 eggs so we left them to it and will return later.

Back home and I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon but the phone rang and it was David Stock from Hathern who keeps his eye on 3 boxes that I have around the village.   I arranged to meet David at Stanford Hall where he does a bit of gardening. We have 3 boxes in the extensive grounds behind the Hall and though all the boxes have had owls in the past, we hadn’t seen any here for the last few years. I was cleaning a Jackdaw nest out of the first box when David said he could see an owl in the entrance of another box nearby. The bird dropped back into the box as we approached and I blocked the door and went up the ladder to find another Jackdaw nest. which meant I couldn’t get the owls out of the lower door.

David passed me the net and I removed the blocker. There were 2 owls inside and both jumped into the net; I managed to grab the top one before it escaped and had the other in the net and managed to get them both out in one piece.

The female had laid eggs in the grass cup that the Jackdaws build on the top of the sticks and I could also feel some small chicks. What we do in cases like this is to wait until all the eggs are hatched, then remove all the chicks and clear out the box; put some owl pellets back into the box then put the chicks back and they have a big open space in which to grow up.

David and I then went on to Hathern; we usually have owls here but they were absent last year; however, at the first box we looked at we found a female and large chick.  There’s another box south of the village that has been up only a couple of years; it had pellets in it last year and I had high hopes that they’d stick around to breed. Sure enough, we found the adult male of unknown origin in the box with 2 big chicks which I was able to ring.

So a great result and a great day. I went home to put yet another pair of trousers in the wash!!

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SOMETHING WET AND WARM DOWN THE TROUSERS, WRESTLING WITH A GRIZZLY AND THROUGH A HEDGE BACKARDS!!

Tuesday 19th June.
You have to take care when removing a Barn Owl from a box. Whether adult or chick, it’s important you point their rear end in the right direction as they have an effective defence mechanism of unloading all over the person who has hold of them.
I’ve been shat on many times but the chick at Whatton today broke all records of capacity, viscosity and stench!
A second’s inattention and I was feeling the warm damposity of half a pint of owl shit oozing down my leg.
My shoe also turned white and it will be easier to paint the other shoe white as well rather than try to remove the offending whitewash. If you could market this stuff, you’d make a fortune as the whiteness and weather proofing makes it twice as efficient as the best possible exterior grade white emulsion.
A long day today as I try to get to all the boxes in the Vale of Belvoir in one day; it’s not easy as some of the boxes were placed before we appreciated the need for hanging boxes in places accessible to motorised transport. Some are a bit of a slog and with my fitter assistants not being available today, I had to ask the afore mentioned Notts Neil, the

Beauty and the Beast!!

The lone female.

well known local author who is not the fastest due to a long-standing foot problem though he does move faster when some type of winged bird food flutters by!!
Making the best of a bad situation, the day started badly when a box that had held Barn Owls last year was found to be full of Kestrels, a bird loved by many when seen skilfully hovering at the roadside but not so popular with this ringer as they scream, scratch, bite and kick throughout the ringing process. Next, a plod through a cornfield that was rewarded with 2 nice fat Barn Owl chicks and then things got worse when at Bingham, the regular breeding box had fallen off the tree and there was evidence to suggest that the birds had commenced egg-laying before the box came down. We found the lone female in a nearby box and there’s a possibility that they might breed again but very frustrating none the less!
Things did improve when a single chick was found in a box where they’ve been absent for a number of years; always a good sign. Chicks seem to be well grown but many nests only seem to have a couple but we did find a new female on eggs in a box that hadn’t been used before. I nearly dropped a clanger with this one ; as we drove up, I thought I saw a Stock Dove fly from the box so didn’t bother to use the blocker. I climbed the ladder and opened the door to find this lady sitting on her eggs. Fortunately; she sat tight and I was able to pop a ring on her leg before returning her to her eggs.

Our elation though didn’t last long as in the next box; one that had held Barn Owls for the last 2 years, we found 3 dead chicks. I’ve found a few dead chicks this year but all have been in boxes with live chicks and this is the only one so far with all the chicks dead.

More holes than a pin cushion!

We then nipped down to Sutton to pick up our fried Jo who loves Barn Owls and has her own box behind her house. She came with us to Elton where we found a pair of owls with eggs in a box. The male here wasn’t at all happy about being disturbed and showed his displeasure by having a real go at me; 300 gms of battling Barn Owl with a jab faster than Amir Khan and claws like needles. I ended up taking a few punctures to hands and stomach before getting the better of him; if I’d have been inflated, I’d have zoomed off over the nearby tree. I held him still long enough to find that I’d ringed him as a chick on this very farm last year.

I limped off to lick my wounds while he came out of the box when we removed the blocker to fly to a nearby tree and I’m sure the little bugger did a victory roll on the way.

Losing battle with a hawthorn Hedge!

Dropping Jo back home; her box having only Jackdaws, we headed for Naturescape at Langar to find their pole box with 2 nice chicks and then on to another adventure at our other box at Langar. Here we found that the door of the box had fallen out of it’s slide and was probably somewhere hidden in the massive hawthorn hedge beneath. I battled into the hedge and finally saw the door floating in the ditch on the other side. Faced with a walk of about a mile to retrieve the door, I decided to take a header through the hedge and managed to use my owl net to get it back picking up a few more cuts and scratches to go with the Barn Owl wounds. Neil insisted we stop at a pub on the way home but again couldn’t find any money but I suppose I have to

After a day like that; you have to laugh!!

thank him for over 8 hours in the field!!

 

 

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THE ANGEL OF COSTOCK

On the 21st March I received this email from Sister Mary Julian, 2nd in command of the Holy Cross Convent at Costock;

We are very miserable as we do not seem to have any Barn Owls. I haven’t seen one since Christmas. We have some very aggressive Kestrels who I suspect are responsible. They drive off everything bigger than a blackbird.
They have even driven the Buzzards from their favourite perch. They scream and dive-bomb. The Buzzards have retreated to the other end of the wood!

I tried to reassure her, saying that Barn Owls can be very secretive and that at this time of the year, they’d be hunting at night and so wouldn’t be seen.

Mary Julian is a birdwatcher who met Chris Hughes in a hide at Rutland Water 3 years ago. She told him about their new convent being built at a farm at Costock, the number of birds she’d seen there and how they were planning to have wild flower meadows behind the farm. Chris told her about the Barn Owl Project and early in 2010 we erected a box in the ancient orchard behind the farm. By April, they were seeing Barn Owls, in May, I trapped a male and female in the box and in July, we ringed 4 chicks.

Ring chicks in 2010

In 2011, the same male had a new lady and again, I ringed 4 chicks.

On the 19th April, I received another email.

I had a vision of an angel of the resurrection at 6am on Easter morning. It was dressed in white and gold and sitting on a fence post outside my window. Alleluia! There are definitely 2 owls in the box and they are hunting at dusk in the usual places. See you in a few weeks time.

My reply was along the lines that if it had been anyone else, I’d have said something about having little faith!!

This week, along with Gordon Ellis, we were back to have a look in the box. There was

Sister Mary Catherine with Mother Barn Owl!

yet another unringed female and the usual 4 chicks which I

Mother Barn Owl!

will ring in 4 weeks time.

Gordon and I had a good morning; we found a new female with eggs and chicks in a box at Bunny, ringed 2 big chicks on Bunny Hill and 3 troublesome Kestrel chicks at Costock!

Our totals for the year so far are 14 boxes with Barn Owls, 14 chicks ringed and a further 28 eggs and chicks in boxes which will hopefully grow big enough to ring soon!

 

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BARN OWLS; THEY CAN STILL GET YOU; EVEN WHEN DEAD!!

One of the first boxes I looked in yesterday was empty except for a long-dead adult Barn Owl. This was very flat and stiff and to get rid of it, I went to skim it into the hedge bottom like a grotesque Frisbee. However, as I did this, a claw stuck into my thumb and drew blood and it was very sore last night; so even when dead, they can still get you.
Gotham continues to be a stronghold for Barn Owls in Rushcliffe with breeding pairs in boxes on 3 sides of the village and all are boxes that have had regular use over the last few years.
We visited these boxes yesterday and weren’t let down. The first had 3 big chicks, the adults having already moved away to a quieter location, only visiting the chicks to deliver food.
The 2nd is on a farm with 2 boxes close together. The usual breeding box held only the male who departed as we approached while the female and 2 chicks were found in the other box; the first time they’ve bred in this box while using the other one in 7 of the last 9 years.

The 3rd box is in the extensive spread of Kim who prefers living in the micro-climate provided by Ratcliffe on Soar Power Station to Southern Florida from where she hails.

Kim and Lindsay concentrate of growing great Barn Owl habitat and since we put their box up in July 08 they’ve been rewarded with broods every year since 09 and produced 17 chicks including the 4 beauties we found today. The female here is an old bird for a Barn Owl; I ringed her as an adult in 05 when I reckon she was a year old which make her 8 years old and her chicks must have been laid early as the eldest was almost ready to fly.

A lovely female chick; almost fledged!!

Most annoying today was a pair by the Trent; we have a nice box here but nearby is a tree hole which in the past has been used by Little Owls and last year by a Tawny Owl.

As we approached the box, a Barn Owl flew from the hole and looking down using my torch, I could see a female Barn Owl and 4 eggs, well out of reach; you give them a nice box and they thank you by using a tree hole!!

Another surprise was finding a Barn Owl with chicks at

Last Year's chick now has her own!!

Sutton Bonnington. The box is in its second year and was used by Little Owls last year. This female with tiny chicks and eggs still to hatch was ringed by me as a chick in a box on Bunny Hill last year.

We finished the day at West Leake where we had the pleasure of ringing 3 Little Owls; super little birds that show no fear!!

Thanks to Chris Hughes for helping out!!

Chris Hughes with 3 nice chicks!!

A fearless Little Owl chick!!

 

 

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A NICE INJECTION OF CASH

While grants for equipment, tools and nest boxes are available to us; it’s running costs like motoring expenses which are the biggest burden to us as a group these are not available as conservation grants. We all know the price of Motor Tax, insurance and MOTs but it’s the petrol costs which hurt the most. My old 1984 G Wagen, like me has seen better days and uses a lot of fuel but replacing it would be expensive. With 170 boxes situated all over Rushcliffe Borough from Langar to Sutton Bonnington to get round and then extra visits to ring chicks and carry out repairs etc; the petrol costs are burgeoning and the more boxes occupied, the more it costs.
The group does raise some cash by attending shows, fetes and galas throughout the Borough and have also had donations from Parish Councils in the past.
In March, I had some solar panels fitted by Carbon Legacy Ltd who are based on the A606 at Hickling Pastures.

The Wagen at Carbon Legacy

When I visited their premises to pay the bill, I left the Wagen on their forecourt. Their MD, David Hill saw it and came in to see me, enthusing about Barn Owls and after a brief conversation and a chat with his accountant, very kindly offered to sponsor the project. This welcome sponsorship will ensure the continued existance of the project and we are indebted to David and Carbon Legacy for their generosity.

David Hill meets Misty with Howard Broughton, left and Clive James

See www.carbonlegacy.co.uk

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A DAY OUT WITH HOWARD – the not so Tight O’Broughton.

Barn Owl helper Neil Pinder wrote the following article after a nice day out with the Owlist!!

When I got in from a hard day counting Grizzled Skippers in the baking sunshine of late May with Bill “the butterfly” Bacon, I was told Howard had called and would I call back. Either he wants me to go owling or he has something important to tell me; should I take the risk? Foolishly I call him and I was right – he has nothing important to tell me and next day a noisy old Mercedes rattles onto the avenue and Howard, in sun hat and shades watches as I hurriedly get together a survival pack of bottled water, boots and bins. I’ve been lured into this caper before.

These days out are mystery tours where; in country lanes, oncoming tractors are bullied onto the verge; in cultivated fields, pheasants sprint along tractor tramlines glancing around with terrified expressions when they think they must have the edge; and in uncultivated wastes, passengers are hurled from their seats, mobile phones from their resting places and engines wrested from their mountings.

The common factor is that each leg of the journey ends at a tree.

Sometimes Howard stops to phone ahead and warn the landowners of our impending arrival. No doubt they lock up their children (Howard has that reputation) their animals (that too) and their prized possessions. Others, I’ve noticed, don’t react this way and don’t even bother to get adequately dressed – they tend to be male and the few ladies that are thus inclined are always well beyond their Diamond jubilee. Others seemingly park their most expensive car on show to incite lustful comments from my driver. One thing they rarely do is meet us at the tree! They know things.

What is now a well-honed routine is then enacted. Neil – pole, Howard – blocker, Neil – ladder, Howard erects ladder, Neil wanders off looking for moths. Howard climbs ladder. Neil spots interesting moth. Howard calls for net. Neil gets net. Howard gets owl, Neil gets Howard a chair, Howard sits in chair, Neil stands around like a prat with a notebook and pencil, erring towards the moth but Howard calls out a code: G….W …1…6…4…7…3. Then a number. Then he dumps the owl upside down in a bag and dangles it at arm’s length. Then he rates its spots which is something I thought only teenagers did and then we’re of to the next tree and the moth remains undocumented.

Howard gets Owl!!

Same routine at the next tree, but we’re in a cereal field so no moths or detectable wildlife of any description so I watch Howard up the ladder. He notices me, assesses the wind direction and, quick as a flash drags a pile of old sticks and dust from the box which in a easterly force four, hits its intended target 6 metres to the west. I move 12 metres east.

By 1.30pm and 9 trees later, water all gone and hunger and exhaustion setting in I’m wondering when I might get a reprieve and MY GOD (and this has only happened once) Howard says….. “Do you fancy a pint?”!!

I rummage in my pocket. I got £30 out the previous day, but I mumble that I don’t have any money on me and he says “that’s alright – I wouldn’t expect you to pay after helping me out all morning”, and I realise that Howard has a heart. Bless him. I’ve known him for years but I never knew that until then. He recommends the mild and I suspect he’s being a skinflint but even mild is over £3 a pint now! It turns out he was detecting my wilting enthusiasm for tree visiting and this was just a ploy to get me to do a few more, but even he stops by 2.30 and I’m freed to attend to the list of things my wife left me to do.

Being an experienced ladder carrier (I was even trusted as ‘blocker-puller’ recently) I get to do this for free. You of course, being mere apprentices and in need of an enhanced CV will have to pay for a similar experience (minus the pint of mild). Howard is, I understand, taking bookings.

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2012; A SLOW START!!

It took me a long time to get into the Barn Owls of 2012; I’m usually raring to go by mid-May but the arrival of a new Grand-daughter to my Daughter Ellen in South Oxfordshire and subsequent visitations set me back, then a couple of weeks of terrible weather kept me tucked up at home in the dry. Having said that; we did have a couple of trips around some local boxes early on when the weather was nice; the first on the 23rd May with my old cycling buddy Rick Notley who hadn’t seen Barn Owls up close before and we soon found a female and 4 chicks in a box in a barn.

Rick meets his first Barn Owl.

 

Four chicks in the box>

Next day I went out again; this time with Neil Pinder on another hot day; however we were sorry to find that a box that had breeding Barn Owls for the last 10 years at Gamston was empty, as was another regular box at Tollerton but the rewards included a Tawny chick at Keyworth and a brood of 3 Barn Owls, also at Keyworth in a box in a garden that had been used by the same female last year.

Tawny chick.

Keyworth Barn Owl.

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