Saturday morning Col and I decided to get around as many of our owl boxes as possible, but not the ones where we already knew were being used or frequented but the ones where we suspected there had been no activity or visits made. We had resigned ourselves that maybe because of our naivety some had been positioned badly and not to the owls liking, so maybe if they were cleaned out and re-located some owl "action" would follow?
After a later start then we planned (something to do with Col forgetting his tools!) and a bacon sandwich stop en route we finally got to our first box. This box was intended for Barn Owls and was erected in 2011, it has been checked annually and so far only Stock Doves have used it. We were convinced that because it had been mounted on a tree (and not a building) it wasn't to the owls liking and needed to be moved. But prior to taking it down we removed the front inspection hatch just to make sure, and to our surprise and delight it was cram packed full with Barn Owl pellets!!! Not the best of images but the pile of pellets can just about be seen behind Col's head. An owl has never been seen here, and to be fair it is off the beat and track somewhat and monitoring it isn't easy (well that's my excuse!). Obviously the box was left in situ now we know it is being used, possibly just a roosting site but never the less a good start to the day.
At the second location that we wanted to check out was another Barn Owl box, we had high expectations for this box and it has been checked out on numerous occasions but nothing? It had been positioned inside an old disused building that sat smack in the middle of a huge field. Upon arrival we were taken back when we realised the roof of the building had gone! No doubt a result of the high winds during the last few months? Normally the field is full of crops and we have to walk to the barn, but today we were lazy and I thought I'd drive across to it. If the owls weren't using the box when the roof was on there was going to be no chance now, or was there? To our amazement this box too had pellets inside it, not as many as the first box but enough to suggest it had been used on many occasions. We again decided to leave the box where it was, even though it could now get wet when it rained it was still pretty well protected from the wind.
This image below is of the old building without its roof, taken after we had already checked it out. I don't think we left any clues to the fact that we'd been there!!!!! I do hope I don't get into trouble?
The third box to be checked was again mounted on a tree, because of its position this is an easy box to watch and observe but I'd never seen an owl here either. So when we opened the hatch we weren't surprised to see it cram packed full of nesting material (almost definitely Stock Dove). It was decided that this box would be moved so in order to be able to do that the front of the box needed to be removed.
After Col had removed the front of the box (below) he began to drag out the debris, on his second handful there were Barn Owl pellets!! That was now a 100% hit rate so of boxes that HAD been used by Barn Owls, needless to say we cleaned out the box, replaced the front and left it where it was.
We knew the whole day was about cleaning out boxes and then re-locating them but I was secretly hoping that the fourth box that we checked out would not only have pellets in it but a bird too! This box hadn't been visited since this time last year as the only way of getting to it was in the Landrover. The setting is excellent, very remote and quiet with lots of suitable hunting habitat.
Col decided it was time for me to get up the ladder to check this box whilst he did the easy bit of taking some photo's, yeah OK mate!
I opened up the hatch and again it was full of nesting material and debris. I gingerly looked inside hoping to see an owl, there was no owl but instead there was a fury thing in the corner? Although it wasn't moving there was NO WAY I was going to put my hand inside. Instead I got a small branch and poked it....... There was no movement so what ever it was it was either asleep or dead! After a few more pokes with the stick and a bit of encouragement from Col (like get on with it you wuss!) I reached inside....................
The fury thing turned out to be a dead Squirrel, the first that I'd encountered in one of my boxes. I do apologise for the lack of quality in this next image. Believe me I have tried to work wonders with my editing software but if the original image wasn't taken properly there is only so much that one can do!
OK I was now safe to reach deeper inside the box to start clearing it out, I have to admit I then gave out a bit of a girly yelp as I touched another fury thing? Bloody hell there was another dead Squirrel inside, how very bazaar? I am so sorry but I will have to apologise again for the lack of quality in this next image, I think it is definitely a case of "right man for the right job" so Col you are now re-employed as the bloke who goes up the ladder, or should I put it another way, you are sacked as the cameraman!
Upon further inspection both of the Squirrels were pretty fresh and had had their throats ripped out, mmmmmm they had obviously not died of natural causes. The only feasible reason I can think of as to why they were there is that something had killed them and stored them there for later consumption, a Stoat maybe??? I'd like to hear if anyone else has a theory as to what may of occurred?
A few other sites were then visited for the purpose of checking yet more boxes, no activity of any kind was found but these were relatively new boxes apart from in one! This particular box was erected in January and today was the first time it had been visited, as Col and I walked into the building a Barn Owl flew from the box! We quickly departed allowing it to return back to its new home and hopefully future breeding site. During the day we also checked out two nearby Little Owl boxes and both had birds in them!
There were also high hopes for the final site we visited, although the box hadn't been checked for well over a year I'd been recently informed that a Barn Owl had been seen hunting nearby. On first impressions things looked really positive, there were loads of pellets on the ground directly beneath the box but then something else was noticed on the ground, a dead Barn Owl. We didn't suspect foul play as all the evidence pointed towards yet another tragic casualty of the recent bad weather.
We got back around 3.0pm and although the dead Barn Owl was still fresh in our thoughts we were very pleased with the days results. In the afternoon I went out again on my own to do I bit of photography, whilst out I checked another Barn Owl box that hadn't been checked for well over a year. I'll let you know what I found in my next post......................