Since returning from my fabulous visit to Mull I have found it difficult to motivate myself to get out and see what has been occurring locally with my owls. But the time came when I had to make an effort as there were still more Barn Owl nest boxes that desperately needed surveying. In previous years there had only been two breeding pairs of Barn Owls in my survey area, but after several years of hard work and dozens of boxes being made and erected the tide was starting to turn. Back in Feb of this year Col Green and I were very excited about the up and coming breeding season as we now had Barn Owls using/visiting at least twelve of our boxes!!
But then we had the horrid spring weather and the heavy snow falls (do you recall?), the ground was covered for a couple of weeks which was far too long! It made it very difficult for the owls to hunt and eventually it took its toll on the birds and eight individuals were found either dead or dying. Goodness knows how many other "unfound" individuals suffered the same fate? This was damming to the local population and could possibly put things back a couple of years? However, once the weather had improved we again went around all the boxes that were being used and we had some survivors! There were seven boxes where we discovered roosting birds, three had pairs in residence and individuals in the remaining four. One of our pairs did go on to raise a brood of three youngsters so we did at least have some success albeit of minor consolation.
News then started filtering in from other survey areas in the UK and the story was the same. One particular area had seven pairs that had bred, pretty good news you would think but that number was down from over ninety breeding pairs in 2012!! The consensus was that any surviving birds would probably still breed but later in the year, so that brings us up to date as to why Col and I were out checking boxes again, and I wish we hadn't!! We concentrated our efforts on the boxes where we felt there was the greatest chance of birds breeding in the hope of discovering a hen bird sitting tight on a late clutch of eggs, or better still a box full of growing chicks. It was a false dawn, not one of our boxes even had a Barn Owl in it, in fact the three boxes that did have pairs in only two months ago were now being occupied by Stock Doves and their chicks!
At this time of year I was hoping to be reporting that it had been a successful breeding season and we were now starting to see a rise in the local numbers and things look positive for next year. Sadly I am afraid to say that this year has been a complete disaster and the very sparse population has almost disintegrated to being non existent. So now it is even more important than ever before that Col and I continue to make and erect more boxes in the hope that the "bumper breeding season" we were preying for will still happen, it has just been delayed!
On our travels we came across a couple of sites that had some fledged juvenile Little Owls, (image above). At least they as a species seemed to have fared better than the Barn Owls this year.