Thursday 31 July 2014

Week 28: Hemel Hempstead Barn Owls

Southern Hawker dragonfly, Bovingdon Brickworks (perched after hunting by the Buddleja)

    Southern Hawker, Brickworks
    Bramble blackberries, Brickworks

After fledgling Wagtails and nestling Swallows; riverside damsels and hunting dragonflies; meadows of moths and butterflies, I hadn’t got a clue what wildlife wonder I might encounter this week. In my wildest dreams, I don’t think I could have conjured up what transpired.

After months of not feeling up to going out beyond about 6pm, the sunset on Monday evening, combined with improved health, tipped the balance. Box Moor Trust land set against a fiery sky, seemed like a good plan. Of course, the inevitable happened. By the time I got out of the car, the colours had faded and the moment had passed. Still, it seemed a pity to waste escaping the house and so off I set. I debated whether or not to bother with the tripod but decided that if I left it in the car, I was bound to regret it.

I might have missed the sunset but I came across something far more exciting. Over the past month or so, there have been a number of Barn Owl sightings around Hemel Hempstead. On the Box Moor Trust Moth, Bat and Glow Worm evening (27th June), the group had enjoyed watching a bird quartering over the field between Chaulden Lane and the railway bridge. Dan Forder (of Hemel Birding fame) had seen a bird near the M1 Jun 8 on 7th July. And, on Monday evening, as I walked over Trust land, I chanced upon one of these beautiful creatures perched in a tree. It eventually took flight, soared silently over my head and away. Utterly magical and boy was I glad I had the tripod with me! The light was almost gone but I was able to get some ropey video footage before darkness fell. Special thanks to my talented Sister, her choir and the Robin soloist(!) for the backing track. A couple of years ago, on a sultry summer evening, the choir threw open the hall doors as they sang a cappella. Nature joined in. The resulting piece is candid and unique. A male Robin sings his evening song and the choir swells to accompany him.

Having done a little reading about Barn Owls, it seems to me that the females have the right idea. Grab yourself a monogamous mate and sit around all evening whilst he goes off and finds the food. Once eggs are laid, snuggle up inside the nest site, don't bother to build a nest (who needs twigs when regurgitated pellets will do?!), don’t bother to wash, and lap up meals-on-tap from the doting male. Result!

Ten Barn Owl Facts, shamelessly copied and pasted from the internet (with a few minor additions). More facts here.
  1. The barn owl was voted Britain’s favourite farmland bird by the public in an RSPB poll in July 2007. 
  2. Historically, the barn owl was Britain’s most common owl species, but today only one farm in about 75 can boast a barn owl nest.
  3. Barn owls screech, not hoot (that’s Tawny owls). 
  4. The barn owl can fly almost silently. This enables it to hear the slightest sounds made by its rodent prey hidden in deep vegetation while it’s flying up to three metres overhead.
  5. The barn owl’s heart-shaped face collects sound in the same way as human ears. Its ears are placed asymmetrically for improved detection of sound position and distance, and it does not require sight to hunt. Its hearing is the most sensitive of any creature tested.
  6. Barn owls are non-territorial. Adults live in overlapping home ranges, each one covering approximately 5,000 hectares. That’s a staggering 12,500 acres or 7,100 football pitches!
  7. It’s not uncommon for barn owl chicks in the nest to feed each other. This behaviour is incredibly rare in birds.
  8. In order to live and breed, a pair of barn owls needs to eat around 5,000 prey items a year. These are mainly field voles, wood mice, and common shrews. One of the most unusual feeding records is of a barn owl catching flying hawk moths.
  9. Though barn owls are capable of producing three broods of five to seven young each year, most breed only once and produce, on average, only two and a half young. 29 per cent of nests produce no young at all.
  10. 91 per cent of barn owls post-mortemed were found to contain rat poison. Some owls die as a direct result of consuming rodenticides, but most contain sub-lethal doses. The effects of this remain unknown.
Barn Owls are a Schedule 1 protected species. It’s fantastic that there appears to be a number of birds locally.

Finally, this week's oak...

And, Dellfield in Summer...

It seems incredible that just 3 months ago, this meadow was carpeted in Cowslips…


Anonymous said...

Wow! What amazing photography as well as the magical experience of spending time with and capturing the beautiful Barn Owl. Lovely. From ARF

Martin Parr said...

Excellent find and beautifully adited video - love the soundtrack! A work of art Lucy!

We have a pair just moved into the ML nestbox - don't think they'll lay now as it's a bit late, but hope to get some shots tomorrow evening!
Fingers crossed!

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thank you very much ARF and Martin.