Regular (the two of you) readers of this blog might know that I follow our local little owls and barn owls. We live at the very northern edge of a large town but I hardly ever venture south, towards town, instead heading north into countryside, farmland and horse paddocks - more my type of habitat and an area rich with interesting birds and animals - at least interesting to me.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been able to locate and am able to watch at least three barn owls living not two miles from our gaff - not many people can say that I guess.
My weekend dawn drives relax me and give me an opportunity to ensure that the local critters (barn owls included) are still a) there and b) ok.
The thing with these local barn owls is that they roost and nest in trees it seems, not in the boxes that have been put up for them. At least the owls that I watch tend to nest and roost in hollow trees, not boxes.
I've been mildly concerned about our nearest pair of white owls - as their main roost site (a pretty tall bare tree stump) seems to have been bereft of "white stuff" (bird lime and obvious ghostly white owl appearances) for a few weeks now. In fact a pair of stock doves seem to have taken up squatters' rights to the owls' main tree of choice in recent days.
But I've only bee mildly concerned. There are a number of trees that this pair uses and barn owls in particular are known to be pretty mobile during the winter especially.
Another drive this morning, just before dawn then. Searching for white stuff.
Not a particularly cold night - no frost down here, but enough chill in the air to necessitate the heater being put on in the "cat" (my silent car). Magic FM on the radio and (of course!) a selection of Christmas pop songs filled the car with the heated air.
Not near their main tree as the local rookery noisily took off from the skeletal woods on the hill and all headed east through the wintery dawn skies en masse.
Not near their second choice tree as three fieldfares chacked their indignance at me and leaped out of a holly bush as I got out of the car to scan that site from a distance.
Not quartering over their preferred hunting field. Three roe deer in the middle of that field, picking at the winter crop and what looked like a couple of frenchmen skulking in the gloom by the far hedge. (Smoking gitanes of course and shrugging at me).
One more drive around the loop and then suddenly.... the white stuff.
In the light of my headlamps, a pale, spectral shape appeared briefly and floated silently across the country lane. I stopped the car and held my breath.
A hundred yards from the car, the white owl flew into a pollared oak tree that I had singled out two years ago as being a quite ideal barn owl tree - old, gnarled and clearly hollow in part.
I silently congratulated both the owl for finding that tree and also myself for finding the owl that found that tree and then...
another small, feathery ghost flew in to the tree from across the paddock.
Both owls! The missing pair. Located again. At a tree that I always hoped they'd find - off the road, safe from human eyes (most human eyes anyway), in a paddock a mile away from our house.
I guess the white owls have used this tree before I found it. It's probably been used many, many times by owls over the years - but this morning was the first time that I had seen the white stuff at the tree.
I am delighted that they are still around, delighted that I've found them again and delighted that they're in THAT tree - it makes keeping up with them far easier for me (for lots of reasons).
I'll be watching....