January - and all is quiet on the 800 yards of ‘mac.
Almost all is quiet.
Old-timers to this blog may remember I used to follow our local little owls for a season or two (I filmed them successfully breeding) just after we moved to the area… but I’ve lost track of them for a year or two now.
I was driving Anna and Ben back from a trip to see winter goldeneye drakes on a nearby gravel pit and we decided to go via the 800 yards of ‘mac (as that’s where the barn owl roosts – Anna (and Ben!) LOVE barn owls!).
As I turned into the road, on a sunny early afternoon (very sunny – clear as a bell actually, with a typically bright low winter sun) I casually remarked that I’d not seen any little owls “up here” (at the farm) for a couple of years.
I’d hardly finished that sentence when Anna suddenly said: “Isn’t THAT an owl?!”
I stopped the car, reversed verrrryyyy slowly and there we had it – a little owl! Doing what little owls do very nicely thank you very much – sunbathing on one of the ancient gnarled oak trees that line the full 800 yards of ‘mac.
I couldn’t believe it! I’ve seen (and filmed) little owls very close to the road, but not actually on it! This road as far as I had been concerned, was for barn owls only!
Even wee Ben strapped in the back seat saw this owl – and said “I see a baby owl!” We corrected him and he repeated: “A LITTLE OWL!!!”
I know from experience that the local little owls return to their first choice breeding site at the top of the year (tawnies are similar) if conditions are right, although they’ll delay breeding until the spring proper.
So. Is this battered, ancient, gnarled, semi-hollow oak tree going to be the site for this little owl’s breeding efforts this year?
Well... perhaps. The last time I knew of the local little owls’ breeding whereabouts was about two years ago – when they did choose to abandon their old nest box (in which I filmed them) and nest instead in a big old oak tree on the other side of the farm. (Took me AGES to find where they’d gawn orf to!).
I note that the old little owl box (which in actual fact was a barn owl box rejected by the barn owls) in the farm has been joined by two new little owl boxes over the last year, so I’d expect any breeding little owls to breed in one of those boxes – but you never know.
This sighting of a little owl in a sunlit oak tree has taught me a timely lesson too. A lesson I need from time to time.
Arrogant this may be, but generally I feel like my wildlife-spotting eyes and ears are unmatched. By anyone. I see and hear EVERYTHING. A skill I’ve learned I suspect, basically from arsing about in the countryside for months and months and months, just looking and listening.
I clearly DO miss some things.
Perhaps a lot of things?
Sure, I had my eyes on the road t’other day, but I missed that little owl. Or I WOULD have missed that little owl on the 800 yards of ‘mac, if it wasn’t for eagle-eyed Anna sitting next to me, keeping her eyes wide open!
I doubt if this little owl will breed in this tree (I think too much of the hollow insides of the tree are open to the elements) and the little owl tree (as it will now be called) is RIGHT next to the barn owl stump which I KNOW has a barn owl in it right now.
Barn owls won’t eat adult little owls (although they WILL eat some birds if pushed) and whilst little owls do catch voles like barn owls, their main prey is beetles, worms etc, so barn owls and little owls so occupy different (but overlapping) niches – but I don’t think little owls would choose to nest in a tree next to a barn owl roost – which they will be aware of.
That said, I returned the day after first seeing this little owl on the 800 yards of ‘mac and it seemed intent on staying in this particular tree (EDIT on 14th Jan: and I've regularly seen it for almost two weeks in the same tree now ) – so who knows?
I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this little owl tree as well as the barn owl stump from now on – and update you in February’s “800 yards of ‘mac”.
(Other (other than this little owl) goings-on for those concerned - the resident barn owl on 800 yards of 'mac is still VERY much in residence. I've seen it on most nights, including on a very foggy evening in January where it was looking very pesky sat on its stump and also a roadside fence post on the return drive. The chocolate buzzard is also often around, though less reliably-so than the barn owl).
The photos in this post (like all my posts) were all taken by me. The fledgling barn owl photo in its box was taken by me when I filmed them breeding about 4 years ago. Shots 2,3 and 4 from the car were taken by me with my phone. Shots 5 and 6 were taken about 20 minutes later than 2,3 and 4 after rushing home to grab my old bridge camera.
Older 800 yards of 'mac posts can be found using the links below: