"Operation noctua" - week 14 update - have we hatched eggs?

May 23, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Still a month away from the (official) start of summer, but you’d be forgiven for thinking its July now – what with it being light at 5am, not getting dark until well after 9pm, gin-clear skies above and the thermometer hitting 27c this week….


It always takes a few weeks after the blackthorn lines the hedges with a snow-white covering of flowers before the hawthorn takes over with white flowers of its own.

Yesterday evening I took a long walk around the main little owl field, to take in the hawthorn - and it was glorious to enjoy the warm, still air and listening to the birds warbling in the white hedgerows.


The air is now also thick with fluffy sallow (or goat willow if you prefer) seeds – many of our brooks and slower-moving watercourses have a covering of fluff on them at present as the water moves downstream and “The Cut” (the nearest brook to the owl field) is no exception, with large chub taking the odd mayfly or drowning sedge fly (of which there are hundreds).


I eventually sat down on a large log at the edge of the owl field and gazed along a field of bright yellow late-flowering oil-seed rape to watch the insects that all had suddenly appeared this week in the heat (after the rain!)

There were St.Mark’s flies, midges, blowflies, all manner of craneflies, a beautiful demoiselle fluttered by (the first I’ve seen this year) and male orange tip butterflies patrolled the hedge I sat by – on the hunt for their females.

I sat there , brushing robber flies from my exposed arms and as I did, the local bells began to peel at the village church about half a mile away.

I assume this was a practice session for the bell ringers (not because the noise needed more rehearsing (heaven (quite literally) forbid)  – just that 8:30pm on a Tuesday night is a bit of a weird time to call the villagers to service I would have thought.


Shortly after the church bells started, an insistent male cuckoo started to call repetitively from a nearby thicket.


It was a lovely evening, sitting in the warm setting sun, listening to cuckoo and  the church bells (good name for a band that, “Cuckoo and the church bells”!) and brushing sallow fluff from my shirt – it was all peace and quiet then eh?


Not really.


The owls were out

And about.

And asserting their presence in a very obvious, urgent fashion.


Their field is a field of long grass, containing three ancient oaks (one of which holds their nest box) and their favourite perch (an old decrepit cattle barn).

Granted, the grass in the field had been mown to the ground that afternoon by a big Massey, a farm hand and his very friendly jack Russell (called “Patch”) and the field must have looked very different to the two owls last night.


Little owls tend to eat a lot of invertebrates generally – beetles, worms, moths etc… The big mow of their field will have uncovered plenty of these crunchy (or slimy!) treats and the owls certainly seemed to be hunting with renewed vigour last night.


But there was more- they were incredibly active and often flying back to the nest box, to dip inside and then back out again a few seconds later and they were incredibly vocal.


Does this mean eggs have hatched inside that warm box? I would say yes – almost definitely.


The owls were vigorously defending their territory also – you might remember my old clip of the female kestrel mobbing the male little owl - well…. last night, the avian dominance league was turned on its head.


One of our little owls flew across an entire field (and my head as it happens), shrieking like an owl-possessed, in order to chase away a lazy low buzzard from the neighbouring field. Quite a thing to behold – a bird not much bigger than a tennis ball, chasing off a bird the size of a buzzard.

Whilst one owl saw off a buzzard, its mate wasn’t taking any grief from a carrion crow which had settled on the barn.

Normally, the owls hide when buzzards and crows are about – but the crow was shown the metaphorical door (in no uncertain terms) last night as well as the buzzard - quite a turnaround for our wee owls!


Of course, blackbirds being blackbirds and dusk being dusk, more racket was provided by the local thrushes doing high-volume cartwheels around one of our little owls – but the owl had a go back – and again, it was the cartwheeling blackbird that gave up in the end, rather than the owl.



Something has changed in the owl field – and if I had to put money on it now, I’d suggest eggs have hatched, the female has returned (after incubation the female tends to feed up on her own for a while, to regain her strength, whilst the male brings food to the hatched young) and both adult owls are now feeding their young.


I’m not going to look inside the box (no matter how tempting or brief any look), but that would be my current guess right now and I think I may be seeing owlets fledge a little earlier than previously thought.


I have replaced the trail camera on site to record some of this frenetic activity (I hope) and get owls used to camera again before owlets fledge soon….. so I hope to present another clip or two here before too long.


Its all getting rather exciting now…. Keep watching this space!




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