As autumn lingers the field is gradually slowing down in preparation for the winter ahead.
The swallows are long gone and the bats no longer flitter across the pond at dusk but the fieldfares have arrived to spend the winter here and there are plenty of haws in the hawthorn hedgerows to eat. The goldfinches should do well with lots of common knapweed seed heads to feed on during the cold winter days.
The bulrush around the pond edge has turned yellow but the roach are still active, feeding on insects on the surface before heading down to the depths out of the way of any predators.
Though there are no barn owls in the nest boxes at the moment they are around, appearing in the torchlight at night, their silent flight interrupted by loud screeching if you get too close.
There’s work to be done still: owl boxes to fix, pruning and cutting of branches but the main hedges will be left alone until there are no more berries to be had by hungry birds.
The first frosts should have stopped any growth in the meadow but there’s the occasional late knapweed flower or even an oxeye daisy around the edges that thinks it’s still summer: small dashes of colour in the late autumn sun.
We may have a new tenant in one of the nest boxes! This female (we think) arrived two days ago and is still there. We’re not sure if she is one of the adults from this year who has come back now the youngsters have dispersed. She might be completely new, possibly a dispersed youngster from elsewhere: we’ll keep an eye on her to see if she is ringed.
The nest box was empty six months ago! This thick layer of pellets, fluff and feathers needs to be cleared out each year otherwise it wouldn’t take long for there to be no room for the owls.
The meadow has finished flowering and is now a sea of brown seed heads waving in the breeze. The tufted vetch pods have turned brown and are gently crackling like popcorn in the sun. Which means it’s time for the meadow’s annual haircut!
It’s not dry enough for hay but should make good haylage and likely more than the twenty large round bales we had last year: we’ll know in a couple of days.
It’s a bittersweet moment as it is a sure sign the summer is coming to an end. It’s also a bit of a surprise to any field voles and mice that have settled into the field: they’re going to find themselves a little exposed to any passing bird of prey.
A quick cut, a day in the sun then sixteen bales all wrapped up. Not as many as last year but not bad, and the meadow will get better and better as we cut and take away the hay each year.
Now the barn owl boxes are temporarily empty it’s time to check them over and do any repairs needed. It might be time to replace the oldest box so we’re going to have a good look at John Lightfoot’s (from the Shropshire Barn Owl Group) range of new homes at Talon Nest Boxes. We have also identified a good site for one of his kestrel boxes: very tempting and it would be wonderful to have a different bird of of prey nesting in the field.
The three barn It’s not just owls! Summer is a great time of year for the insects too
The three young owls are visiting the nest box less and less now as they gain their independence. They still appear from time to time to have a play around with each other and hiss hopefully for the adults to feed them but this may well be the last we see of them.
Our job may be done for these three but the nest box may only be empty for a few days so we need to get up there and clean it out and do repairs in time for the next tenants.
The three barn owlets are doing well and getting better at flying. They just need to learn to hunt and if this goes well in about a month’s time they’ll disperse to set up homes elsewhere. It will be a shame to see them go but go they must.
The youngest owlet comes out of the owl box to sit on the ledge soon after sundown, shortly joined by her two sisters who are roosting somewhere nearby.
They spend most of the night hissing and squabbling with a little practice flying but they’re not hunting for themselves yet so the parents respond to their calls and bring them food to keep them going. Just before dawn the older ones go back to their roosts, leaving the youngest on her own, at least until the next night.
They are getting quite noisy and we can often hear them from the other side of the field, at least five hundred feet away. They do need to start hunting for themselves as the parents won’t keep up the feeding: won’t be long though.
Here’s the youngest owlet settling down for a day’s rest after the night before. The field mouse on the floor is a clear sign she’s being fed well. The adults will have to stop doing this otherwise she won’t learn herself.
The three owlets are spending the nights hanging around in the dead oak tree, jumping from branch to branch and occasionally flying off as they practice their flying skills. There’s not a lot of hunting behaviour yet but the parents are still coming back to feed them so they’re not going hungry.
The youngest owlet is catching up with her older sisters and is usually the first up in early evening and last back in the nest box in the morning.
She stays in the nest box with her sister during the day and they’re joined by the oldest owlet (who is roosting in a tree nearby as there isn’t much room in the nest box) in the evening for a night of practice flying and hunting, with the adults still bringing the younger owlets food during the night to keep them going until they can hunt fully for themselves.
It’s quite noisy out there now, but we think it’s a lovely sound.
Sorry about the thumping background noise: it’s a continuing problem with the Green Feathers camera.
At last the youngest owlet has ventured outside to join her two older siblings on the nest box ledge. She’s got some catching up to do though as the others have already made their first attempts at flying.
The oldest owlet is almost ready to start flying: it is now hopping up and down Before any aviator learns to fly they have to learn to taxi! From dusk to dawn the two older owlets are practising leaping around the nest box and nearby branches as they strengthen their wings and balance.
The youngest owlet isn’t big (or bold) enough to join them yet but it won’t be long before all three are outside together. The adults are still coming back to feed them but will soon start to reduce the amount to get the youngsters hungry and encourage them to start to hunt for themselves.
Our new trailcam shows a series of clips from last night showing what the owlets are getting up to.
Here’s the clip of one of the adults bringing back food for the owlets. are getting up to.
The oldest owlet is almost ready to start flying: it is now hopping up and down between the nest box ledge and the camera boom above it, encouraged by the second owlet. The youngest is still in the nest box, not quite ready to come out into the open air and join in the fun.
In a day or two the oldest will risk all and leap into thin air from the ledge for the first time and start flying.
Two of the owlets practice the amazing range of head movements that barn owls have.
The other owlet really can’t be bothered!
A big thank you to John and Wendy from the Shropshire Barn Owl Group, for coming round to check on our owlets. All three are fit and healthy with good weights and this time all three are female. They were quite well-behaved: soporific due to the heat and it being the equivalent of the middle of night for them.
Freedom Day and the oldest owlet ventures out onto the nest box ledge for the very first time. 50 days old and still covered with fluff, it surveys the strange thing that is the world outside.
As high summer takes hold the pond and field show how much they have recovered from the muddy battlefield of last October. The meadow is lush and the water clear and once more full of life: dragonflies crisscross the surface and squadrons of young house martens noisily practice their divebombing skills. As the sun goes down pipistrelle bats appear silently in the evening above the ripples and plops of hungry roach. And then the barn owls appear.
Another quite day for the three owlets but they are beginning to get a bit restless: here’s one practising its neck exercises in front of the camera.
Sorry about the thumping noise – it’s a fault with the camera