In Dusk We Trust - Some Owling in Co.Durham, North East England, Great Britain

Friday, 28 April 2017

Three from Five

Our first Long-eared Owl pulli of the year on todays ringing & nest inspection visits.

 Feisty ! Lunging, bill clacking & spreading developing wings - all part of their defensive strategy.
 nicely settled down ready for rings to go on

processed & ready to go back up the tree

 several Kes clutches of 6

 The Dunce hiding in the corner.

 Who ya lookin at ?

Clutch of 5 eggs & a good cache of mammal prey.

Tawny Owls doing well in the caviy


Saturday, 1 April 2017

Wobbly Leo season

Another 5 BiggLuggs territories checked last night -
3 blanks & the 2 with contacts, were not telling me much.
After studying this species for 20 years I cant fathom out what accounts for so many consecutive poor or blank breeding seasons ?  (neighbouring Kestrel & Barn Owl all fine)
why the sudden exodus this winter of usually resident pairs....
Its clear some birds have not returned to traditional territories (some occupied since 1950's & presumably a fair while before)
This week generally sees the first eggs laid.
I know a few pairs are looking very likely to lay - but the years of confirming fledging for 40-50 pairs seem a distant memory.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Leo - Witches broom site

Late afternoon
Went to have a look at the Long-eared Owl pair which I'm hoping may nest in a Witches Broom growth.

Directly underneath I found what must have been the previous occupant.
A rather mummified grey squirrel - this wasn't here last time, so it looks likely that the Long-eareds have removed it from the witches broom.....

Once selection has been made, females will roost at, near or even perch up on the nest prior to occupation.

I found her in the immediate area, but extremely well hidden...

a small trail of splash gave a clue as to her whereabouts

Can you see me?

Very difficult to find birds when they roost in Gorse scrub

Close by a pellet under one of the males song perches

This will be an interesting one to follow up on - never seen birds use a witches broom for nesting.
Fingers crossed.

This is a large Hedgehog i've seen last 2 nights at our garden
It was looking worse for wear this morning - took it to get some attention - small puncture wound & blood on its back, looks like a dog has had a hold of it.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The boys are back in town.. & the girls

The wait & the worry are over...

Long-eared Owl pairs are finally back on territory.

A near perfect night saw keen members of the Bird Clubs Owl Study Group stride in action..

Males "singing" from 18:10 or so tonight & in wing clap display flights from 18:25

What an absolute relief that theyre back....

For decades they never left us....

Fingers crossed for a decent season.


I chose a site hoping for roding Woodcock & saw my first of the year which made 2 passes, a bonus was a Snipe drumming briefly.
The female called almost constantly for 50mins - she was in a Birch which was festooned with Witches Brooms.
Ive read (Scott) that they have nested in these meristematic disorders of the tree, but have yet to see or find one, so fingers double crossed here.

A lowland Short-eared has been displaying this past week or so & mobbing human intuders so this may lead to something too hopefully....

On the other hand it may well call, spiral up hundreds of feet at dusk & pin out on the northern horizon as I watched one do on Monday....

Tawnies have been busy daylight calling, last week I heard birds from Kelloe, Bishop Auckland & close to home.

Little Owls on the other hand may have been consumed by Buzzards close to home... falling away every month it seems...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

No show Leo

Dusk check at site with 2 pair Leo - single bird out hunting 17:45.
This was sole contact, no further sign, no calls, no display....

Its a worry.

Mid February 2017 - local update.

Long-eared males singing & wing-clapping at a couple of sites
Leo surveys his territory at dusk

The 1st Tawnies may well be on eggs - none checked so far
Little Owls becoming more vocal & more showy especially on the recent warm sunny days.
Our wintering Shorties continue their crepuscular activity - having been seen day flying on less than half a dozen dates.

Sunday, I stood with Mr Heron at dusk after a full 13 mile day out - he clocked a Barnie almost over our heads, with Little Owls & a silhouetted Tawny all from the same vantage point.

If any local readers have any info / anecdotes they want to feed in for use on the blog then Email stevieevans1 AT

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Tawny Owl Deep Chamber Egg Theft

Heres an interesting one from Spring 2015

22 March 2015
Found a New Tawny Owl nest site, with a clutch in a chimney-like hollow Sycamore.

pic from second visit

The bird came off on the initial visit, but second visit she never moved. (pic above)
The chimney-like cavity was a good 10-12 foot deep, with the clutch only a few feet off the ground.
Id imagined the young would be well on before they manage to climb / flap their way out of this one.... (spoke too soon !)

29 March 2015
Second visit, the female sitting tight
Clutch pic from initial find visit.

3 April 2015
Third visit, - we were expecting young (cp other local nests) ,  Jack (nearly 10 y/old) was happy to go up, he wanted to see the bird sitting, but he called down that there was no bird & only 3 eggs & a hole ! - Three eggs & a hole we echoed - I couldn't wait to get up & see....
Jack shouted down "theres 3 eggs & a hole !"
An egg had indeed gone from the Tawny nest..... what a mystery...
We moved round to have a look at the base for the first time & saw the basal cavity for the first time... our cogs were starting to whirr...

The Evidence - Saw dust at the base of the cavity....

On closer inspection at ground level, it was clear the hole had been dug from underneath & the nest predated from below, with, presumably a Stoat (see him regularly close by) having come in the basal cavity & dug up through several inches of soft decayed timber to access the nest chamber.

The family pondering the mystery....

As we moved of we had a Consolation in the form of nice views of a Roe Deer (doe) while we talked through this unusual encounter.

Post Script - I meant to go back & try to fill it in with some rocks.... possibly a couple of years left in that stem....

Monday, 13 February 2017

Where sheep are sheep & men are....

Couple of hours at end of the day to check on some neglected Barnie roost sites on the Limestone.

Depending on aspect, Limestone nest sites can be unmistakable - years & years of splash stands like a white beacon, especially when under an overhang or otherwise sheltered from the elements.
Obvious white splash

Roost sites on the other hand can be much harder to locate - rock faces are littered with nooks & crannies - birds could be anywhere.........

NB: (A good tip when prospecting for any cavity dwelling owl (raptor or duck too) is to check for down feather caught in cobwebs.)

That was the case today, with only a few subtle clues on show.
A few small dots of splash didn't look like they were worth following up,
2 down feathers & tiny bit splash

but a check binoculars revealed 2 pale down feathers -  there you go.

Moving to the overgrown base of the slope, it took a while but I found a handful of large & quite recent BO pellets - almost there.
Barn Owl pellets - big & black

A scramble up through bramble & thorn got me 30' higher, where 1 very fresh pellet confirmed the roost as active.
looking down - NB telescope in top RHcorner.

From here, the otherwise hidden entrance to cavity held many more pellets & downy feathers.
roost cavity

Yes, a bit of a faff on, but far better than a stand & hope speculative visit as the light fades.

In fact id much rather do a bit detective work like this than hump a pair of ladders around checking nest boxes.

To end on a lighter note - I wasn't expecting to have this charge out at me :-
you know its a rough area when the sheep hide in caves !

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Long & Shortage....

I can remember thinking what a stinker winter 2015 / 2016 was (after very poor Leo nest season) - I considered that to be the worst Owl winter i'd known....

Winter 2016 / 2017 has been worse.... The Worst....

I have never had many concerns about our resident Long-eareds - they were nailed on, Lots of pairs always there, no problem, guaranteed year round...

Not the case now after a series of poor breeding cycles...

So much so this season that I havnt daylight searched any more than 6 locations, with no more than a max of 3 birds... & switched to searching for Jack Snipe as the Bigg Luggs were proving so hard to come by.
For Example, a traditional location where ive had regular double fig roosts, including 18 in a single tree was blank this winter....
Things are picking up & pairs are beginning to call & display - though its obvious some sites are sadly vacant - the populations is certainly at a 20 year low - but, hopefully not for long...