In Dusk We Trust - Some Owling in Co.Durham, North East England, Great Britain
Leucistic Little Owl image copyright Hilary Chambers, Durham.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

42 - 20th June 2017

Pairs of Leo confirmed with young this season in Co.Durham

Credit to young Foghorn Kinghorn confirming pair #42 after a foot-slog round a central area.

More a surprising record was Hilary Chambers weighing in with a family party way, way up Teesdale - no confirmation of breeding records in Upper Teesdale in recent years, so that was a very noteworthy deliver of pair #41.

I was housebound last night & the weather was poor anyway... surely we will set a new confirmation of breeding record this evening....?


Some snippets & BiggLuggs craic.

Ive picked up a fair number of pairs in the north west, during a couple of "all nighters".
It never really gets dark, in fact I had a Swallow out singing & flying at Tanfield at 02:50 am.

I had one very active family with 3 juvs had a male Tawny calling in their copse with the Tawny young begging 100m away.
This is more commonplace than folk imagine. As long as there is plenty prey items & plenty of cover then the two will co-habit without much friction. (Scott notes this as the norm in Nth Nottinghamshire).
I have 1 wood where I have both TO & LEO having used the site for 20 years - 2 compartments only 200m apart, the LEOs in the Norway Spruce, Tawnies in mixed Scots Pine. I have seen interaction & even flying skirmishes here, one instance the Leo pair working together had the Tawny in knots, flying out over a road in an aerial duel in the half light.

Warden Dinsley has a great clip of a food-pass, this is a male to female pass. She immediately shoots off to feed the branched young. As the young start to shadow the hunting male she will remain on watch till the youngest is flying out. The young wait till dusk to fly out following the adults - at which time they can be very curious - ive had them try to land on myself & telescope in the past. Difficult to observe a family hunting "as a unit" but have recorded it a handful of times in 2 decades.
At this point - they can end up closer to another pairs nest site than they are to their own, often muddling the breeding picture.
Ive had 8 juvs all begging in the same area at the convergence of two territories - a confusing scenario had we not found both nests that April

I had a female alarm call as I approached a set of 5 juvs - she gave canine alarm calls & tried to distract me by flying onto the ground to continue feline & canine like calls. The young knew instantly to cease begging & I walked back - she very cleverly keeping me within view, calling & "leading" me away. After 5 mins I re-approached & watched the juvs being fed.

Pic of begging youngster from a 3 brood doing well, being studied by Long John Gardiner.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mid June Long-eared Owl Update

Who would have thought....
After an almost entire winter clear out it wasn't looking very promising for our local Long-eared friends this year...


Its turning out to be our best Long-eared Owl season for a few years.

We are being watched too ! Lovely image of a curious adult checking out local photographer Brian Howes

Young Long-eared - out & about at a little more than a month old (Anthony Fitches)
Growing up fast - this one not much older than the previous bird, eye a more vivid colouration, feathers all coming through & developing its ear tufts (John Gardiner)

Branched juveniles still very downy, but primaries develop faster allowing them to fly quite well in spite of appearances.

A post hunting adult in superb condition (Hilary Chambers)

Stunning food-pass image by Michael Brady at a Co.Durham location.

Breeding 2017:
At time of writing 17/06 we have 28 breeding pairs confirmed as having branched or fledged young so far in VC66 - Old County Durham (basically Tyne to Tees). with 1 pair still incubating.

x3 young birds digi-scoped from range (SE)

young bird waits to be fed - the plumage advances by the day (Dawn Pack)

This is still a long way off our best year of 42 pairs confirmed - but there's still time.

In fact there's still PLENTY of time

I spoke to "young Jimmy" & prompted him to re-check a regular territory that we "skimmed over" in the Spring.... Lo & behold a nest with eggs 14/06 !
Not unprecedented by any means but late for this species - our local birds are generally synchronised layers, but this means they've been laying over a 12 week period !
This nest is of interest too, its used an old Wood Pigeons which is on top of an old squirrel drey.

this 1 watched in envy as its older sibling followed the adult out to hunt (SE)

the youngest of 4, regularly bullied from his perch by the eldest sibling (SE)
In Durham we are more likely to find birds in lowland scrub & woodland edge habitats as opposed to the traditional view of them being a bird of the conifer woods
A candidate for the County's fattest BiggLuggs ?! (Graham Stoker)

I'm finding about 1 in 3 territories has been successful, with a range of broods from 2's up to two healthy 5 broods out & away from the nest.

2 of 4 branched young at this site found & photographed by Peterlee based Anthony Fitches.

2 raggy un's in the favoured Elderberry tree - blossom a similar colour to the downy body colour on recently branched birds (SE)
Having said that a core study area holding 7 pairs currently has as yet NO success.... but there may be information yet to be gleaned from the Poker players keeping cards to their chests ;-)

An excellent overhead flight shot from Colin West - quick reflexes giving us a great opportunity to see wing proportions, under wing, body & tail markings

female going away during nest checking (SE)

So, its a a very mixed up year - as if someone has put our BiggLuggs population in a bag & shook them up tipping them out randomly !

We used to be able to set your watch by these birds - this season has certainly bucked all trends.

NB: If you would like to watch them, now is the time -
Daylight hunting Pairs are out early evenings with noisy begging young across the County.

Tony, as you can see, has been filling his boots watching hunting birds in perfect evening light.

During the County wide survey we had folk "find their own owls".
One participant was overjoyed to finally see a daylight hunting Leo after birdwatching for 25 years

You cant beat the thrill of finding your own - If you are unsure how or where to search, drop me a line & we will try to help.

superb portrait of well advanced young bird - this is a new location this year up on the moorland edge in West Durham at 250m/asl where there may well be more bird as yet undetected by us..? (Anna Bilska)

NB: After yesterdays nest discovery there's certainly potential to be able to watch young birds being attended to by parents right up till September..

This is an interesting one -
Lea O'Connor watched this hunting adult take an adult Rat, the bird having to put a bit of effort into subduing it - generally voles / mice are killed with the initially stall & drop.

Adult finally gets away with Rat (Lea O'Connor)
As well as the usual quartering, birds will spend periods post hunting.
Heres Graham Stokers digi-scoped images of an adult on its favoured hunting post
The use of digi-scoping allows concealed observers to watch birds from distance with no disturbance (Graham.S)

A family part of 5 enjoyed by keen owler John Gardiner who has been watching breeding Leo in the County for over a decade
1 of 3 juvs at another site (John.G)
 with a bonus on the way home...
Little bonus for John.G

A few people will know "Nature North East", WWT Warden Dinsley, David is a keen owler & now lives in the County. These 2 images are from a healthy brood in a central location.

A wise Young owl sat in an Oak - an early morning shot by D.Dinsley
In Dusk We Trust ! - 2 youngsters start to explore their surroundings in the twilight (D.Dinsley)

Particular thanks for all information & particularly to the growing band of wildlife photographers - the majority treating the subject matter with the upmost respect.

This iconic portrait enjoyed by many on social media from Mark Fullerton is north of the Tyne

Lots of superb images out there & i'll end this with a Link for Michael Brady's Spectacular action shots of some VC66 birds :-

Many thanks to everyone feeding in information - really is an inspiration & helps us appreciate the bigger picture.

Advice after watching breeding Leo for 20 years:-
If you are watching breeding Long-eareds & the adults are not returning with a food item at least every 15 minutes then I would advise that you MOVE away.
If you hear a canine barking alarm call & the young are not begging then the adults are most likely uncomfortable with your presence.
Remember All pairs react differently to our intrusion on their breeding cycle - if in doubt stay well back.

That's it for now - Good Owling folks !