Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Owling in Britain


I was born Wales and raised in Cumbria. This entry details the owls I can recollect from my childhood, plus those I saw when I returned home to visit with my family.


Spring 1980 (?) I saw a daytime barn owl at Bass Lake. This was a banner day for me because I also saw a buzzard, Kestrel and sparrowhawk (attacking a greater spotted woodpecker) on the same outing.
1981 (?) I was biking through Tallentire with my friend Mark Pattinson, when we saw a daytime barn owl. Around this time I began hearing and occasionally finding Tawny owls at Brigham quarry. Mark and I also found one roosting in a small limestone quarry between Brigham and Eaglesfield.
1982 I was shown a little owl by John Callion near Siddick.
1984 My friend Mark and I found a fantastic short-eared owl hunting in frosty fields at the back of Siddick Pond.
Oct 1987 I biked across from Peterborough to Kings Lynn, and found a little owl in farm land at dusk.
I found several short-eared owls and one long-eared owl along Blakney Point-recently arrived migrants from Scandinavia.

June 1989 My friend Greg Lowther and I made a pilgrimage to Fetlar to look for an old female snowy owl. Years back a pair of snowies had nested on Fetlar. Subsequently the male bird had died, but the old female remained faithful to the site and returned for many years.

We took the train to Thurso, then biked and ferried to Orkney. On Orkney we were treated to wonderful views of short-eared owls. From Orkney we ferried up to Shetland and mad our way by bike and ferry to Fetlar. We soon found owl owl, and had fantastic views of the bird hunting by day over open grasslands.

18th Feb 1990. Dad and I were returning from a hike on a winter's afternoon near Newton Stewart in SW Scotland during February half term, when we saw a daytime hunting barn owl.

May 1990 Near Loch Lomand I saw a short-eared owl hunting with mam and dad.

Home visits

September 2010 Tui and I borrowed my parents camper and took a trip to the Mull of Kintyre. Opposite Jura we found a short-eared owl quartering over salt-marsh. Even without bins we got amazing views in the lovely evening light of this wonderful owl. 

8.17.11 As soon as Charlie was old enough to travel, Tui and I took him home to England to visit with mam and dad. It was a strange trip because mam had been diagnosed with melanoma and was quite sick. 

I went owling down Isel road with dad. We heard a female tawny followed by a male. I spent half an hour in a dense thicket, before hearing a male very near by. Responding to the tape it landed above me and allowed brief views in the torch beam. Another male was also calling nearby. (Dad had long since given up).

8.18.11 Tried for little owl near Daltson with a local birder; Jeremy. We only heard one distant tawny owl.

8.19.11 Dad and I drove out to Trudy's place by Gilcrux. We heard a juvenile barn owl calling from the nest box. While driving home dad spotted a barn owl flying up the A595 and across a field.

8.23.11 Tui and I were returning from Castle Rigg and while driving along the bottom of Bassenthwaite lake we saw a Barn owl perched atop of a hedge. We saw the owl quite well in the van's headlights.

8.25.11 went owling with Fi and Ed at Wimbledon Common. We were trying for little owl. (I initially wanted top try at Richmond Park, but it's closed at night). We failed to hear little owl, but did see a curious badger and heard a pair of Tawnys. Despite a lot of taping and bright city skies, we could not lay eyes on a tawny.

3.21.12 By now my mam was really sick with Melanoma. Her memory of recent events was shockingly sparse.  Charlie and I visited with her and dad in Cumbria. 

After puting Charlie to bed, Dad and I drove to Sunderland hoping to find tawny owls by the roadside. Along the straightaway, past the big wood, on the way to Sunderland. A tawny owl flew over the car.

5.17.12 A few days ago I spoke with Fi, who explained to me that mam was dieing and that I should return home soon if I wanted to see her one last time. I flew into Heathrow and stayed the night with Fi and Ed. The next day I drove up to Cumbria in a rental. I stopped for a pee off of the A1 at Barrister Lane, and flushed a little owl in day light.

5.19.12 Dad and I went to visit Trudy and Michael at Bridekirk. We arrived just after 7pm, and after a few minutes, and still two hours before sunset a male barn owl peered out of the nest box. A few minutes later he hopped out of the box and clambered onto the branch below the box. For a minute he moved his head side to side, before he started vigorously preening for ten minutes. He then flew off past the window. Amazing views.

5.20.12  I got up at five and headed out the door. At the Bridekirk junction I saw a barn owl perched on the road sign-probably the same bird that we had seen last night at Trudy's. I drove on to Broughton Moor and hiked around looking for short-eared owl. Eventually I flushed a barn owl from one of the dumps old munitions buildings. Soon I was enjoying excellent views of a pair of barn owls, both perched and hunting. the male was incredibly white in the bright sun.

A little after ten, just as it was getting quite dark I walked out to the house and down the Ghyll. In response to playing a male's call I got a ''Kerwick'' response. We called back and forth for a couple of minutes a I approached the bird, but eventually it fell silent. I walked down the footpath along the Ghyll to the clearing, where I heard a male bird singing. I tried taping and approaching the bird, but it was tricky due to thick noisy vegetation. I eventually saw a couple of fly-by silhouettes, before getting a nice view of a brown male singing. By this time I had 3-4 birds around me, all close. 3 where males singing with a fourth (?) ''Kerwicking.''

5.31.12 My mam died on Memorial day weekend. A couple of days later I returned home to be with Dad and Fi. Fi, Ed and I walked down the Ghyll. We heard but could not see a tawny owl.

6.3.12 I awoke at 130am thinking about mam. I drove out to Broughton Moor. I tried for Tawny and Little owl, but to no avail. I did flush a beautiful barn owl from an old building. It was a cold windy morning, completely different from my visit ten days ago, when mam was still alive. On the way home I stopped at Trudy's and saw another barn owl peering from the box. Soon after it hopped outside and preened itself for ten minutes.

6.4.12 I awoke at 230am and left home and dad. I arrived in Geltsdale around 330 AM. By the time it was fully light, a pair of short-eared owls were intermittently climbing to 500', then descending back down to the ground. The female was conspicuously moulting-probably the inner most primary. Wonderful birds.

9.24.13. Charlie and I took a trip home to visit with Dad and Fi. At my dad's house in Blindcrake, Cumbria, I taped for a tawny owl. I saw a Tawny owl fly between some ash trees in the Ghyll at the bottom of his garden. Lower down in the Ghyll I heard a second owl singing.

9.25.13 Charlie, Dad and I visited Mike and Julie Porter in Wigton, Cumbria. Mike showed us an Oak in a field, where he had seen a little owl six months ago. Remarkably the bird flew up into a fork in the tree and Julie and I were both able to see it briefly.

9.27.13 Charlie, Dad and I heard a tawny owl calling at the bottom of his garden.9.29.13, I heard a tawny owl calling to the north side of dad's house for an hour before our early morning departure for Manchester.