Thursday, 25 September 2008

The TITS Are Back!! And they have long-tails......

Thought that title would grab someones attention. Today the Long-tailed Tits returned to the garden, this for the first time since the end of last winter. A party of about 10-15 came into the garden and on close inspection with the binoculars, were literally hoovering up the Aphids from the plants. The 2 pictures show them in the Dwarf Cherry tree, here the black fly are massed as they stain the bark black. The Long tailed Tits were obviously enjoying their feast.Whilst out walking in the local Woodlands both here and throughout Somerset I do get the feeling that this dainty, and very acrobatic bird has actually done well this year. I say this because they have been so noticeable throughout this early Autumn period. Seems to me its the Blue Tit that is most noticeable by its absence in any great number. It really does sum up that with these last 2 summers there has been both winners, and losers in our local Wildlife. I have already discussed Swallow, Barn Owl and Tawny Owl as losers. Yet Little Owl, Kestrel and now Long tailed Tits are all winners having done well through all the bad weather of the summer. I'm now waiting for the first of the wintering Blackcaps to return, and also the 2 magnificent Thrushes from Scandinavia the Fieldfare and the Redwing. Most people don't seem to like winter, actually I treat it the same as Summer,as winter like summer brings a difference in wildlife and like Summer I treat this seasonal change as something to look forward too, and not to get depressed about. If your reading this in Norway or Sweden or Finland, then please e-mail me, and tell me whether the Short-eared Owl's have left yet, as they will spend the winter further south. Now there is another great bird of the winter for us here in South West England. The Short eared Owl hunting, low across long grass on a winters afternoon is such a warming sight in the winter.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Hornets 22/09/2008

This is the guard Hornet at the nest entrance, armed and ready
Thanks to Dave Newton "Hawk and Owl Trust member North Somerset group" for pointing out these beauties. Located not far from where I live, this is a Hornet nest that Dave and I stood out side and watched the comings and goings of, oh and we dodged the more aggressive ones. The pictures are really bad, this was because it was so dark under the trees, so treat them as a recording of what we found. I will return to the nest first thing in the morning and get some more pictures of them. This of course when they are less active in the cooler air. They are great insects, and to have them flying past your ear to get their nest really does make you freeze to the spot. The sound they make is the Insect equivalent of a Zeppelin flying past you. I'm totally fascinated by the social life of these creatures, in the top picture is one Hornet who is left on guard. I felt sure it knew what we were doing.
This pictures is one returning to the nest, which you can just make out in the background.

Little Owl Release The Forth Week

Google Earth image and plots of Little Owl roost sites, 1 week after release

The provided food has been largely abandoned, and also the number of items placed has been taken back to four. The time they take to come to the release aviary is within an hour and half of placing the food. Yet when they did appear last weekend on both nights they were more interested in each other than the food. I think as of this weekend we are missing two of the owlets as I can account for 4 of them quite easily by the calling or visually observed. We have had one Little Owl heard on a farm over 2 miles away and this is a new Little Owl, so maybe this is one of ours moved off and now establishing itself (thanks Paula for that observation, and please keep me posted). This Google Earth image plots the Little owls by observation on week 3-the white line =1 mile

The roosting Owl's now are more difficult to find, however this pictured below is of one who has left a number of regurgitated pellets below its roost. The results of which were fantastic, as they revealed from 5 pellets, 1 Wood Mouse, 3 Field Voles, the rest of the contents made up of Beetle and Earwig, but perhaps not surprising for the Mendip Hills, were parts of Grasshoppers and Crickets.
More observations will continue during the week and at next weekend, we will take the food provided down even further to 3 items provided, this with confidence that they are self supporting. Oh I forgot to mention the weather is still excellent by the way we have not returned to the Summer cold and rain, we really are in a dry and warm spell for the Autumn, which is great for these Little Owls.

Any of you close enough are welcome to come and see them, indeed many of you already have, and I'm very grateful for your help with the monitoring of them. Once again thanks for everyone support with this project. May I appeal for help with raising funds for the telemetry equipment we desperately need, anyone with ideas let me know via e mail.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Little Owl Monitroring

I'm just leaving now to spend the evening and night monitoring the released Little Owls. Tonight it is exactly one month or 4 weeks since they were released. Target for this evening is still seeing how many come back for food, then to spend some substantial time during the night listening to them calling. This will enable me to pin point their positions. Tomorrow we have a Hawk and Owl Trust fund raising day, to which in the evening I will be leading an Owl Prowl, so I will update any news collected tonight on Sunday.

Thanks again to all you Little Owl fans for all the e mails. Keep em coming.

Mendip Swallow Update BBC Radio 4 World On The Move

This is just a very quick update, to say that the Swallows all left the Mendip site early this morning and have not returned all day. All 5 as in 3 juveniles and 2 adults were present roosting in the shed yesterday evening. So just to conclude this story, they left Mendip for winter migration on 19th September 2008.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Little owl update a massive change in behaviour 14 09 08

Its now 23 days since releasing the Little Owls (Sunday 14th September 08) I was joined on this monitoring session by Hawk and Owl Trust member and volunteer Paula Rich. Things were different upon arrival there was no sign of any Little Owl's at all, this in itself was very unusual as normally there would be the odd sighting of them in the surrounding trees. The food was placed on the hack board at 1927hrs. At 1942 three Little Owls appeared almost all at once, although they came from the left so from the evergreen trees they must have been further away due to the height they came in at. What was really inter sting was there was no immediate rush for the food placed out for them, they were most defiantly holding back. In fact it took a further 7 minutes for one to come forward jump onto the board and take a food item. The other 2 actually took off quite uninterested in the food flying towards the right of the release aviary heading out to the fields in a North west direction.

Note: This is not unusual to me as is something I have witnessed before in the many other releases I have done. What I am witnessing here is the beginning of the owls becoming self supporting and abandoning the food placed out for them.

1956 hrs. Number 4 Little Owl appears on top of the release aviary and again after a while takes food off of the hack board and fly's back the way it came, to the left. From then on as darkness falls we don't see any more Little Owls. Interestingly we do hear them, as we have one constantly calling from about 1 mile away. This whilst the others give vocal exchanges from around the site, but for the first time very spread out.

This big change in behaviour, as in becoming far more independent and also not rushing in for the provided food, all means that they are sustaining themselves. Interestingly it coincides with three days of really good weather the first run of days that have been without rain. This means that insect prey will be very much more abundant, so that its the weather change and not anything I have done that has caused this change in behaviour. What I can do now is reduce the food I'm providing safe in the knowledge that they are coping. Further proof will be needed and as I know where three of them are roosting I can collect their pellets during the later part of the week and just double check. I normally give them a good month at hack before reducing the food however, they are telling me that they are ready.

Thanks for all the nice comments about the Little Owl release, also good that other wildlife re-hab schemes are getting benefit from this information as well.

As we are drawing to a close on this story I must thank Animal Affairs and The Hawk and Owl Trust who have supported this release financially.

I will write about them again soon.

Spot the Little Owl competition we have a winner!

Wow! I did not expect anyone to actually participate in Spot The Little Owl, but I have had 23 e- mail responses and one verbal response. The winner is therefore announced and has agreed to buy me a drink if I check her barn Owl boxes (which I'm very willing to do) so I announce the winner getting the position of the Little Owl spot on is, Judith Tranter of the Mendip Society.
Well done Judith and I hope you enjoy your prize of buying me a drink in your local pub. I will be over later on this week and check your owl boxes as well.

Now this is fun, I will think up another competition.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Swallow Update for World on the Move

An adult outside the nest shed
Two of the three newly fledged Swallows on Mendip
At 925 feet on top of the Mendip Hills. The pair of Swallows I have been following for World On The Move (BBC Radio 4 Series) have now fledged what is only their second lot of young out of a possible 4 clutches. In April they fledged 4 of a possible 6, then lost one reducing the brood to just 3. The problem has been the weather. The second brood was laid soon after then after several nights and days of constant rain through late May early they appear to have deliberately kicked out the eggs, and then re-build the nest in another part of the shed. As the weather worsens through mid June into July the 3 clutch is just abandoned, and finally the 4th clutch laid in August contains 5 eggs. Even the weather does not improve all 5 hatch, however only 3 fledged, and that bring s us up to date. At present the young are returning to the shed to be fed by the adults, however they are fully flying showing off their new aerial skills. It was 17th September when they left in 07. So will be interesting to see when they leave this year. I have been watching a number of other sites observing both Swallows and Martins this year interesting as I write this 13th September they have gone from for all bar 2 of the sites, that makes 6 different sites were they are already off to and obviously moving south.
World on the Move is on Radio 4 every Tuesday morning at 1100hrs check out the website at

Additional note on the released Little Owls daytime observations 12 09 08

Spot the Little Owl competition, anyone who wins gets to buy me a drink!
Answer via e mail please
Very annoyed Wren, mobbing the Little Owls
I have been spotted-so hoo's watching hooo

Released Little Owl relaxed and sunbathing now the rain has stopped

Well finally the sun came out and in the morning light the Little Owls were quite active along the dry stone walls. Really good observations of one them hunting insects along the sun drenched walls, whilst another was sun bathing close to the release aviary. Small Birds including the Wren photographed gave away the position of 2 others by mobbing them. Over the course of a couple hours from 0900 to 1100 hrs they were quite active, so they are at present using the whole 24 hour period as being active, with preferences for hunting early evening from around 1700 hrs onwards. Vocalisation occurs well after dark and up until 0100 hrs, as mentioned before this vocalisation can be at times quite intense. Next period of big activity is pre dawn around 0500 hrs and then on and off up until midday. Obviously its difficult to see what they are doing after dark unless they are silhouetted, so they could be hunting right through the night. No doubt the vocalisation at night which helps me locate them is occurring at the moment because they are needing to know where each other.
Next week will be my first chance to begin carefully reducing the food I put out for them. At present I know they are all supplementing the food with what they are catching however this careful reduction in food will ensure that they catch more of their own. The weather forecast looks very promising over the next week so the timing for this next stage is perfect.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Little Owl release the 20th night

No Pictures again tonight (because of yet more rain). All is well and though they are now taking longer to come in, as in over an hour to take all the food. This as apposed to 15 minutes last week, the good news is all 6 are present. It was already very overcast when I arrived at the release site and yet again pouring with rain upon my arrival. What I was really interested in this evening was again how far they were coming from and some observations of them further away from the release site. There has not been any Little Owls around this site for many years, and this fits in so many areas that seem ideal yet they have disappeared. I have documented them living within and feeding around the extensive dry stone walls of this area and these form the borders of most of the field systems, yet as mentioned before there are hedgerows and plenty of typical good pasture land. It was with interest then when one of the local Farmers mentioned to me he was watching a Little Owl perched on his dry stone wall just 2 evenings ago. This is interesting as this is just under 1 mile from the release site. According to him this is the first Little Owl he had seen in well over 10 years.

After the food had gone from this evenings watch although now getting dark, I crept up and looked behind the release aviary which gave me reasonable view down across the fields. I managed to make out at least 3 of them perched up as silhouettes. One was on a wall about 300 meters away, another was sat out on a dead branch, whilst the last was seen through binoculars at approximately half mile away on the top of a wooden telegraph pole in the middle of a field.

Now getting too dark to see them I retreated back away from the release area, and as I was contemplating leaving a most wonderful chorus of Little owl vocalisation began. As mentioned before this is a really great sign showing some good almost aggressive behaviour meaning, they are now well into sorting themselves out. It was easier this time time pick out all 6 calling as the places they were calling from were quite far apart from each other.

Many thanks for all the e mails I'm getting about the Little Owls progress, and indeed the offers for help with monitoring them, those of you are local will be contacted as to how you can help with this. I have also had a number of questions about the release method used to which I will try and upload onto my website a document which will fully explain the methods used and why it gives them a better chance of establishing themselves which of course lead towards safe yet natural distribution. Lastly I have had a request about supplying a map of their progress, this as a kind of how far they are moving away etc. This is a great idea so thanks. I'm already plotting their activity of Google Earth, I could save this as a j-peg and then upload it as a picture. If anyone has any better ideas please let me know. Also I have had 2 different people ask why we did not put telemetry tags on them. I think I had already covered this, but the reason is quite simple we can't afford it, which is why we need great volunteers out helping to collect data by observations in the field, and of course its a great fun project to get involved with.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Little Owl release-The13th Night. 04.09.08

Another almost 24 hours of rain. When I arrived at the release site it was pouring down. I really feared the worst for tonight's observations and perhaps over did thinking the worst of how the Little Owls would be fairing in the wind and rain. No Little Owls in the release aviary upon my arrival as I placed the food on the board time was 1925hrs, I moved back about 100 metres under a constant dripping tree. 1942hrs getting darker earlier due to the heavy cloud cover no Little Owls seen or heard so far, oh dear. Then just as I went into deep thought mode one of them just appeared as if by magic on the top of the aviary, it made its way to the edge and then plunged onto the hack board grabbed the food and flew off. This was timed at 1944hrs, I had hardly had time to take the note when another flew from my right very close to me heading onto the board, then another Little Owl, now number 3, number 4 then pop out from the every greens trees flew round the back of the aviary then on top of it. It was now raining Little Owls; so in the course of about 2 minutes 4 had returned. And finally by 1949hrs the other 2 were in making 6 (phew!).
My hair stood on end with excitement at seeing them all back in these terrible conditions and the fact they are now roosting (or most of them) further away from the aviary.
Interestingly only 2 of them choose to take the food into the aviary to eat all the others once they had the food withdrew away from the aviary back into the local trees. I had promised to monitor their activity away from what I shall now call their local site (release aviary) The conditions have been too bad to achieve this, but as all are OK and present I do hope to achieve this early next. week. For those of you with an interest in wild owls it does show why this year Little Owls have done so much better than for example Tawny or Barn Owls, they do not need their stealth or silent flight therefore they can over come any problems hunting or just flying in these what seems at times monsoon conditions. I will leave this post with some more good news on Little Owls. I have been monitoring the fortunes of the Little Owls in the Gordano Valley since the 1970's and this year is the first year in the last 8 years that Little Owls have been heard anywhere near my house, yet their back, and now their yelps are filling the evening air at this very moment. What a welcome return!

The Little Owls mentioned in this blog have all been reared and rescued by Secret World and past on to me for release so please do go and see the great work of Secret World at

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Tenons The Environmental Network North Somerset

Last Saturday: I had a great afternoon at the Tenon green event in the town quarry Weston-S-Mare. This was a great day for everyone, which was incredibly well attended (in fact packed).
I did two talks over the loud speaker system, to which my message was for everyone to get involved with Wildlife Conservation within their own area, and that we can make a difference (sorry I don't like the messages from the doom and gloom merchants, as where there's life there's always hope). Present also at this event were representative of already very successful local wildlife groups. This is local people taking direct action for nature conservation within their own areas. It was great to see families coming along to event like this, which really did bridge the gap between green environment issues and nature conservation. For once it felt that when I was doing my two lectures I was not preaching to the converted but talking to new people. I was proud to have been apart of this event and I do really hope they invite me back next year. Well done to the organisers, brilliant event!

Peregrine Falcon

Its funny when I think back to the days when to see a Peregrine Falcon I would have to travel up in to mid Wales or join the crowds at Symonds Yat. I was walking close to home yesterday in the early evening, a lone Peregrine was out on patrol. Slowly gliding effortlessly over the local woodlands. The classic long pointed wing of this big Falcon clearly observed. After the woodlands it flew lower to the ground across the open fields. Something above it had caught its eye, as suddenly it turned on its speed, but this was the opposite of a dive as this bird was going straight up. This was an incredible bit of flying from low rate gliding low to the ground to sudden top speed flying striaght up, this bird was fit.

With binoculars I could make out what was of so much interest, and that was another Peregrine. This one was making its way north to south, indeed if it were not for the first Peregrine I would have never have noticed the second. The first Peregrine closed in, as the second now began moving at speed, but it was trying to get away from the first. The first Peregrine reached a height above the second then dived at it. No sooner had the aerial battle started then it was over as the second Peregrine disappeared from view. The first Peregrine then turned back, but this time kept its height and continued on its patrol. These are the mighty hunters of the Bird of Prey world. Most people rave at watching their aerial hunting skills others however misunderstand them because they are hunters. I think its inspiring that in the year 2008 when we have so much doom and gloom in the conservation world here is bird which has recovered well and become successful after many years of repeated persecution. In my opinion there is only one other Bird of Prey that beats the Peregrine for aerial skill and that's the Hobby!
Enjoy your local wildlife watching.