Friday 28 November 2008

Owl Prowl sucsess for the National Trust

Just over a week ago I did an Owl prowl for the National Trust, this in the most amazing setting of Montacute House and grounds. The rain fell throughout and this event was extremely well attended, but apart from getting wet, people were left in awe as wild Little Owls and Tawny Owls not only gave their vocal display, but also put in a appearance as well. The Tawny Owls, a Male and Female were particularly visual as they flew round the House itself, this giving magnificent views of them as they flew through the lights that illuminates the old mansion. I feel sure the Owls use these lights and the height that the house gives them. This of course for easy access to prey such as Mice and Rats. As usual on these Owl Prowls no one went away disappointed, even though it rained constantly. My very special thanks to Gemma at Montacute House for organising this Owl Prowl. And thanks to all of you who keep e mailing about Owl Prowls. Yes I'm doing more, if you want to go on one then e mail your interest and I will put you on the Owl Prowl mailing list. Also thanks for the e mail about doing Owl prowls in other areas, again no problem, just tell me what you want, where you want and how many people and we can organise something. I will do private as well as public Owl Prowls, however U.S.A is a bit far (yes I have had one request from U.S.A) unless you want to pay for the airfare, then I'm game to do it.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Compton Dundon Talk for the arson attacked Owls

Well the turn out for this talk was staggering! This of course was a talk I wanted to do for the people of Compton Dundon, who were so caring with their quick response when a family of wild Barn Owls were burnt to death in an arson attack on a farmers barn.

We had a small group of us that organised this event, and were delighted that the Hawk and Owl Trust had donated 2 raffle prizes, also that Cotleigh Brewery (makers of fine real ales named after Birds of Prey and Owls) donated 2 raffle prizes, with one being a never to be repeated complete gift pack of Barn Owl Beer.

We were all gob smacked when after 100 chairs were placed out we had to add two more rows!

I'm not going to say any more, the rest of this posting is the words of Jenny Rowson from Compton Dundon. But I will just finish my bit by saying a huge thank you everyone who helped and joined in the fun of the evening.

Words By Jenny Rowson of Compton Dundon

Last Friday evening November 21st Chris Sperring MBE, world famous naturalist, broadcaster and Conservation Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust gave a most enjoyable talk about owls at the Meadway Hall in Compton Dundon. His talk was free of charge and was dedicated to the villagers because, as he put it, of their magnificent response during the summer 2008 when an arson attack on a farmers barn caused the young Barn Owls to be burnt to death in the fire.

The village had collected over £100 for the Hawk and Owl Trust and also provided a replacement owl box which, on advice, was erected close to the destroyed one. Chris applauded the concern and rallying round shown after the disaster and rewarded the community with an extremely informative, interesting and at times amusing talk assisted by a superb visual display and Chris's amazing ability to demonstrate owl calls.

Chris was very enthusiastic about the area surrounding Compton Dundon which apparently is very good owl country with its open grassland, scrub land and abundance of trees and he emphasised the importance of leaving strips of long grass around fields to encourage mice and voles for the owls.

Tom and Jenny Rowson who were instrumental in replacing the owl box, with the support of J & F Clark Trust, helped to organise the evening and were apprehensive about the number of people who would attend. However, they need not have worried because the response was beyond expectations resulting in an audience of over 130 people who generously bought raffle tickets, owl trinkets, owl and bird boxes and refreshments. The unanimous verdict was that the evening had been informative, inspiring, thoroughly enjoyable and a great success.

Chris brought along his two captive owls, Otus and Beau who were very beautiful and caused a great deal of admiration, interest and photographing. The audience were allowed to see these magnificent tame birds extremely close up which was a wonderful experience.
The Hawk and Owl Trust Chairman, Barbara Handley, was in charge of membership and Adopt-a-Box sign-up and although it is not yet known how many people joined the Trust on the night, several forms were taken away.
After deducting expenses such as hire of the hall and raffle prizes other than those donated, £250 was raised on the evening which Chris and the Trust were delighted with.

My words again. From Death comes life, and the fact that so many people which included so many landowners turned out for this event means that wildlife has been firmly put on the agenda in this small, yet precious part of Somerset. I have now to follow up on new farm visits to farmers, who all want to help Owls (which means all wildlife). Brilliant! I love people! And I love Wildlife......... This should give everyone faith in the fact that we as a species can turn a wrong into a right.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Kestrel vs Tick

I was called out to a local Primary School to look at a Kestrel which was looking under the weather and hanging round the School. I must admit my first thought was "oh no not another tame Kestrel hanging around people". I was wrong, when I arrived the staff showed me the wild male Kestrel which was perched on the ground in the leaves, looking very fluffed up trying to keep warm due to its poor condition.
It was not until I picked it up I could see why it was holding its eye shut, and this also explained its poor condition. Look at the picture and look closely under the eye. What you will see is the large body of a Tick. The Kestrel appeared not only in pain, but also upon handling was very thin indeed. First job once back home was removal of the Tick, this was done very quickly, then ensuring the Kestrel was warm and fed. Within 4 hours the Kestrel had perked up so much that it thanked me by grabbing my finger and drawing a good mount of blood from me, clearly this bird was on the mend. It may seem surprising that a tick could down something like a Kestrel. However the location of the tick around the eye was causing this bird a lot of distress, this had impaired its hunting which had meant it began to lose condition.

This Kestrel is now in a large aviary and will be released in a few days. I just want to make sure the Kestrel is back up to its right weight and of course there is nothing else wrong, but at the moment it looks fine and seems to have recovered, meaning of course that the Tick did down the Kestrel.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Crewkerne RSPB Members Owl Talk

Great to see so many people at tonight's RSPB members group in Crewkerne. I did an updated Owl talk, keeping it local, but with Eagle owl added in. This because of the hype surrounding this bird. New Owl Friends were made at this talk, and it was good meet people who had made the great connection between all living things. My big thrust at the moment is that nothing lives in isolation, which of course includes us!

Friday night sees me talking in Compton Dundon, this talk is for the community in the parish, and their magnificent response during the summer 2008 when an arson attack on a farmers barn caused the young Barn Owls to be burnt to death in the fire. The concern and rallying round this community did has to be applauded and my talk tomorrow night is dedicated to them.

People and Wildlife Works....

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Last of the Hornets November 08

There has been lots of interest from you about the Hornet nest that I had been talking about on this blog. As so many have asked how they are and with it being November, I took a walk into the local woodlands to see if the nest was still active. As its now November 19, and we have had a few night frosts, I was expecting to find the nest deserted and all the workers dead after the busy yet successful summer.

Look carefully at the picture above and this was sight that greeted me at the nest, this is looking inside the nest entrance. If you look carefully you can see the sad sight of one of the Hornet workers dead on the entrance floor. I waited for about 10 minutes outside the nest, there was none of the frantic coming and goings or even constant humming sound of Hornets. The only sound around me was from a party of Long tailed Tits feeding in the trees surrounding the nest.

Yet after about 15 minutes emerging from the back of the nest came a live worker, the picture above shows this worker now out of the entrance hole and on the nest tree getting ready for take off. The worker flew off through the wood in search of an ever dwindling food supply of live insects. After waiting for while longer no other Hornets emerged, or like wise did any others return to the nest. Casting my thoughts back to just a month ago, when in the same amount of time I would have spent with them, I would have witnessed over a 100 emergence's and returns to the nest. This made me ponder as to whether if I had not just witnessed the last of the Hornets. Yet again when this one left the nest it hummed around my head a few times, then flew off. Though obviously sluggish compared to even a month ago, still no aggression towards me being so close to its nest.
It is sad that such a titan amongst insects ends this way, however from these deaths young Queens will go on, finding places to hibernate through the winter months emerging in the spring to hopefully give us another Hornet spectacle in 2009.

I feel sure that this monster insect if it could talk, at this time of the year they might say something like "WE'LL BE BACK"!

Sunday 16 November 2008

World On the Move BBC Radio 4 This Tuesday....

Dear all. Don't forget I will be reporting again for World On the Move BBC radio 4 this Tuesday at 11.00 from a location? The subject is, well there is a clue in the picture.
Please send comments in, it is so good to hear from people who have been following this mega radio series on animal migrations. It could not be done on TV, so it is unique and just proves the power of Radio. If you miss the programme don't forget to listen again at the world on the move website.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Starling Special

The weather was kind and the Starlings performed. Today I led a group from Dillington House on to the Somerset levels to witness one of the UK's wildlife specials, that of course is the gathering of Starlings before they go to roost. Some have said up to 15 Million Starlings can gather on the Somerset Levels. I feel sure it was not anywhere near that number, however I must state that I did not have time to count them in. They began appearing from all directions around 1545 hours and headed from Natural England's Shapwick Heath nature reserve over to the RSPB reserve of Ham Wall. Its here that we caught up with them. At 1605 they were gathering over the main reed bed, and a quite spectacular display, (yes I have seen a few, and this one was good). When the flock builds up, being constantly fed with new birds moving in from what seems all directions, the flock appears to act as one unit, and they twist and turn avoiding predators with their amazing aerial shapes. Someone said "when the flock turns and the starlings become closer to each other, they look like a giant bird". I found that an interesting description, and maybe a deliberate anti predator strategy. By 1640hrs all the Starlings were down in the reed bed and safe, or that is until the night hunters venture out. One thing that gripped me by this spectacular event is that, not so many years ago this bird was referred to as a pest, yet now because of its UK breeding numbers decline of 50% of the total population, the Starling is now described as a red listed species on the Birds Of Conservation List (BCC). I remember as a young boy studying the Starlings that bred in my parents house, counting the young they produced each year, also having having an average of 30 to 40 individuals in the summer in the garden, when the birds got fed. Now when returning to this house there are no breeding Starlings, and no Starling at all feeding on the bird tables of the area.
If there is a moral to this, then it must be a clear message to us involved in conservation to never take any common species for granted. We are full of lists of species which are on decline, either Amber or Red listed, but those that are green species (in other words doing well) should not be forgotten in our modern world of conservation lists. Priority's for species such as the Starling and House Sparrow are the examples of how the common ones can become the Red listed species, almost over night (ish). You are probably thinking, "so where have all the Starlings come from now on the Somerset Levels"? Well, the answer is some of them will be coming from local areas. Many more however will have made long journeys from Europe to seek out the milder climate of south west England.
The pictures accompanying this post are not from today's event, but are from the same locations taken around a year ago. The mass roosting of Starlings should last through until February, well worth a visit, but please support those organisations that look after this wonderful part of England. Starling gatherings and roosting can be on three areas the RSPB's Ham Wall reserve, Natural England's, Shapwick Heath reserve or The Somerset Wildlife Trusts Westhay Moor reserve. Indeed is you go to Somerset Wildlife Trusts website you will find a hotline number giving you update information on the Starlings on the Levels.

Saturday 8 November 2008

E mails answered. Short eared Owls are back!

Thanks for the e mails, sorry I have not been able to respond, been busy with Hawk and Owl Trust work. Community Owls Projects (COP) is going very well with members of public are engaged and collecting a lot of data from their own areas. Also now writing up all the summer activity's, with a Long-eared Owl report due out very soon. I have also to prepare for the new Long-eared Owl project which is now only 2 months away from starting.
The barn owl that so many people have e-mailed about (this is the one rescued by Kate Lawrence of the Somerset Wildlife Trust), is I'm pleased to say doing very well indeed, so as soon as these weekend storms are over it will be ready to be released. Remember this is a wild bird, and is being released not far from where it was found. The other topic you have been mailing about is World On the Move, once again thanks for the comments about me presenting from Welney and Cornwall, one thing I have learned is my feelings about my part when its over are nearly always wrong. The consistency seems to come from you who listen to it either on radio or on the WOTM website. Perhaps its a big failure of my character in being too critical of myself. I would like to think its a way of continuing to better myself. Anyway thanks for all the comments. Yes I am going on again this time on the 18th of November.
I went for a walk to Portbury Dock this morning and the Goldfinchs (picture of one above for reference) were everywhere, along with Teal and Widgeon towards the sea wall. But the climax was seeing the winter Owl as in a Short-eared Owl. This was a male, and may well be only passing through the area, however it did a lovely low circle and hover over the reeds, before moving out of sight. If anyone see's Short-eared Owls around the Severn Estuary or other inland sites in the South West this winter 08/09, I would delighted to receive the information. I have been collecting data on sites used by wintering Short-eareds for a number of years, what I need from you is date/time of observation and location, if you see the owl more than once on separate visits this will be a bonus for me, what it was doing is important, so if you have the details then its good to make note of its activity as in hunting or roosting etc.
Picture of Short-eared to follow :) D'oh!

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Water Voles Survey and Training session at Shapwick Moor

I led a training/survey session on Water Voles on the Hawk and Owl Trust nature reserve "Shapwick Moor". About 20 people during the whole day joined me which was great to know there is still some interest in this fascinating Vole. We found fresh water vole evidence through the main rhynes (water ditches) which proved that the reserve has a very high population, indeed we could clearly see many signs of population pressure. Example of which was holes being constructed away from the bank side and out into the fields themselves. Many of the smaller side ditches should have had Water Voles, but here because of a lack of management in the past bank side succession was taking place with bramble and Hawthorn being the main culprit, also the water itself was suffering through being choked by vegetation. We clearly identified where conservation work could help the species, but the main message coming from this survey and training session was that Water Voles are doing extremely well on the Hawk and Owl Trust's Shapwick Moor nature reserve. Anyone in Somerset that wants to help on the reserve can contact me direct on and I will put you in touch with the Volunteer leaders. The Shapwick Moor volunteers meet once a month. I carry out Water Vole surveys and also lead training sessions anyone interested in these please just e mail me. I will be surveying Water Voles at Portbury, and slected parts of the Somerset Levels very soon.
Me telling a volunteer there's a real live Water Vole in the water

Volunteer then dives in Water for a closer look!
Hawk and Owl Trust Shapwick Moor volunteers Water Vole Surveying
Well used Water Vole hole
Water Vole feeding signs and bankside hole
Great thanks to Philip Noad who took these pictures of the training/survey session.
For more information about Hawk and Owl Trust and how to join go to 

Saturday 1 November 2008

Winters first blast! And Why BTO Ringing works!!!

Young wild Barn owl hunting
Fieldfares feeding on hawthorn berries
Snow in October? Well some did get snow, seems here in good olde Somerset we have had a couple of night frost, then a real icy wind from the north east which seems to go straight through you when you are out walking. Suddenly both Redwings and Fieldfares (wintering Thrushes) seem to be everywhere, and in big numbers. With the cold weather has come the first of this winters causalities, and not surprising its a predator who has run out of food first. In this case a young barn Owl. This is a male which was found on a farm on the Mendip Hills. It carried with it a ring number, this corresponded to a ring I put on it on July 23rd, it was the youngest of a brood 4 which hatched from original clutch of 6 eggs. The farm it hatched on was approximately half a mile from the farm it was found on some 3 months later. It was found around 2 weeks ago seemingly downed itself as many young predators do, simply with not enough food.
Transferred by a Somerset Wildlife Trust officer to a Wildlife rehab centre and then back to the Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT) officer for release. The SWT officer had the good sense to realise that she already had barn Owls on her land (so not a good idea to release another), so called me in, at which time I am then re-united with a wild Owl I had met 3 months earlier. I now have the owl placed in a release aviary on Mendip over land which has no current barn Owls on it, yet does have some great hunting habitat for it. As this bird looks in A1 condition we will not hold it long just make sure of its capability, and of course some good weather before its released. This Owl is now just 3 miles from the farm it was hatched, although its total mileage is probably well over 40 miles, 98% has been as a passenger in a car.

Very special thanks to Kate Lawrence (SWT) and once again to Paula, this in advance of her help with yet some more monitoring, this time with a wild Owl that hatched at her farm.

For more information about the Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT)go to