Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

I'm having a short break but will be back soon.
In the meantime I hope you all have a great Christmas and lets start 09 by saving what we have left in the natural world.

BFN and enjoy.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Eagle Owl in Bristol Part 2

Eagle Owl photographed at Puxton Park forgot its name someone e-mail me please!
Update: Thanks for the e mail Katy.
This wonderful gentle giant is called "Harriet"
You can see her perform at Puxton Park near Weston Super Mare

Well you can't keep a good Owl down, and this one was showing well on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. I was interviewed as part of an item on BBC1's inside out, this story was with regards to the Bristol resident Eagle Owl who the local people have called Oscar. Better give him a latin name to go with that, um, how about Bubo bubo bristolius, well, it sounds good.
The Eagle Owl (Oscar) was roosting in a tree close to the biology department of Bristol University (wise Owl). Almost on cue around dusk, he flew to the Archaeological building and then began calling. Now this was amazing, as he sat proud on top of a chimney lowered his back raised his tail high and blasted out his double noted low toned call across Bristol "Hoo Huu". This continued for a while. What I had established in this time was that he looked like, and was coloured like the nominate race of Eagle Owl, therefore (Bubo bubo bubo) Northern European race, also he was indeed male, and the fact he was displaying so prominently should mean he was feeding well, and was now trying to attract a passing female. For me this is were it gets sad. I'm supposed to give a balanced view, however I could not help thinking as this King of the night hunters was booming out its call, and there was no reply, of course there was not going to be a reply. This Eagle Owl was alone, yet with a whole city protecting him, and even with university students studying him. I need to be careful here of course, because as I said during the interview never try and predict anything, for all I know a female is now making her way to him.

Bristol University students have collected and looked at his pellets (regurgitated, indigestible prey remains) and also backed up with some photographic evidence of what he is eating, such as Brown Rats, and I bet he is also eating Grey Squirrels as they were everywhere within his easy reach, also plenty of feral Pigeons.

The ace cameraman for the BBC was Richard Taylor-Jones, have a look at Richards brilliant Blog Richard seemed proud to be using some infrared gear to capture the night shots of Oscar, this gear on loan from the big cat diary team. This is the picture I took of the Camera (above), indeed it gave some stunning insights into this Eagle Owls nocturnal activity's. The picture below is of the monitor view that Mike Dilger and myself were looking into.

Oscar on the BBC Monitor

There are still many un-answered questions relating to Oscar, but I'm certain that he is of captive origin and not from a wild bred British nest. Sadly there are those creating an air of myth surrounding this bird. Eagle Owls because of their size are capable of much, yet often the myths that surround them can over take the facts.

Once again I talked this through via e mail to my good friend in Sweden Alar Broberg who has had 20 years experience with this species in the wild. I especially focused on questions surrounding diet and the fact of what appears to be the big issue here in the UK, and that is Eagle Owl catching Cats and Dogs. With Alars permission here is his answers.

Alar's response:

The basic food for Eagle owls is rodents and birds to size of a crow.
An eagle owl is a lazy- bird, and will catch the most common food resource that will not fight back too much, it does’t want to get injured. 5 rats are better than one crow.

Some examples of different nesting areas, rubbish dump owls; basically rodents and a very few gulls, owls in the archipelago; gulls, eiders and other waterfowl, owls on the main land ;crows, rodents, mallards.

We radio tracked one male in Stockholm for 6 months. We observed him for about 400 hours, during night time. This male nested and had his territory in Stockholm city.
All kills except one was rodents. The non rodent was possibly a Jackdaw. He could kill and eat up to 5 rodents/moles during 1 hour.
In the nest we found hares, mallards, crows and gulls. They must have been caught by the female.
A full grown hare is too heavy for an Eagle owl to carry during flight. So they are usually cut in pieces.

When the male hunted on a huge open area, where there were often dogs in the area. We could not observe any attack on a dog. On one occasion the male was on the ground and one dog owner told us to keep our dog in a leash. We told her that it is an Eagle owl, so when her dog came to close the male he took off and the owner believed us.

I know of two or three cats that have been attacked by Eagle owls in Sweden (we have approx 800 pairs), all cats where to big for the owl. I assume the owl made a miscalculation in the size of the cat and basically scratched it.

I also know about one dog, but I have also seen common buzzard strike a dog.
Having a dog close to a nesting site will in at least 60% of all case create an attack. The owls prefer to strike on the smaller dog instead of the human. This is pretty common and therefore no dogs are allowed when we are ringing owlets. I have no information of a dog kill in those situations, usually some small scratches.

I can not promise that no attack on dog or cat can happen, but if it happens it’s most likely that that the owl is trying to scare it away from a nesting site.

You should always be careful with big birds with huge talons.

I met Alar In Sweden when we were making the BBC Radio 4 series Owl Prowl and Planet Earth Under Threat, one of the programmes focused on Eagle Owl. Alar took us to one of the Eagle Owl nest sites to ring/band the owlets. Though we were in the nest and handling the 2 young Eagle owlets the parents watched us, but did not defend their owlets as I thought they might. We were issued with protective sunglasses just in case, and yes the adults were close by, and giving alarm calls, but that was it.

Proud moment, me with wild Eagle owlet in Sweden
Picture taken by Tom Arnbom, also with thanks to Alar Broberg and BBC NHU Radio

I was asked and have been e mailed about the future for Oscar. This would be impossible to answer. Though at present he seems to have his regular behaviour, however should his prey status change then it might force a change in his behaviour and maybe his location. But with so many good people looking out for him I do feel sure he is in safe hands with the people of Bristol, and observations of any changes will be forwarded.

And lastly. There are those within conservation that keep complaining about Eagle Owls being liberated from captivity. Yet they are the ones that if they really want to see this brought to heel, could be influencing DEFRA to have all keeping of Eagle Owls and therefore the captive bred offspring as well, registered with DEFRA. Meaning that every Eagle Owl bred or simply kept would be known to DEFRA, and further more every Eagle Owl in captivity should be rung with a DEFRA issued ring. This would stop the doubt about where these Owls come from when they are found in the wild. W ith regard to this idea, it is achievable, probably not priority, because of financing. It is thought that between 3000 and 4000 individual Eagle Owls are kept in captivity in the UK. Remember that's only a guess as this is not a registrable species, so no one really knows. Also don't forget that even if we believe the aforementioned number then a proportion of that number are in pairs and being bred, so the number is going up! In theory

With so many people going to see Oscar and becoming enthused by him, then let us conservationists never forget that this bird has turned a lot of ordinary people into thinking about natural history and its conservation in the City of Bristol. Well done Oscar!

Once again with regards to this blog entry on Eagle Owls, these thoughts and opinions are my own and do not in any way represent the view of any organisation I work for, or am Patron, or Trustee of.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Winters Bite

Winter Sun through the mist
Sunrise frosty morning on meadows near Portishead

Sorry folks been too busy to blog. Over the past week winter has really started to bite down hard with night frosts lasting well into the day, must be time to get the hip flask out. The early morning frost this morning was very special indeed, yet not many birds around, I was expecting a rush of frenzied feeding on my usual very early morning walk. The Redwings and Fieldfares that were so evident just a few days ago have acted like a plague locusts stripping every berry from the Hawthorn, Holly etc. The bad news for us they are now in the gardens.
I say this as they have always been my barometer for how the winter will pan out. We have not had them in the garden for a few years, yet having strip the local fields and woodland edge they are here in the garden. For us this is either bad news or good news. If you like your winters cold then your in for a treat this winter. Blue and Great Tit are showing very well now in the garden as is the Blackcap, Greenfinch is back after a year break, with Wren desperately trying to be king pin. Biggest disappointment, especially after they had such a good breeding season, is Blackbird. This after last winter having eleven in the garden during one morning, but now we only have one.
Marsh Tit

Last Saturday I was on BBC Somerset the weekly news review. One subject I was very keen to get my teeth into, was the fact that Somerset like other areas of UK came out as not having community spirit or no sense of togetherness. Baa, what nonsense. I am so proud to have worked with so many local community's in Somerset, OK this is with a Nature Conservation hat on, and indeed the Community Owls Project (COP) my most recent Community wildlife project, which proves a point that time and time again, people can come together and work towards common goals within their area. I do get quite fed up with the doom and gloom merchants. I suppose if they can talk an economy into recession then they are indeed a powerful force... Yet I will walk out tomorrow with a smile on my face and say hello to everyone I walk past, Why? Simple, this life is not long and sadly you only get one go at it, be happy feel happy, and it will spread, hopefully stopping the gloomy ones from spreading anymore rubbish!
Having this active interest in Wildlife conservation is not just because I want to save animals its because I want to save us. Yes that was a full stop. Thanks for the e mails following the programme and I'm very glad that many of you feel the same way I do, those that did not someone needs to make them feel part of it.

This week I'm out and about checking Owl and Bird Of Prey sites, so I will report back in with how they are fairing during cold snap.   Already Common Buzzards are noted as being very close to roads and easily observed, as is Kestrel, this will be an interesting week...


PS Coming soon, inside the Hornet nest, which means Dave Newton I need the nest!!