Monday, 13 September 2010

The Quiet Time

September is a strange month. No longer blessed with light until 9pm, the struggle starts to find the time to get out and use the camera. To compound this, subjects are harder to come by. Most nests are now empty (save for a few late broods), migratory birds are well on their way to warmer climes and activity dwindles. Reports of activity are also harder to come by. When the weather turns, so does the desire for walking and other outdoor pursuits that bring people close to wildlife. Things may pick up as winter approaches and food becomes more hard to come by.

I've been scouring t'net for blogs and news about Barn Owls. In particular, I've been trying to get a feel for how successful this year has been for breeding. From what I can gather, it's a bit of a North/South split. Whilst down here we enjoyed a fine June and start to July, the North of the UK experienced something of a mixed weather bag this summer. There are reports of up to 25% of young Barn Owls dying of starvation in the North East during July. The middle of summer is a crucial time for the young - they're learning to fly and then hunt. Rain is bad news - for quiet, efficient flight their feathers are very light and not at all weather proof. Consequently a wise Barn Owl stays out of the rain, but will be forced to venture out if it lasts too long. The effect of bad weather is two-fold; adults can not provide food and the owlets cannot develop their own means of sustaining themselves; it seems many perished as a result.

In the South, however, the buzz is more positive. Plenty of reports of 2+ broods, few failures and good weather that lasted toward the end of July. We've had fewer periods of prolonged rain and hopefully that's given the class of 2010 a head start as they disperse from their nest sites. More circumstantial evidence from the roads - I've been keeping an eye out on the A24, A27, M23 and other main roads I use frequently - just the one squashed object that vaguely resembled what could have been a Barn Owl so far. And as road kill goes, it's pretty distinctive. Of course major roads aren't the only roads they die on; minor rural routes are also a big threat and casualties are less likely to be seen or reported.

The real test for the young 'uns starts in the coming months. It'll be interesting to see if and where any of the "Horsham five" ringed birds turn up. The other concern is whether our missing adult female is replaced (I'm assuming the worst) - if she is it more likely to be an inbound dispersal from another nest rather than one staying around. Fingers crossed...


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