Wednesday, 18 March 2015

RIP GR87420

Last year was a good one for barn owls and their numbers bounced back after a disastrous previous two years. Again we started seeing them hunting over the farm, their ghostly shape patrolling the dykes and areas of rough grassland.
Our land is absolutely full of voles. The long grass areas are ideal for them, with a thick layer of thatch allowing them to burrow underneath. In turn, this makes excellent hunting for owls and also for the weasels which I regularly see.

This post, however, concerns sadder news for our barn owls. For at the back end of last year I found a dead barn owl in one of the cast iron baths in which we store water down near the pig pen and chicken enclosure. Remarkably, I found another in the same place just a few days later. I consulted the website of the Barn Owl Trust and found that females especially, after nesting, are prone to falling into water troughs and drowning. They advocate building a raft to float on the water, but it's far from straightforward and wouldn't last long anyway. It's a shame they haven't managed to come up with a simpler solution. I have now placed a wooden cover over the offending bath.

A sad end for an amazing bird
Anyway, the loss of two barn owls, sad as it seems, is probably not too disastrous for the local population which has bounced back well.  Shortly after this sad event I saw three birds together over the sheep paddock. This is most unusual. This spring there have been plenty of barn owl sightings on the farm. Indeed of late they have regularly been hunting during the day, a sign that they are probably feeding young.
Now I would have thought that the two dead birds from last year emanated from the owl box over by the river, not 300 yards from my land. One bird had a ring on its leg so I submitted the details to the BTO. Months went past and I heard nothing, until eventually I completely forgot about it. Seemingly not everything these days is instant.
But then, last week, I received an email informing me that GR87420 was in fact ringed as a nestling near Whittlesey on 9th June 2014. 96 days later I found it dead on 13th September 2014. So in it's short 3 month life it had travelled 16km from its birthplace. Not an amazing bird movement, but somewhat of a surprise nonetheless.

As a final aside, both owl corpses went into the compost bin. I like to think that the spirit of the fenland barn owl lives on in my soil.

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