Night of 19/20 March (continued)

A mystery visitor at 04.06 am

This is the real catch of the night's recording. Another female turns up at the nestbox and does just one hoot. Mrs Owl didn't respond. It could, of course, have been Mrs Owl, but in all the hundreds of calls I've heard from her I have never heard her make this call, and indeed I'd be surprised to hear her do it as it's a call I'm increasingly sure is made by unmarried females. Not only that, but the context is wrong -- a nesting female would have no reason to make this call, which is a self-announcing call, much as to say "This is me, I'm here", just like some of the male hoots really. A nesting female seems to restrict herself to soft contact (kewick) calls, probably to encourage her husband in his extra hunting efforts. Anyway, here it is.

Mystery visitor 160 kb, 8 s

Why I'm pleased to have caught this is that in spring last year I recorded a female going around with Mr and Mrs Owl, and I heard her on two occasions subsequently, once in August 2007 and the other earlier this March, both times in the middle wood. Here she is the first time I heard her, soon after dawn on 25 April 2007. I was camped under the nestbox in its old location, and she's in the company of Mrs Owl. I think that's Mrs O first, followed by junior.

Female April 2007 300 kb, 15 s

I'd heard this female -- much to my surprise -- apparently accompanying Mr Owl while he hunted earlier that night in two quite separate locations in the fields to the north. On these occasions I'm fairly sure she was making female hoots rather than kewicks . . otherwise I wouldn't have started to suspect he was with another female. Then the two females came to the nestbox and the matter was settled.

So who is this female, and what's she up to? I'm pretty sure she's new in the area since some time in 2006 as we've not heard an owl in the middle wood area before I heard her in August 2007, and there's good reason to suppose that she's the one who was going round with Mr and Mrs a year ago. As she is now in the middle wood she must still be sharing territory with the two main owls. The $64 question is, is she one of Mr and Mrs Owls' offspring from 2006, when they used the nestbox, and was it because there was still a child around that they didn't breed in 2007? Unfortunately this question is unanswerable as it will be impossible to identify her positively as one of that brood. Expert opinion, and the statistics, say she is not (see the 2007 Update page for more), but, well, I do wonder. Barred Owl kids may still be with their parents a year later, according to the OwlCam author, and these owls are close cousins of tawnies.

Anyway, it'll be fascinating to see if this little bird's got plans to help out with this year's nesting.

Visit no. 5 at 04.50 am

After the fourth visit at half past midnight there was a gap of over 4 hours before the fifth visit. Incidentally, other than during visits, Mrs Owl had kept entirely quiet since calling on the three occasions between 8.40 and about 10 pm. Maybe she was sufficiently entertained by the barking dogs and foxes, the calls of pheasant, and the ceaseless roar of traffic. Then in he came . . . and after just 29 seconds the recorder decided it had done enough for the night and switched itself off. Here's what it got -- fairly routine really.

Fifth visit 0.6 Mb, 29 s

There may well have been another visit later, and it's quite possible he had already made one visit before I turned up the previous evening, making a possible total of seven visits.

 

Other characters in the wood

In the 2006 nesting season, and in a Nightingale recording made nearby in 2005, there was another "night bird" around that had me totally baffled. It seems to roost in trees above a style to the fields on the owls' territory and flies around their fields at night. A post with a sound clip on Bird Forum (www.birdforum.net) quickly had the problem sorted out . . a Dutch member who'd done a web page on the calls Coots make at night recognised it as a Moorhen. Here's the Moorhen, still coexisting happily with our owls, at 11.20 pm and seemingly in its roost tree. A little later I heard it once, this time faintly and probably on a sortie over the fields.

Moorhen 11.20pm 180 kb, 9 s

The Nightingale hasn't yet turned up from wherever he winters in Africa, but I'm sure to hear him when he does. He sings from tall trees about 250 yards to the north -- and should do again soon if he makes it over Italian or Spanish guns. Here he is being interrupted by the Moorhen in 2005. You'll see how easy it was to get confused over the identity of this interloper.

Nightingale & Moorhen 0.6 Mb, 30 s

What I haven't heard yet is the heavy whoosh whoosh of Grey Herons' wings as they pass overhead at regular intervals during the night. Heaven knows why they do this -- we never see them flying during the day.

The nestbox is quite an elaborate affair, built after Mrs Owl lost two sets of chicks from nests in 2003 and 2004. The lower pic shows that it's quite roomy — that's Sophie, the only surviving chick from 2005 when Mrs Owl ignored the box and had another brood on a nearby nest. Sophie fell and was lucky to be found by me the next morning. If there was another chick, it didn't live to tell the tale.

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Other relevant stuff on site

I haven't yet done a dedicated page on this female tawny and our involvement with her since 2003, but you can glean quite a bit from the accounts of her various children in Our Owls. Her previous (successful) nesting attempt is documented in the Tawny Owl Nesting Diary 2006, but you'd have to be really determined to get through that!

My take on why tawny nestlings are so prone to falling off twig nests is set out here: No Homes for Tawnies Part 2. It's a problem that's plagued this pair, and I'm pretty sure I'm correct about why it happens. In fact it would be blindingly obvious to anyone who's seen the behaviour of tawny nestlings.

Lots on nestbox design in the Nestboxes for Tawny Owls section, where I'm afraid I sound off a bit on the perfectly dreadful traditional tubes endorsed by the BTO and RSPB and sold by many retailers. Anyone who feels queasy about offering their tawnies such cramped quarters will find some friendlier designs there.

How to set up, operate and record from a nestbox camera is dealt with quite extensively on Adding a camera (page 8 of the Nestbox section).

The Tawny Owls main page is the navigation page for what I have on this site for these owls.

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