3 April -- Kent

WHEN I ARRIVE at Corinne's parents' home (where the owls are) with this website on a disk we find it can't be used because three fonts it uses are not on the computer there. Damn! The previous time the slightly different version of the website-making software on the computer said it couldn't open my site, so I'd taken the precaution of bringing my own version of the program. So for the second time I won't be able to update the nesting diary while down here. Cussed things computers.

Go down to the wood with camcorder to check on Mrs Owl in her nestbox. She's there, but sitting low so it's not worth trying to film. Wish I had a step ladder with one of those flaps you can stand on to give an extra 6 feet of height. There are no trees one could climb -- the trunks of nearby trees (oaks) are all branchless for at least 20 ft.

In the morning receive an email from the forest manager who says there's some thinning to be done in the nestbox owls' conifer patch this year but goes on to ask when we think the young owls will fledge. Now that's considerate!

Slightly concerned because I hear not a squeak from the female in the pine behind the house despite listening several times after dark. I still want to see or hear something that proves beyond all doubt there's a nest up there as it's impossible to see anything from the ground.


4 April -- Buy a tent to use as a hide underneath the nestbox owls

TODAY WE WENT SHOPPING in Tenterden. Food shopping mainly, at Tesco's. But I also went along to the remarkable fisherman's shop that Tenterden has and found a good tent. The owner -- who knows I'm into owls -- tells me that there's a Barn Owl where he fishes on a dyke near Rolvenden. "Noisy" he says, "surprised it catches anything." I look puzzled. Is he talking about its screech? No, it's a noisy flyer. Ah, one of the great myths about owls. They are actually quite noisy creatures in powered flight. But it's interesting to hear that Barn Owls are noisy too.

The tent is to pitch near the nestbox pair so that I can record at night without disturbing them. After looking at some hide material -- looks like something for camouflaging a tank -- I decided I needed something that will keep the rain off me and my equipment. But the tent's a little conspicuous so maybe next time we go in I'll get some to drape over it.

Late this evening the event happens that I've been hoping and praying for. Before turning in I go along to a spare room with windows that face the pine nest. An owl is hooting somewhere in the middle distance, and the pine nest female is answering! I rush to assemble recording gear, starting it up as I hurry back along the corridor two minutes later. Shove the dish out of the window. They're still talking. But damn! Haven't got the adapter for the headphone minijack, so have to control the recording from levels alone and hope I'm pointing in the right direction.

Here's the recording. When a female's on eggs the male comes in four or five times a night, usually with food, and there's often an enthusiastic reunion. Here this female clearly flies off the nest to meet her man, and there's quite a bit of flying around and even some crashing against branches.

There's a long version and a shorter version. Both are excerpts from an encounter that took 6 or 7 minutes from the first distant call of the male, and both start from just before they finally meet up, nearly 5 minutes after his first hoots. Neither excerpt goes right to the end of the recording, when the female settled down and, after a series of loud calls, became silent.

Pine nest owls long 2.5 Mb mp3, 160 kb/s, 16/44.1, 2 min 15 s, recorded with Telinga mic + dish

Pine nest owls short 690 kb mp3, 128 kb/s, 16/44.1, 44 s

It's characteristic of this (pine nest) male that he signals his intention to visit -- and presumably the fact that he's just caught something -- several minutes before he turns up. The nestbox male never does this -- he seems to like giving his wife a surprise by arriving unannounced!

5 April -- Prospecting for a camp site

THE WEATHER IS CHANGING. Nights are cold, even frosty, but the days are becoming bright and mild. Nothing has come into leaf yet, but from a distance the bare woods have acquired a red glow that presages the riot of bright spring green to come. Broken stratocumulus passing lazily by show that there's ground warming. It doesn't feel like winter any more.

Around 4 in the afternoon I went to check the nestbox. Mrs O is still keeping low, so again I gave up the idea of getting film and instead walked up close, leaving the camera behind. It looks incongruous in the woods on its tripod.

There are two or three reasons for walking up on the nestbox. I want to see if there's a place to put the tent that's close enough to allow me to operate with 25-ft lengths of cable. This is for a couple of large Rode NT1-A mics that need to be hoist up on booms. They don't have to be all that close to the nestbox because tawnies are loud and I'd like some ambience in the recordings.

Second, I need a flat piece of ground, and some concealment from passers-by on the footpath would be desirable. The owls may know us, but visits by unfamiliar people to look at the tent could be disturbing. Well, there is some low cover -- or will be! It's oak scrub, but just now it's entirely bare and conceals nothing at all.

I also want to see if Mrs O will stay put when I approach within 20-25 yards of the nestbox. To my relief she does, so to accustom her further to my presence I sat against the trunk of a young oak for a time and just enjoyed the wood. She proves to be unruffled by coughs, the rustling of last year's dry oak leaves when I change position, or even my efforts to strike up a conversation. Mad you might say, but birds are responsive to the human voice and I want her to hear that there's no threat in the tone. We have talked to her quite a bit in past years and I've little doubt she knows our voices by now. Tawnies have a quick intelligence and she may even remember that we address her as "Mrs Owl"! Captive owls begin responding to words ("food" and their names being obvious examples) at a much younger age than other birds I have kept. Anyway, I need to know that she won't be disturbed by activities close to the nestbox.

Her mate is another matter -- he is not nearly as familiar with us and in 2004, the only year we've seen him, would fly off if we approached too close or hung around too long. He too is a magnificent bird with a distinctly foxy tinge to his face and an imperious mien. Quite independently the thought that came into our heads when we first saw him was that he was like a lion. A lord of the owls.


IN THE EVENING we drove to three locations in the lanes to try out the Sennheiser MKH 20s on birdsong (see next page). Strangely, they work perfectly well with another recording machine. When we returned we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pine tree female flitting around in the last of the evening light.

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