5 April (cont.) -- A walk in the lanes

A beautiful if chilly evening walk. Two pics taken from Halden lane (below) give some idea of the light. Once in 2004 we were lucky enough to find a flock of Lapwing feeding in the field on the left -- it was ploughed at the time. A magical experience when they took to the air, uttering their unearthly, haunting cries as they darted and plunged with consummate aerobatic skill.

Views from Halden Lane

Our last port of call was the wonderfully named Frog's Hole Bottom, where Corinne had heard no fewer than three Song Thrushes singing one previous evening. The Bottom is a steep dip with a pond and a stream surrounded by trees. Acoustically it's a bit of a birds' concert hall, so I wanted to try recording with the Sennheisers. The pic on the right is a view out across the fields downstream from the topographic bowl in which the pond lies. The thrushes sing in the belt of trees on the right,which follows the stream.

There's an excerpt below, consisting of three bits that I've slung together with no cross-fade as my sound program tends to crash in the attempt. I've included as many thrush "riffs" as I can -- the thrush's cousin the robin does something similar except that it goes both up and down the scale. Two such riffs are heard right at the beginning. There's some splashing from a Coot, high-pitched tseets from an unidentified bird (Goldcrest?) near the end, and just plain countryside noise which reaches even this secluded dip during the day.

View from Frog's Hole Bottom

(taken 9 March 2006)

Sennheiser MKH20 extracts 2.5 Mb mp3, 160 kb/s, 16/44.1. These mics are omnis and produce quite a nice stereo image (by phase difference) when simply held about 20 inches apart and facing in the same direction. Most of the time here I was waving one at the coot on the pond behind, so don't expect a consistent image! But boy, what a nice sound, as you might expect from a couple of mics that cost around 1,500 for a new pair. Smooth, sweet and full in the treble.

The pine nest owls

On our return to the house we immediately heard the male partner of the pine nest owls calling. As I raised my binos Corinne saw the female fly off the nest into the wood behind to join him. I stayed around after she went in and was lucky enough to see her shadowy shape come swooping back up to the nest.

The pics below, taken earlier in the day, show the group of three or four pines in which they are nesting. In the middle pic, the nest is at the top of the tree on the left. The telephoto pic on the right shows the dense mass of the crown (left side) which makes it impossible to get a view over the top of the nest.

Owly, our first tawny chick, was released in the trees just 50 yards behind these pines. That's one reason why we hope the male of this pair is him.

What it has been possible to see is that the two crows' nests up in those pines provide more extensive platforms than the crows' nests Mrs Owl has been using. One reason is that there is a denser mat of pine branches and twigs in the crowns. Could it be that these non-plantation pines are healthier than those in the managed conifer stands in the woods behind, which are planted close together and so have to compete against each other for height, producing tall, spindly trunks and weaker growth in the crowded, less well-lit crowns? Whatever, this owl pair may have a better chance of raising their young than Mrs Owl did. It's interesting that in 2004 another pair up in the eastern part of the wood used a broad nest supported by a dense mat of small branches at the top of a cedar. Two chicks fledged successfully, demonstrating that it is possible to raise owlets on suitable twig nests!

You can almost hear the ponderous title of the scientific paper that could be written on the subject: "Influence of nesting choice on the reproductive success of Tawny Owls (Strix aluco)"! But it's a choice that means life or death for the chicks.


6 April -- Back to London

OFF EARLY to Colchester to return the Sennheisers. This time there seem to be fewer fresh corpses on the northbound side, but on the return journey the slaughter on the southbound carriageway is appalling. In one place a white wing rises stiffly from a culvert -- a Barn Owl? Also a fox this time, and in one place a cat. There were three bird corpses in one 100-yard stretch.


7 April

IN LONDON for the next few days doing work but thinking owls.

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