Night of 2 to 3 May -- Nestbox owls

THE MALE DID NOT VISIT at all tonight. In fact I didn't even hear him. Mrs Owl left the nestbox fairly early on and appears to have gone off to spend time with him. The distinct impression was of a sulking owl who was refusing to come near the nestbox while the human monster was hiding beneath! I'm sure he'll be back as it's his territory, his wife and his kids. But it gave me good good reason to take the pressure off them and spend the next night under the pine nest owls.


Night of 3 to 4 May -- Pine nest owls

I was feeling pretty sleep-deprived by now, and after a good supper watching The Apprentice on telly and a glass of wine I felt like calling it all off and throwing myself into a bed for a good night's sleep. The funny thing is you drag yourself outside and ten minutes later feel fine. Especially when the first owl visit starts just minutes after you've begun recording!

On this particular night I spent all the with the pine nest owls behind the house. The previous night's experience suggested it was time to give the nestbox owls a break.

There was lots of activity and the main finding was that there are no less than three pairs of tawnies with territories near the house. Another nice finding, demonstrated in one recording, is that the male brings his wife food when she's minding the eggs. And eight hours of close listening showed fairly conclusively that the eggs have not hatched in this nest. Are they going to? . . . or did the female spend some days on the nest before laying?

The rather amusing sound sample below was made at 11.20pm (GMT). It's the male's second recorded visit of the night. Usually he makes a leisurely approach, announcing himself long beforehand with distant hoots. This time the first hoot came just 40 seconds before he arrived, and when he did it was clear there was something in his beak. Seconds later she's the one who has difficulty calling through whatever is in her gape. There are two excerpts, one long and one short. The short one is the main part of the encounter.

Feed at pine nest (long) 2.2 Mb mp3, 160 b/s. Rode NT1-A microphones

Feed at pine nest 600 kb mp3, 128 b/s. Rode NT1-A microphones

Below is something I should be putting up more of -- a log of the night's activities. The problem is it requires trawling through all the recordings, which can only be done when everything's been got off the recorders and logged. There are about 8.5 hours of recordings for this night alone. I suppose I should be grateful that the camcorder's little use at this nest!

Time log for the pine nest owls 3-4th May

All times GMT (add 1 hour for BST)


~8.30 pm Set up Rode NT1-A mics near pines and put out chair. Unsuccessful hunt for garden table, settle for polystyrene block to put Edirol recorder on. Portadisc goes upright on grass.

8-9 pm Watch Apprentice (and Paul being fired), eat supper.


10 - 11 pm

10.00 pm Go outside and switch on. There has probably been one, and possibly two, previous visits as we've heard these owls starting as early as 8 pm GMT (9 pm BST).

10.10 pm Male hoots in middle distance. He makes a long approach.

10.15 pm She flies off for brief meet-up in wood behind. (VISIT 1)

10.16:30 pm She returns to nest and goes on calling for some minutes.

10.55 pm She calls a few times. No hoots. Bat clicks.


11 pm - 12 am

11.19 pm Male visits. Only one hoot to signal his approach -- beak full? He arrives just 40 s later. This is the "feed" recording. (VISIT 2)

11.22 pm He leaves. She goes on calling for another 2 minutes.

11.27 pm She has a good scratch, quite audible with the dish.


12 - 1 am

00.01 am Distant hoots and, later, kewicks about 250 yards to my right. It's another pair which are heard more of later.

00.15 am More distant hoots from same place. Nothing interesting.

00.32 am Owl shenanigans starts in the location 250 yards to right.

00.33 am I see pine nest female leave the nest and fly off towards the commotion.

00.35 am All sorts of cries, other birds joining in. Sounds like a stand-off between two owl couples. The female must've heard her mate and flown off to give him support.

00.39 am Ducks add their voices to the hoo-ha.

00.42 am Nine minutes later pine nest female is heard returning to nest.


1 - 2 am

01.39 am Strange bird noises. Cuckoo has started -- usually does about this time, and goes on all day.

01.43 am Another strange bird. Cuckoo again.


2 - 3 am

02.08 am Distant hoots on private property behind me -- not her mate (she doesn't respond). This is beginning to suggest they've been pushed off this property by competing tawnies, and it may be why they're nesting here this year.

02.45 am Minor owl shenanigans on estate behind. More Cuckoo, and a distant cockerel has started.


3 am - dawn

03.01 am She's kewicking in wood behind nest. Didn't hear her leave. No male around. Now two cuckoos heard.

03.11 am She returns to nest.

03.27 am She starts to kewick at precisely the moment a robin kicks off the dawn chorus. It's the beginning of a visit by her mate, but she hears him, I don't! During a long approach he is mimicked by a male to my right and later has to deal with a couple to the left before finally turning up at the nest more than 23 minutes after the female's first call. In the dawn half light he pauses to look down at me before going to the nest.

03.37 am First hoots she responds to that I can hear with the dish.

03.50 am He arrives at nest. (VISIT 3)

04.07 am First cock crow . . . from chicken run just beside me!


The Pine Nest "studio" in the early morning light of 4 May

Once again I used a combination of the Telinga dish mic and the Rode NT1As. The cardioid Rodes proved to be remakably good at picking up sounds on or near the nest, and were actually better at suppressing the occasional traffic noise from the road about 80 yards to the rear. The Telinga setup however remains my failsafe guarantee of catching every tiniest noise, like an owl arriving or having a scratch, from the nest itself.

LEFT: The Rode mics on stands under the pines -- the nest is in the tree on the left.

RIGHT: The nest on its platform of twigs, which we hope will stop the chicks falling.

BELOW: two more views of the outdoor "studio" setup, with the Telinga dish pointing up at the nest. Nice dawn light coming through the pines in the right pic, but sun is hardly warm!

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