31 May -- London

Corinne, now in Kent, phones to say she has walked some of the owl parts of the wood without success -- no fledglings heard. Weather has continued to be mixed, with many in the south of the country bewildered by hosepipe bans imposed by water authorities while the stuff pours down seemingly endlessly.


3 June

AT LAST, a high-pressure system has settled its warm skirts over the country and is forecast to be with us for some time. I am still stuck in London working, and likely to be until the middle of next week. It's too bad, as this is perfect weather and the perfect time to locate the fledglings.

As we can't have the real McCoy, here are some pics of Sophie at the same age as the two chicks will be today. I estimate, probably fairly accurately, that they are now about 50 and 45 days old.

Left and middle: Sophie on 13 June last year, aged about 44 days, the age of this year's younger chick today. Right: On her 49th day.

8 June

LONDON. Hoping to get down to the country tomorrow, Friday, to find the little critters (the fledglings). The current batch of work is largely done and the weather is just perfect. AND there's a full moon.


9 June -- Still stuck in London

Setting out soon for Kent, but before leaving here's an extract from an article by Neville Wilde. Those who've read the diary and listened to some of the recordings will understand why I like it.

Neville Wilde spent long nights in a platform hide in Wyre Forest photographing Tawny Owls at nestboxes. In other words he was doing pretty much the same as me. He was taking pics only, but he certainly got to hear the owls too! Here's what he writes.

On three nights I was lucky enough to witness remarkable vocal interchanges between Tawny owls. The first was on 28th May 1982 and seemed to involve three pairs of owls. The “chorus”, consisting entirely of tremulous hoots, lasted with varying intensity from 9.00pm until 11.30pm and led me to think that it may have contained some social content.

On the 29th May 1985 the second of these great performances occurred. The tranquillity of the forest had already been shattered by what sounded like a fox murdering either a crow or a pheasant. Three or more owls were involved this time and it seemed to develop into a competition to see who could hoot the loudest and longest.

The third took place on 11th June 1988 and was the most noteworthy. Four and possibly five owls were involved and the vocalisations were combined with a good deal of flying around in the nest area with clearly audible wing beats. No words of mine can convey to the reader the volume and complexity of the vocalisations. Loud lengthy tremulous hoots and yelps came from some owls. Others owls replied and interrupted with aggressive “Tuwit-Tuwooo” and “Kee-wick” calls, the whole sounding as though a good deal of animosity was being expressed in the voices. This performance lasted for ten minutes and then gradually subsided into absolute silence as some of the owls moved away.

Marvellous stuff. I'm glad he mentions the "clearly audible wing beats" as it's a well-kept secret that tawnies are in fact rather noisy flyers. All the stuff about "silent" fliers is so much nonsense. I mean, any bird is inaudible when it glides. One day I'll put up a clip of a tawny flying


9-14 June -- Kent, and the search continues

KENT. Phew, what a scorcher, as the racier newspapers here in England would say. It was also full moon on the nights of the 9th and 10th, and once again I had the impression that tawnies do very little on such nights. During almost six hours spent listening in various parts of the wood I heard one single exchange between two owls, possibly our nestbox pair. Otherwise dead silence from not just the owls but all other inhabitants of the wood. The one exception was an animated mouse (probably vole) conversation in a hedge in the fields. And bats were active -- when they swerve sharply to avoid the dish it can be quite exciting as in addition to the clicks one hears their wing beats quite loudly.

Our local (Summerhill) Nightingale has been silent for some weeks. Maybe he's found a mate. I do hope he hasn't succumbed to something.

On 11 June I gave the owls a miss because of the full moon. I'd also been out photographing along Halden Lane in the afternoon. It took three hours, was hot hot hot and rather exhausting!


The nestbox family have been seen . . .

On the evening of 12 June I sallied forth again in search of our tawny family, this time aiming to do a complete circuit of the west side of their wood. I've a hunch they may be down there because of the direction the male often came from when he visited the nestbox. This meant crossing fields behind houses, and this time, as the dusk deepened -- and just as a tawny pair did their noisy meet-up act in some oaks over the lane -- I was spotted by a husband and wife who'd driven into their property moments earlier. I cussed as they came slowly across the field with their dog -- I had little time left as I had to get back to the house before the alarm was turned on.

After the initial suspicious enquiries (do I really look like a burglar?!) this nice couple turned out to have seen a tawny pair in a tree right over their drive just days before. And yes, these tawnies had two fledglings in tow! Wonderful news. Little doubt it's our owls -- the property's in their territory. But in the gathering dark I was lucky to find my way back through a section of wood and fences I don't know too well. I've already ripped one pair of trousers in the search for these chicks.

13 June: The weather broke today, bringing rain in the afternoon and with a forecast of thunderstorms (BBC) at 10 pm that never materialised. We went out twice, once in the afternoon and again at dusk, to the lane and nearby parts of Hemsted Forest to look for the owl family and, in the evening, to try our luck with the Nightjars in the forest. Well, the Nightjars performed -- we heard at least two though didn't get at all near -- but once again no tawnies apart from a hoot or two teasingly up in their wood, some way across the fields

On 14 June, when I went to the tent to collect a damp sleeping bag for airing, I saw that the determined little squirrel has had another go at converting the nestbox into a baby squirrel nursery! A large bunch of dried beech twigs with leaves now sticks out from the entrance. Poor old squirrel, as the nestbox will be coming down soon for refurbishment.


Why are we having such difficulty finding the nestbox family?

As those who've followed the diary will know, I was confidently expecting to locate them by listening for the squeaking of the two fledglings for food. The 2004 pair in the eastern part of the wood squeaked incessantly through the night, starting at 9 pm (that's them in "Fledgling feed" on page 21). It was difficult not to find them every night! This pair of kiddies seems to be quite silent. When still in the nestbox one chick seemed not to make any noise, to the extent that I thought there might only be one chick. Possibly this is continuing, with the result that the two fledglings are not setting each other off into competitive squeaking. I don't know. Whatever, locating them is clearly going to need hours of sitting and listening . . because surely there must be some squeaking when a parent comes with food.

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