Little Owl, Big Personality

There’s a special tingle runs along the skin when you venture out into the fields and woods to look for a Little Owl, at twilight. These small squat birds can often be seen in daylight but the one we know prefers that quiet time around sunset, when all the crows and magpies have gone to roost and the earth can relax.

Last night we took a slow walk down to Low Fold Farm, along the lane that snakes between dry stone walls and old farm cottages. This time of year the hedgerows are splendidly fragrant with that creamy sweet hawthorn blossom filling the warm air. Powerful stuff! And the undergrowth is burgeoning – umbelliferae, dandelions, stitchwort, purple vetch, dozens of grasses..on and on, thick and lush. It’s so packed with the elemental charge that Dylan Thomas wrote about in his powerful poem The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the flower.

As we got to the end of the lane we startled the owl. It must have been sitting on a nearby telegraph pole out of sight because it flew right out in front of us to land on a fence post less than 25m away. That characteristic tailess silent flight, quick wings and a short glide up to the post top. I had the binoculars handy so was able to get an excellent look at those big intense yellow eyes and beetle brow frown. Exquisite.

Then in typical fashion the owl took off again and perched some 100m away on a telegraph wire overlooking a nearby meadow. You could make out the silhouette, a give away for identification – square flat head, compact small body and very little almost no tail. A great bird.

If you look on the British Ornithology Trust’s website you can read about this bird – how many pairs are breeding, where they live and so on. There’s some good info. It also says that this owl sometimes pulls worms out the ground and topples over backwards sometimes in the process! I’d love to see that comedy act.

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Karen Arnold



The Beauty of Nesting

I once watched a city pigeon fly down to a rough border of dried grass and weeds and start selecting a suitable piece of grass for its nest. It was my lunch break and I’d found a quiet space with suntrap to eat and drink, an older part of the city that was surrounded with stone and brick and tile. There was just enough room for the sun to get through and warm up the bench I was sitting on.

So down flew this pigeon. An ordinary city bird, nothing special to look at you could be forgiven for thinking. But as I sat there munching away I saw this busy focused parent go through just about the whole border, a ten yard stretch. It was looking for loose dry lengths of grass – not just any length of grass but of a specific measurement. This bird knew exactly what it wanted.

I watched half in admiration half in puzzlement as this caring nest-builder picked up stem after loose stem, rejecting all until it found one that was just right for the job. This was a fascinating exercise. It seemed to me that this bird was actually measuring the length as it manipulated the stem through its beak in a weighing up fashion.

Eventually the pigeon flew off, up to its nest site under an eave on a solicitor’s office – another part of the nesting jigsaw about to be slotted into place.

I had a think. That bird must have sized the situation up, got an idea of the length of grass needed to fit exactly where it wanted it and knew where that piece could be found.

Hardly a bird-brain, more of a nest-wizard. And to think, this process is going on for most birds – ok not the cuckoo, which has evolved a crafty way of getting out of nest building – using their intuitive powers of measurement and detection to gauge precisely what is needed for their crafted nests.pigeon1200px-Pigeon_nest