Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Autumn arrives and Barn Owl chicks take a dive!

Well, the storms blew through and our Barn Owl family survived, only for the wind and rain to return today with a vengeance. Ferries were cancelled this morning and from indoors the wild weather was quite exciting with trees bent right over and a mixture of torrential rain and hailstorms. Outside it was quite a different matter and we hope that all our young sea eagles are coping with the blustery weather. Autumn has certainly arrived with a vengeance.

We ringed our family of three Barn Owl chicks and I was a wee bit surprised at how small they were for their ages. The smallest has caught up quite well but isn't ready to go for a couple of weeks yet. Apart from ringing the chicks I took measurements and weights from which it was possible to age them to the day, and which told me that the oldest bird was not ready to go yet. Yet four days later the two larger chicks left the box and were seen sheltering in the bracken below. This is definitely a cause for concern as both birds are still quite downy, and their primary feathers are not fully unfurled which will hamper their flight. The younger chick is still in the box and is being fed well by the parent birds, so I hope they are feeding the older two as well. As I suggested putting up the box I almost feel responsible for our young family, so once again I will go up to the hide this evening to watch for the adult birds bringing food to them.

Skye and Frisa are still giving us some good views; they are not keen on torrential rain but they love the wind which enables them to fly long distances without having to flap - great for saving on energy. Food should be plentiful as the deer cull started last month, weeding out the weak or very old stags, and the grallochs (or innards) are left out on the hill by the stalkers for the birds of prey to feed on. Without the cull the deer would continue to multiply until there was insufficient food for all of them, and then the weaker ones would starve.

The stags are already roaring and the rut is due to start any time now, so being outside in the evening can sound quite eerie. I have a stag that frequently visits the land behind my gardens, but just recently he has started to roar and often catches me unaware when I go out to look at the stars on clear nights.

Will keep you updated on the owl family. I've only two weeks left until the end of my third season at the hide, but it will be impossible to keep away during the winter months.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Batten down the hatches

Today, as promised, the weather is wild - torrential rain and the wind getting stronger by the minute. Skye and Frisa have sensibly hidden themselves away, probably sheltering under the cover of the trees, or maybe even on the ground amongst the bracken. The forecast is bad for the next couple of days across Scotland and Northern England, North Wales and Northern Ireland, so the raptors will keep themselves as dry as possible and wait until the weather clears before they come out to hunt again. Fortunately Sea Eagles can go up to four days without feeding so Skye and Frisa will pick their moment to look for a meal.

Life might not be quite so easy for our Barn Owl family - there are now three healthy chicks in the nestbox and "mum" is mostly leaving them to their own devices during the day, probably roosting in the second barrel with the male. At night both adults have been hunting to feed themselves and their growing family so we hope that they have been able to choose their moments and bring in some voles, mice or shrews during the spells between showers. Owls don't have much in the way of waterproofing so seldom hunt in very wet weather which raises a dilemna - do I mug the neighbourhood cats for the rodents they have caught and leave them out as an easy meal for the owls, or do I let nature take its course? For the time being I will do the latter, and monitor the owlets via the nestcam to see if the adults are managing to bring in any food. The Barn Owl family has been so popular that one of our visitors to the hide very generously gave us a donation with which to purchase another nestbox so that our youngsters have somewhere to roost during the winter months (and maybe raise their own family next year).

It has been fascinating watching the owlets on camera - they have been much more active during the day than I expected. Originally four chicks hatched but the smallest has since disappeared and we now have two quite big chicks and one smaller one. Three eggs failed to hatch which is not all that unusual. We've had good views of the adult female stretching her wings, and from the wing pattern I think she is a new mum, probably just over a year old, so to rear three chicks is quite an achievement first time round. The chicks are due to be ringed this week so I will make sure I get some photos to post here on the blog.

Having just had two weeks annual leave I have really noticed the changes on the island since I came back - autumn really seems to have taken an early hold. Our Sand Martin colony has left for warmer climes, and the Swallows are already lining up along the telegraph wires. The lone Whooper Swan on Loch Frisa who stayed behind when its parents migrated in the spring will hopefully soon be reunited with them when they return next month.

We seem to be constantly refilling the bird feeders at the hide with an influx of Tits, Chaffinches, Siskins, Goldfinches etc. emptying them as fast as we top them up. There still seem to be some young birds about, particularly fat little Chaffinches with downy heads.

Those of you who followed our Buzzard-cam last year will be pleased to know that our pair reared another youngster this year, unfortunately in a different nest so our camera couldn't pick them up. The young bird is just as vocal as last year's, still demanding food from it's parents. It hasn't quite mastered the art of hunting yet, spending a lot of time running up and down the fields rather than hovering above waiting for something to move. We have also been treated to some great displays by a family of Kestrels. On Friday we watched four of them repeatedly mobbing a Hooded Crow until, after half an hour, they managed to drive it away. It's a treat to see these miniature predators, particularly since Kestrels have been suffering a decline over the last 15 or so years not only in the UK but across Europe. It's good to know that they, like so many other birds, are doing well on Mull.

Here's hoping that the storms aren't as bad as forecast, and that all the birds will be out feeding again in the very near future.