Nature Notes

Sep 4, 2017 | Bits & Bobs

September 2017 …..

Two pieces of rather personal news this month.  One a bit daft – the other rather more dramatic.

Firstly – A few weeks ago, I scooped an elephant-hawk moth off the ceiling in the utility room, and watched it fly off into the night, feeling rather pleased with myself for not falling off the ladder. Last week, I found most of the leaves and flowers had gone overnight from one of my fuchsias near the back door. Consulting my gardening guru, he said straightaway “oh yes, hawk-moth caterpillars – they only eat rosebay willow herb and fuchsias” I felt a little aggrieved, but once I’d had a proper look at these two jumbos I couldn’t stay cross! Aren’t they gorgeous!! Like cartoon creatures. Those big ‘eye’ patches ward off predators, and so will I from now on.

Secondly  –  We put up a barn owl box over a year ago, not far away from us. We had all been waiting and hoping for it to be used. Not a sign – until one evening a couple of weeks ago, when an owl was discovered down on the ground. It seemed fairly alert, so as recommended we kept our distance, hoping for it to recover. In the morning it was still down and not moving. When picked up, it was painfully thin and extremely quiet, so we took it down to Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital. I hopefully signed a form saying we’d fetch it for release if it was ok. Back home they’d discovered there was at least one youngster in the box. We were now worried! Was our rescued bird the parent? We took advice from several owl people on what to do. Apparently once the babies are well grown parents often go to roost in peace nearby, just returning to feed once or twice a day. At this point I remembered another box we put up some time ago.    (Also at this point it started to rain – a lot!)

Then bad news when we called the hospital – our owl was too far gone to survive. The overnight carer couldn’t definitely confirm it wasn’t an adult, so we were even more worried for the youngsters! How long now since they’d eaten?? I decided to keep watch until dark. After a quick sandwich, I trundled over in my car, and found a vantage point at the edge of the field. My little car is very good at steaming up in wet weather, so I was mopping the inside, peering through the rain, wipers going like mad, trying to keep warm and listening to Radio 4! After about hour and a half I began to wonder “why am I here??”  Then I got my answer. As the light faded, a graceful white shape floated across the field, obviously hunting.  All was well!

None of us knew those owls were breeding there! It’s such a privilege to have a new family – just very sad to lose one of them. They are such iconic birds – an overused word, I know, but appropriate I feel. May the others grow and thrive!

Sue J