Monday 12/10/09 - A first for me!

The sky looks fantastic as I drive off down to the Barn Owl Centre. The setting sun is lighting the few clouds up from below and it looks great. Within five minutes I'm driving up to the centre along the drive and I see a Little Owl sat on one of the large trees near the drive. I stop and take a bit of video, although I don't get that frame filling shot I'd like with only a 12x optical zoom, it's unmistakably a Little Owl. I keep considering buying a supplementary telephono lens that screws into the front of the camcorder for a bit more "reach", but don't know how well they perform. Does anyone use one? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

As I'm getting out of the car, Vince turns up and he wanders over and we chat about the owl. He's still there, watching us. He suddenly flies off and almost immediately another comes from behind us and follows the first. He must have been sat on one of the barns. Vince and myself wander into the centre and I pick up several handfuls of nuts which go into my coat pockets. I set off for the hide, camcorder in hand, and as I'm walking across the flying area, I hear a Little Owl calling, followed by a second a bit further away. The closer one isn't too far away and appears to come from the next field. I change course and go out of the top of the flying area and hear the owl again. He must be sat on one of the natural perches put there for the centre's birds to perch on. Without the benefit of having the sky behind it, I can't make it out too well, but as I get closer I can see it. It doesn't hang around as I approach, and flies off into the dusk. I walk out of the field into the lower field where I normally start to leave a few nuts and as I do so, a Tawny Owl calls close by. I look around and get a great view of a wild Tawny flying over the field with the darkening, but spectacular sky behind it. That's two species of owl in less than three minutes! The Tawny flies into a tree the other side of the field and calls. I almost go over to see if I can get a better view, but with the light as it is, the badgers could turn up soon.

I continue on down to the hide and put the food out, giving the odd whistle as I do so. No dogfood tonight, my dog hadn't been fed when I left! As a substitute, I found a slightly out of date jar of peanut butter the other day and have been meaning to bring it down. Thinking I'd be well prepared, I brought a plastic fork down to dish some up, but it's not man enough and breaks! I look around and see the piece of wood I use as a doorstop. That'll do. I stick it in the jar and put some peanut butter onto the grass in front of the hide and, of course, some on the doorstep. I now have a stick with peanut butter all over the end of it and I'm not sure what to do with it. I decide to put it just outside of the door; perhaps a badger will lick it clean? I'm not putting the net down at present, so sit a couple of feet back in the hide on a chair. I have a single torch setup outside of the hide, as per usual and I'm just settling down, camcorder and torch in hand. I hear something down in the left hand side of the hide; the mouse is out and about. I put the torch on briefly and there he is,eyes twinkling. I decide to take some film, if he cooperates. I put the light on and he doesn't run away, so begin filming. Positive ID please, if you look at the video! Field or Wood? I check outside and a badger is approaching from the main path. I sit contentedly listening for the mouse and watching the badger get closer. Suddenly some movement catches my eye. A silent, ghostly figure passes the hide; a Barn Owl. I quickly stand up so I can watch him disappear into the dark. He was definitely hunting, head down, quite slow progress and a stunning view. They always seem to light up, even in the dark, but it's not quite dark yet and he looked magnificent. The badger was still far enough away not to scare when I stood up, although he did stop and look hard for a few seconds.

That is a first for me; three species of owls in less than half an hour. I've never seen three species of owls in the wild in a day before, probably a week! There's one of those natural highs I mentioned a few weeks ago. Well worth the time invested in sitting alone in the dark!

The badger is now close by and happily eating nuts. He's approaching the blob of peanut butter and as he reaches it, he doesn't even sniff, just wolfs it down. It's true, they do like peanut butter! A second badger has appeared from the left of the hide, quite close already. He walks across the front of the hide and starts feeding, only a foot or two out. He looks to be making up for lost time as the other has been there for ten minutes already. He moves towards the door and discovers my peanut butter covered stick. He sniffs it and looks slightly puzzled. He then picks up the stick and trots off with it! I peer round to the left of the hide, but he's not in sight. A minute or two later, he's back, but without my door stop.

I now begin throwing additional nuts out to them and a bit of argy bargy takes place. I whistle and feed several times and then stop. They both now sniff around and the smaller one finds the nuts and butter on the doorstep. He licks the one smear of butter, then starts on the nuts. A third badger has appeared and it makes its way over to the door where the other two are. I manage to get some more nuts onto the doorstep and the larger of the first two badgers smells them, then starts eating them. The newcomer is showing an interest in the doorstep too and as the other one departs, he moves in and sniffs where some peanut butter was. There must be a bit on the camo netting as he starts to tug at it. As the netting is stapled to the step, he has to pull pretty hard and you can see just how powerful these animals are. He does eventually manage to pull some netting off and I worry he may eat it. He doesn't, he just drops it and then carries on sniffing around. One of the other badgers has already left and the other is almost out of sight on the main path. The newcomer sniffs his way towards the hedge to the left and suddenly, I'm on my own. I pack up the torches and camera, check outside to make sure nothing has come back and step outside. I can't see my stick, so have a bit of a search for it and it's gone. It's either been taken into the hedge or he's eaten it!

That was a special evening what with the owls and three badgers, all of which were feeding at the doorstep. Back to the farm and a quick chat over a coffee. A wild Tawny is now in the usual place in the tree behind the aviaries. But it's time for me to go, so I head off home feeling a little less stressed than I was.

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