Having a Hoot in the Forest

It was a gorgeous, balmy, sunny evening. The bright blue sky clear above the sparkling greens of the forest. Everything seemed to glow in the long rays of sunshine as the sun headed for the horizon. Bright yellows of broom and gorse added a brilliant splash of colour to the palette of greens and browns of the forest. Swifts raced high overhead, screaming through the endless blue, only just returned from their epic migration from southern Africa. The song of chiffchaff, chaffinch, great tit, song thrush and even cuckoo drift across the warm air from all corners of the forest. The convoy of cars trundle down the bumpy tracks in open rides, passing blocks of densely packed pines, patches of mixed woodland where the trees are more openly spaced, young areas of plantation where gorse and broom dominate over the infant crop and open spaces where tall, heavy headed grasses swish and droop in a gentle breeze. The patchwork of habitats in the Forest never ceases to inspire.

We were back to ring the last two broods of Tawny Owl chicks that we had recorded a few weeks before. The third brood in this year’s totals had already been ringed the week before. But first we needed to stop at two other boxes where, like last year we had nesting mandarin ducks. We were intrigued to find out if it is the same females that have returned. An introduced species, we have much to learn about this beautiful duck that has a preference for nesting in trees, and incidentally nest boxes. The first mandarin nest is in the next box along to where it was last year. We catch the female as she exits and she is unringed, meaning we have recruited another female to our nest boxes (last year we ringed two females). The second nest is in exactly the same nest box as that which had a mandarin nest in last year. Amazingly the female is already ringed, and it turns out it is the same female that we ringed from this same box last year. How usual is that? At this point we just do not know. We’ll tell you next year…

Female mandarin

And so onto the nest boxes with the tawny owl chicks, our study species. With care we climb the ladder to the first nest box and collect two very very cute chicks. The group gives a subconscious, collective sigh as they are revealed from a bag. It cannot be helped. No fighting it. Tawny owl chicks just make you want to go ‘awwww’.

Gorgeous tawny owl chick

They are the Benjamin Buttons of the birding world. With their really fluffy and soft stripy, whitish grey feathers, dark slightly milky eyes, surrounded by an oval concave collection of feathers, they look older beyond their years… well weeks.

The second box has three chicks. We go through the same process. Climb the ladder, collect the chicks, bring them out of bag and….‘Sigh’, think ‘It’s so fluffy!’, ring and process, return to the box.

And so with the shadows lengthening as the glowing sun almost reaches the earth, its light filtering through the shadowed tree trunks, we leave the forest to the owls and their pursuit of prey. They have hungry mouths to feed.

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