Walking at twilight is something I’ve always loved doing in the light half of the year. We tend to do small walks, usually in the same place (longer walks in the day go elsewhere). One of the consequences of repeatedly walking in the same place is that you build up a knowledge of how things happen there through the seasons, and changes become apparent.
The first time we heard the blackbirds shouting warnings, we knew there was something going on. They were concentrated in the trees at the top of a bank, and we were unable to see either them, or the cause of their alarm. The next time we were out that way, the same thing happened in the same place, and we knew something was coming out at night and worrying them. On this second occasion, we heard the very distinctive ‘p-cherp’ of an unfamiliar bird, and started looking for it in earnest.
The p-cherp turned out to be a fledgling tawny owl. At that point, it could just about hop between tree branches. We saw a parent bird come in and feed it a rodent – a stunning thing to witness.
Since that night, we’ve gone out whenever time, energy and weather permitted, searching by sound. With a dense, leafy canopy to hide in, and fading light, the soft colours of an owl do not stand out. We rapidly discovered a second p-cherp, although it took us a lot longer to actually see baby owl number two. Our first owlet became bolder and more capable as the evenings passed. We watched it eat what I think was a rat, delivered by a parent bird. It’s clearly been aware of us, and watches us without alarm, and some apparent interest, while the second owl seems far more nervous when it’s been seen.
There is something very powerful about finding some aspect of nature is gazing back. We’ve been treated to the rotating head dance owls do when they’re considering something. Their eyes are too big to move, so to assess a shape they have to move the whole head. We’ve learned that we must have two breeding pairs of tawny owls in proximity to where we live, and we now have a pretty good idea where they are hunting, so will be going out to try and see them later in the season. We’ve seen barn owls and a little owl in the same area so we know there must be a good rodent population too.