The secret life of the owl

Last night was the night of my work Christmas Party. A jolly affair with a meal much better than I expected from a party held at a Rugby Stadium. One of the downsides of our move to Hornsea is that it places us quite far out of town, so if I want a drink I face an expensive taxi. As such I was driving and had a night of sobriety and people asking, “what are you drinking?” followed by looks of disgust when I named a soft drink. The journey home though takes me through a run of country roads flanked by wide hedges.

Coming along one of the few straight sections of road a white outline swooped past. I slowed the car to a crawl and the shape hovered back. I was treated to the momentary spectacle of a barn owl flapping slowly alongside the car, probably dazed by the lights. The wings displayed spread out, snow white, against the moon lit sky. Just for a moment we looked at each, the wide eyes peering at me from the heart shaped face, before it moved on with its night time hunt.

A barn owl from earlier in the year at the owl sanctuary.

Owls are a fairly common sight for me driving in and out the countryside to work in town. During Winter their hunting hours are extended further increasing the likely hood of a sighting. That said, they never fail to leave me with a sense of wonder.

Today I have the house to myself as Amy is out with her sisters being treated for her birthday. Alice is sleeping. So I had a chance to sit and read a book. An actual hard back book. Normally I do much of reading through the kindle with the back light as I read before bead with Alice asleep next to me. So print books are a rarity for me currently.

Settling in with a cup of tea I got down form the bookshelf John Lewis-Stempel The secret life of an owl. John Lewis-Stempel’s book meadowland has been one of my favourite nature reads over the last few years. A book written well. A book worth reading again and again. Many nature books are full of terrible self reflection or poor quality prose, but I’ve found all of the books I’ve tried by John Lewis-Stempel to be highly engaging. The secret life of an owl is just a short read at 88 pages, but I went for the hardback because of my love of owls and the book is a lovely produced little hardback.

secret life of owls

The content describes the lives of owls. A little bit on the anatomy of owls. Descriptions of the different owl pellets you might find and how they are produced. It dips into poetry and literature for further owl references. Several famous owl owners are mentioned such as Florence Nightingale and Picasso.

The book goes onto describe the owls of Britain and then the relationship between humans and owls.

For the price it is quite a short book. But an enjoyable quick read. It lacks the commentary on the state of the English Countryside that runs through many of Lewis-Stempel’s books. But it made for an enjoyable read to settle in for an hour with. A good introduction to owls. For a greater level of depth there is a Collins New Naturalist on owls. If you’re looking for a present for a nature lover the secret life of the owl will make an excellent gift. 

Winter feeding

The last month has been busy with Christmas preparations beginning. The disaster that is my Nativity play has begun. So blogging has been low of late. But now I’m getting past deadlines. Quite a bit has been happening in my garden and progress has been made on my school outdoor area, which I will try to update during the next few weeks.

After thick snow descended on Thursday the garden has been well coated with ice on snow. It had just thawed on Saturday. This has left the garden with lots of hungry birds struggling to find food.

Through Winter it’s important to help the birds. The water sources freeze, so I’ve been trying to get out to crack the ice in the bird bath. The food I put out disappears quickly. The seed goes in a few days. So as well as the seed I try to keep the peanut feeders filled with either peanuts or suet pellets. These seem to last a bit longer than the seed. So even when it’s been a busy week and I haven’t got out to replenish the seed I’m still leaving something for the birds.

Haith’s have been helping me out as they sent me a bag of their help to fly Autumn/Winter mix to review. This is a seed mix with high energy and oil content to¬† help give birds that fat and energy they need to survive the Winter. Haith’s bird food is put through a cleaner process. The grain dust created during harvest can be damaging if seed is not cleaned. Much of the bird food you buy won’t be cleaned in this way.

Haith’s sent me a bag of both the cleaned and the unclean mix. I wonder if from the photo you can spot the difference?

On the left is the cleaned and the right the unclean. I was surprised at how much of a difference I could see in the two batches. While I’m not able to do the test taste to appreciate¬† the difference I’m sure the birds will appreciate it at this time of year when food is scarcer.

Before filling the feeders I also gave them a good clean out. I’ve talked about it before, but it is important to clean feeders to limit disease spread.

Before I’d left the garden the birds were already sneaking in, clearly ready, for a feed.

Over the day I’ve seen a good mix of visitors: sparrows, great tits and blue tits got in to test it first. Then pigeons, starlings and jackdaws followed. Then had wrens, dunnocks and robins in and out.

Then a few herring gulls came in, although not for the seed.

Alice has enjoyed getting out to explore the garden again after several days of frost. She checked in on the bug hotel and gave the flowers a sniff.

Thanks again to Haith’s for sending the bird food to review. The birds seem to be enjoying it. It’s been nice to get out briefly into the garden and then sit in doing data input while looking up to see the birds enjoying the new seed.

Half term begins

The half term holiday has begun for me. Me and Alice got out for a wander yesterday.

We headed down to the Mere. Alice enjoyed the rather noisy geese and mallards.

It was a bit windy, but Alice enjoys the feel of wind.

Alice has started to imitate animal noises, so we got a good baa at the sheep.

Back home the garden is seeing more bird life. Next door decided they didn’t have the time for their cats. So the cats have been given to family. Suddenly we have much more bird action again. What a difference a cat makes.

The goldfinches have returned after several months of absence.

The birds are enjoying the feeders for longer, so the seed is disappearing quicker.

With the cats gone the birds are becoming more confident coming close to the house.

With the lack of cats and the leaves falling I’m getting lovely views of the birds now. I can sit in the kitchen and look out on a wealth of life.

Autumn Sun

Today has been unusually hot. Lots of people sat out at the seafront pub. We got out for a walk along the front. Alice got out of her pram to walk the whole front.

The gulls lining up on the sea defences.

Alice had a good run.

In the park she had a good explore of the Autumn leaves. A lot of fun from the simple pleasure of throwing them. It’s the simple things in life.

Autumn gardening

Autumn gardening, for me, mainly seems to be about preparing for the next year.

The Spring bulbs have gone in ready for next year. I had daffodils from last year. They were planted where the bench now sits. These have been redistributed around the border.

I’ve gone with a number of allium varieties. I like alliums for there structural interest and there generally popular with pollinators. Might well be allium overload. We’ll see next year.

Purple sensation says it grows as a cluster up to 80 cm.

Blue drumsticks are a little shorter at 60cm.

Then one giganteum up close to the patio. I’ve planted this with a few drumsticks surrounding. Hopefully have the tall gigantism towering with the blue drumsticks as a lower tier. While a bit pricier it will hopefully come back each year giving a good show.

I’m not a massive fan of tulips, but we saw some lovely varieties when we went to the open gardens. They’ll add a bit of colour before the Summer colours kick in. I’ve gone for tulip alectric; a pretty variety with pink and white petals. I should really wait for tulip planting, so they don’t rot in the ground, but I know I’ve got a lot on with work the next month. But I haven’t had major issues with bulbs rotting in the soil from last year, so hopefully be OK.

 

I’ve neglected the weeding for a few weeks while I’ve got other jobs done, so had a good upheaval. It wasn’t too bad though. Now I’ve got more plant coverage than last year there isn’t as much space for weeds to come up.

In the front the wildflowers that grew these year have died down. I had one patch of lavender growing by the door. I’ve added a second variety at the other end. The stripy leaved plant is a wild plant Lords and ladies. While not something I planted I like the leaves so it can stay for now. As time goes on if the lavender does alright I’ll fill the whole patch. Then it’ll be fairly low maintenance, needing little watering and as it fills the gaps shouldn’t need much weeding. While it may not look very much now it will hopefully develop into a lavender hedge giving lovely scent as you come in the house.

The lavender around the front and back garden has had its hair cut for this year stopping it getting too woody and encouraging a bit more growth next year.

On the patio I’ve filled three pots with some new evergreens giving the patio some foliage and a bit more interest through the winter and into Spring. Two “little leaves” hebes that just have a small spread well suited to starting in a pot.

Then an annual shrub, chamaecynaris pisifera, known as “blue sky”. It will grow a little bigger than the hebes at 50cm. I like the blue tinge to the foliage. Should be good for retaining some seasonal interest through winter.

The birds are starting to return to the feeder. Things can be a bit quiet at the start of Autumn while there is plenty of food to be had naturally, but starting to see a bit more action on the feeders again. This robin was practising its poising ready for the Christmas cards.

The roses are still flowering, although I reckon I might be looking at the last bunch for this year now. Once there done they’ll be needing a trim, then probably a bit further in early Spring. They had quite a harsh cut back this year and did better for it, alongside being fed better.

The leaves on the shrubs and trees are still hanging on in there. Once they drop I’ll be doing the last major Autumn job giving them a

Wildflower hour-Himalayan Balsam

A while back the environment agency were heavily cutting back along one of the drainage ditches near us. I’d wondered at the time, then realised this weekend. Watching gardeners world there was a feature on Himalayan Balsam. This non native species of flower became popular for its pretty flowers in gardens. However its seed pops and spreads quickly. This has led to it growing wild where it drowns out native species. The gardeners world feature discussed how rust is being introduced in sites across the country. This won’t kill it, but will limit the growth.

Made it to the mere for a quick walk around in the sun with Alice.

This swan had picked up some additional decoration.

The birds pay no attention to crossing that line.

And went for some headshots of the mallards.

Urban wildlife

The last two days I’ve been out of school on first training. The training has been at the end of Sculcoates Lane in Hull. Surrounded by industrial buildings it seems an unlikely area to hunt wildlife. However I’m reading David Goode’s nature in towns and cities. This book is part of the Collins New Naturalist series. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. i bought it when the book was selling for 99p on kindle and it is certainly proving good value for money so far. Having finished the chapter on graveyards and canals I went to investigate the graveyard across the way on my dinner break.

The graveyard is an overgrown Victorian relic providing a decent woodland habitat. I could hear robins and blackbirds, although I couldn’t see them.

There were some signs of human habitation too.

A little further along the road is the Beverley and Barmston drain. This winds through the city. My school sits further along the drain. While it isn’t the pleasantest habitat on the nose it is providing a rich habitat for waders with many ducks and moorhens enjoying the water.

Much rubbish fills the drain.


Alongside the path was the remains of a rat. Fairly inevitable in a city.

Wandering back to the first aid course I spotted something odd on the other bank. Looking through the cameras lens I was surprised to see it wasn’t rubbish, but a terrapin! Must be unwanted pets released. There were three apparently thriving. I’ve reported it to NSPCA to see what they make of it.

Certainly a few surprises today. It’s amazing the wildlife that can be found within our cities.

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