Monthly Archives: March 2011

Little Owls

You may have picked up that we are very,very lucky and have a pair of little owls living in the big ash tree on our plot. We see them often, one or the other or both most evenings when we are out there at dusk time. Last year they raised a brood too.

This evening I learnt loads more about these amazing birdies when Paul, Leicestershire owl man extraordinaire, came over to log the site as part of his exercise in cataloging local little owl nesting sites. He also bought his camera in case he was able to get some shots. I was pessimistically thinking they wouldn’t show and I’d look like a fibber, but luckily they did, although that was only really after Paul’s phone, with owl call ringtone, went off to be fair. So, anyway, I have learnt loads this evening, in summary, the following:

1. Little owls live for 3 to 4 years

2. They are very loyal to their nesting sites and generation after generation of families will use a site year after year

3. They usually sit on 4 eggs, with 2 or 3 hatching and 1 or 2 making it to fledge. The hen is likely to be laying at the moment and will start sitting very soon, at h point she is unmovable and you can ring her (more about that in a mo). The incubation period is 4 weeks and the young will make their first entrance out of the nest at around 3 weeks. For this whole time the male will be feeding the hen and then the hen and young.

4. They mainly eat beetles, worms, voles, mice and shrews and love our plot because there is short grass in which to find beetles and worms and an area of rough grass to find the rodents. We also have loads of fence posts that they will use to sit on. Their hunting territory is very small as they have everything they need locally.

5. We need to put up a perch about a foot under the nesting hole (which is halfway up the tree) to help fledgling birds find their wings. At the moment they just drop out the hole and fall to the floor, which is not ideal. We also need to move a pile of sticks and logs to under the hole to give them a hiding place if they do fall out.

So anyway, back to this evening, basically, while chatting about the nest site Paul’s phone went off and soon after the male owl flew across in front of us and into the other tree we often see him in. Paul said the chances were he had come out with a view to defending his territory and that she would still be in the tree. We saw where he landed in the tree and Paul managed to get a couple of shots. He got some more a bit later, when he managed to get much closer. He said that the owl was very comfortable and was obviously used to us being around a lot. I was amazed he spotted him again, they are so well camouflaged. I’m on to him now though, I know where he spies us from.

Paul wants to come back to get some better photos, hopefully with them exiting the nesting hole (ideally with vole in beak!) and also in flight if possible, which would be AWESOME. It would seem because the sun sets facing the hole, the light is quite good for photography. He is going to try to come back tomorrow afternoon to put up the perch for them and maybe set up a hide so they get used to it before he takes the photos. Also, the other very exciting thing is that he has a bit of kit that I want to call an endoscope but I know that can’t be right, but it’s basically a camera on a cable attached to a screen that you can put down the hole and see what’s going on, so he’s going to bring that too. He also thinks that we should be able to ring them, hopefully the mum and any owlets that they manage to hatch! Ace 🙂

So all in all, a pretty good evening for owl related activity! He has a blog (see the links page) and we’ll be an entry on that, we are number 163, with the amazing photo above. We are so lucky, we see something nearly everyday that most people are lucky to see in the wild once a lifetime. That’s me counting my blessings for the day…


Moody Broody

I dunno…..women!!

Lucy has been inconsistent in her sitting efforts to put it mildly.

On the eggs, fuss with the straw, look out at Pierre, bored with the eggs, off for a swim….what was I doing again…etc etc.

This slap dash attitude to raising offspring seems to be catching, as Virginia seemed to ‘have a day off’ on Saturday preferring to splash around and get covered in mud. Both are back on now, but we candled last night and nothing is developing yet.

We are going to leave it a week and candle again to see if they just hadn’t started properly. We have just received some goose eggs in the post, so we will add those to Lucy’s original brood and see what happens in a week. We will then throw out any non developers.

So truly don’t count your chickens until they have hatched. Part of me thinks we may have tried to get V going a bit too early. Good news is that Vita is laying again.

Becky meets the owl man tonight to learn more about our little owls, hopefully she will blog about it tomorrow.


Weekend fencing

This weekend I will mostly be fencing. I have bought 200 metres of 2nd hand stock netting for £100. ( bargain). I have also purchased a gripple tool which is how we will put some tension into the wire.

We have some posts kicking around, but I managed to get hold of 12 more, so hopefully we can put up 3 out of the 4 sides this weekend. This enables us to use the forest garden for grazing until the trees has established in 5 years or so.

I will take some pictures of the project.


Rabbit hide tanning

I have been trying to find a good natural method for rabbit tanning. I stumbled upon this on a forum.

I’ve had great results by first fleshing the fresh hide, then salting it for a week or so until it’s dried and hard (tack it flesh side up on a board and cover all of the flesh side with a layer of salt which usually takes about half a pound for rabbit hides). Then, take a knife and scrape all the salt off (it’ll be dried and stuck to the hide) and then buff the hide with sand paper to raise the grain. Wash the hide with warm water until it’s soft, then take about half a dozen egg yolks and work them into the hide the same way you would use brains. Keep rubbing it in and wringing the hide and working it back and fourth until the whole thing is dry. You have to keep it moving until it’s dried (usually takes a few hours) You’ll know it’s dry when it’s no longer cool to the touch. It works the same way as brain tanning (but it’s actually a kind of oil tan). Now all you have to do is smoke the hide to make it water resistant.


We’ve got the Flo

So, after nearly losing faith in Flo (or rather Mack fo not doing his job properly), we have been out on the plot tonight and found that she has given birth today to around 10 baby bunnies! We have been looking for days for signs that she is about to give birth and there has been nothing until this evening when an unusually large amount of fur turned up in the corner of her run. She seems to have done away with preparation and general nesting and crammed it all into a day. Well she is busy afterall…

So, that’s great news, the 2011 bunny breeding is on schedule. Not sure how many will survive, it seems like a large litter, but she will soon deal with ithe situation if that is her opinion.

Also, Virgina is definitely in the for the long haul and Lucy is spending far more time on her nest, with Pierre faithfully guarding the doorway, than off, which is great news. If the 4 embden eggs that Z has ordered come tomorrow we think we will get away with putting them all under Lucy, if not, we may split our risk and put two under Lucy and two under Virginia. The timing should just about work and Virginia is probably more reliable than Lucy. Geese are apparently happy to foster so with any luck we should be able to just introduce any new goslings fairly easily.

Oh, and the owls are also very visible and active in the tree again, which is great, fingers crossed for a successful brood for them too this year!


Virginia has gone broody, Lucy is thinking about it.

Slightly behind schedule and only on 13 eggs, but, bless her, she has done it again. I am a bit concerned about Vita, we put her in first to try and get her sitting, but she didn’t seem to know what to do and just sat by the broody box looking lost. I have read something about the dominant duck going broody first, and I think Virginia is the more dominant of the two. Virginia was such a great mum last year, I am fully expecting at least 10 ducklings on the 1st of May.

Lucy (our goose) is still thinking about it. She has 4 eggs in the nest (and maybe another one today), she has made a huge nest in the little house we built for her, and keep going in and sitting for an hour or so, fussing with the hay and then coming out again. I have ordered 4 more ebden eggs from ebay, so hopefully once they go in, she will think the clutch is big enough. We really aren’t counting on this, as it is her first year, but I have my fingers crossed.


Winter holiday..sustainable living

Last week we drove down to the alps to do a bit of skiing for a week. Becs especially loves this type of holiday and we would be really sad to give it up, so we were lucky to have some excellent volunteer farm-sitters in the form of Becky’s mum and dad.

I have been wrestling with this type of holiday for another reason. http://www.chamonet.com/environment/green-skiing.htm. It just doesn’t seem very sustainable to me. The article above highlights some really easy ways to make skiing greener, such as driving rather than flying (which we did) and recycling while you are there (which we also did),but these types of efforts seem minor when you realise that for part of the week THEY WERE MAKING SNOW! To ensure excellent snow all winter seasons most resorts make a certain amount of snow if the weather can’t be relied on. I feel pretty uncomfortable about this, I was thinking it must uses tonnes of Co2 to make snow??

Having looked into it a little bit more, it seems as though the industry is aware of the potential impact that energy use through snow making might have on the environment. Half way down the page in this article it seems to suggest that the practice is very heavily monitored and restricted. http://www.peakretreats.co.uk/ski/sustainable-tourism.htm
So, I’m not sure what to think. In theory I guess if we were trying to live a more sustainable life we wouldn’t go skiiing.. in the same way we way we have almost entirely cut flying out of our lives, but the reality is we love being in the moutains and having a change of seasnery.

I might try and work out how many hedging trees I need to plant this season to offset our winter trip…or is offsetting just a cop out?