Monday, May 26, 2014

Catching up with old friends!

My trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was spectacular. But despite enjoying once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as swimming with sea lions and walking with giant tortoises it was so nice to be back!

As I drove home I couldn't help feeling a sense of excitement at the way the countryside looked so lush and green - and familiar. Despite having just endured a 24 hour trip home, I couldn't wait to find out what had happened to all the wildlife on my local patch whilst I had been away.

As soon as I walked into the house, I turned on the nest cam monitors in my kitchen and saw that the kestrel was now on five eggs – she only had one when I set off!

I swallowed down my supper as fast as I could and was just about to head out to see what the badgers and barn owls had been up to whilst I’d been away when the sparrowhawk came into the garden to feed.

It was like an old friend had stopped by and I paused to watch her, wondering if she had laid any eggs yet.

Then I climbed into the car and headed out. On my way I saw a roe dear in a hedgerow. It sprang out into the open in front of me and then ran up the bank and looked back at me. I love watching roe deer, but I was keen to get to the badger sett before dark so I set off, forgetting to check to see if she was still pregnant! This is the time of year fawns are born.

As I neared my hide I heard a green wood pecker yaffall and a curlew call overhead. Then the sharp alarm call of a red start caught my attention.

It was great to be able to recognise the sounds of each bird. Although I saw so much that was new and exciting in the Galapagos and Ecuador it was difficult to remember the names and markings of each new species, let alone their calls, and of course there’s nothing like the familiarity of the birdsong of home.

At the hide I checked on the barn owls first. I knew some of the six eggs laid by the female over Easter had hatched but it was difficult to make out how many from the pile of wriggling bodies underneath her wings.

At about 8pm the male barn owl arrived with a vole and presented it to the female. Then he noticed I had put food out on a post nearby and swooped down and took four mice in quick succession. He picked up the fifth one and swallowed it whole then sat up in the tree and started to preen.

Then we both watched as the badgers started appearing below us, one by one. Nine adult badgers in total emerged that night, the most I have seen at this sett since 2009.

Sadly there are still no cubs - confirming my suspicions that the new boar I spotted last time may well have killed them – he was mating a different sow that night, so I will keep my fingers tightly crossed for cubs next year.

I didn't get back from my local wildlife tour until 10pm when I began to put food out on the garden
bird table for the tawny owls. I waited a few minutes and sure enough one swooped down to collect my offerings.

I counted as it collected, one by one, eight dead chicks from the table – a sure sign that it is feeding its own chicks somewhere. I will have to find out where the nest is this week!

It was another half hour before I got to bed, but it was difficult to sleep knowing there is so much wildlife to watch and this was only my first night home.

I've yet to find out how the little owls, the peregrines, the foxes and buzzards have been up to whilst I've been away and where they are nesting or whether they have cubs.

But a few days later the kestrel eggs began to hatch. It was the perfect homecoming. I think they must have waited for me. Click the link below to see three of the chicks.

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