Tag Archives: Tawny Owl

Life beginning and ending in the wood

It may not match the scale of the ocean of Bluebells in Blean Woods, but our very own Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park – with a little help from our conservation group – puts on a pretty impressive show every year as well. Even now they are past their best, it is still an arresting sight. The peculiar combination of Bluebells with Beech – the ‘Mother of Forests’ is a true source of wonder – the deep blue-purple of Bluebell combined with the fresh life of new green Beech leaves just… works.

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Chalet Wood, Wanstead Park

I have been spending a bit of time recently in a wood at the other end of Wanstead Park: Reservoir Wood (so called because the large man-made lake that used to be located here in the palatial grounds of Wanstead House). And I have witnessed the hope that comes from the beginnings of wild-life. A Nuthatch – a scarcely seen bird on the patch with a bill full of invertebrates; a sure sign that it has bred successfully and that somewhere close by a nest of gaping mouths awaits.

Much later at night in the same wood I heard the squeaks of new life as well. Two young Tawny Owls squeaking constantly and the occasional contact call of the mother. Nothing seen, but recorded here in a video I took.

I also heard the loud squeaks of a very different sort a couple of days before; or more accurately the squawks of death. A female Sparrowhawk startled me with how closely it swooped past me and, before I could even focus, it had a Starling upside down in her talons. The terrible screams continued for a about a minute after the hawk had taken its unfortunate prey off into the seclusion of branch and leaf. The remaining flock of Starlings circled, alarmed and useless but unwilling to leave the scene immediately as if in hope that their comrade would return to them. But, of course, that was never going to happen. The woodland brought life and death, and… maybe life again as it reminded me of when I watched fledging Sparrowhawks in the neighbouring wood back in 2015.

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The sounds of Mirkwood

“As their eyes became used to the dimness they could see a little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer.” – J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

Tonight, I ventured into a mirky wood. Not the Mirkwood of myth and Middle Earth, but my local Bush Wood. I went to listen for Tawny Owl, but heard the sound of monsters instead; not a giant spider, but something far worse.

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A Bush Wood Tawny Owl for 2017 eludes me still.

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I trod carefully through the wood tonight, but as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, the silver light of the moon (albeit somewhat softened by the urban glow) illuminated the paths quite well for me: hardened mud tracks glimmered softly and reassuringly; whilst darker patches warned of churned up mud; and, puddles shone clearly like warning beacons.

Even taking deeper woodland paths was easy enough and when I reached the space known as the ‘clearing’, the grass glowed.

The wood itself was silent; no owls, no birds at all except a single short alarm call from a Blackbird.

During the day, I often notice how the sounds of traffic quieten as you move deeper into the trees; wood, leaf, mud, and moss seeming to muffle the urban roar and allowing the sounds of the wood to be heard more clearly: most particularly the calls and songs of the woodland birds. But tonight, that magic of the daylight hours appeared to have worn off; even deep within the wood, the traffic sounds filled my head. Our flight paths seemed to have got lower and louder, and the bell-ringers in the local church chimed long and loud.

There was incongruity between the eerie shadows of being alone in a wood at night, and the familiar scream of the metropolis which pervaded every corner absolutely. Any fear of the unknown was drowned out by the sounds of the only-too-familiar.

Turning my camera phone to the trees, the flash-light picked out the branches like green fingers stretching out from the darkness.

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Where my eyes picked up the nuances of the woodland shadow, the camera flash replaced them with the sharp contrast of close and far; light and dark. Only very faint ghostly lines appear out of the darkness in the images, where my eyes could at least pick out a range of silhouetted shapes.

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In the dark, so much more than the day, the wood seemed to be betrayed by the artificial lights and the mechanised noise of the surrounding city.

Was it the wood that was betrayed? Or was it me and my sensibilities? I had come in search of an owl, but I had also come to embrace the peace of the wood at night. The trepidation that still exists in adulthood towards a wood at night, a fear that must have truly primeval roots felt like something ‘real’ I wanted to experience; but it was somewhat shattered by the W19 bus, the Boeing 777 from Tel Aviv to Heathrow, or the motorbike going past at double the local speed limit.

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The moment the Boeing 777 passed over my head, thanks to Flightradar24.com

I keep returning to the wood to look for ‘something’ but I clearly need to look and listen a little more deeply; to the wood and to myself.

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The ‘green glimmer’ of a street light, not Shelob’s lair

A Big Birding Year: Part XVI (tree creeping)

Today I returned to see a tree. A Sweet Chestnut that I saw last weekend to be precise… Except, of course, I am not being very precise at all. I did not travel to see a tree; I travelled to see a bird.

But alas, the perch on which the Little Owl is known to sit on a, seemingly, daily basis in the Kensington Gardens was empty. My third owl for the year eludes me still (thinking ahead to my possible fourth, does anyone know anywhere I am likely to get good photos of Barn Owls?). But I comforted myself by finding my second species of owl to photograph again.

The Tawny Owlets in the park are maturing fast and I found one in a tree next to where I saw them last week:

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

It then took off and flew back to the tree where I had seen them last week. There was a cacophony as other birds, including ‘squawkers’, or Ring-necked Parakeets, took flight making alarm/distress calls at the sight of the bird of prey. The juvenile owl was then promptly followed by two siblings that I hadn’t initially spotted before it stared down quizzically at me:

Watching me, watching you! Aha!

Whilst in the park, I also got a picture of an obliging female Blackbird (to be contrasted with the exceptionally shy Blackbirds I shall be seeing shortly in the South of France):

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

I then found a tree alive with a family (or two) of Nuthatches busily scouring the bark for insects:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

I then nipped down to the London Wetland Centre (where I negotiated a mortgage over the phone whilst wandering around, and…) where I saw my 87th species of bird for the year: a bird even more suited to scaling up and down tree trunks than the Nuthatch. I seem to have spent the day creeping around trees for views of different birds, so it seemed apt that I would be rewarded with my first photo of a Treecreeper for the year:

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)