The owl and the woodpecker

As I started to write this post there was some interesting robin behaviour going on in the garden. Robins (Erithacus rubecula, Dansk: rødhals) are fiercely territorial and will kill each other to defend their patch and I often see them chasing off not just other robins but any bird smaller than a blackbird (Turdus merula, Dansk: solsort)! But just now there was a pair being relatively nice to each other and even sharing the same feeder. So I’m wondering if these two were a pair beginning to contemplate the imminent breeding season, as early as January the 12th. The weather has been much warmer than the previous three winters so maybe they are already thinking of making up for lost time.

But I began with a digression, so now to get back on message. I’ve been dithering about writing this post for a few days but I was finally inspired to start when I saw some recent posts on the blog of a good blogging friend, Gary, from ‘Krikitarts‘ (if you haven’t seen Krikarts yet make sure you check it out, it’s very, very, good!). Gary’s posts included pictures of skies and rainbows which were digitally reproduced form the original slides. And seeing these spectacular images spurred me on to get this post written to show you some evening skies from Cambridgshire in summertime.

But before I get on to the sky, on this particular evening from July 2013, green woodpeckers, which breed successfully close by, had their most recent brood of fledglings and were out and about learning how to dig up termites:

A pair of green woodpeckers flying away from me, they’re skittish creatures (Picus viridis, Dansk: grønspætte )

Whilst many bird species have been on the decline, the green woodpecker seems to be thriving, at least in my part of the world. I see them around the village, in the trees and on the ground around work, and on the way to work too, and I’ve heard they are generally doing OK. They’re handsone, colourful, creatures and it’s good to see them coping well with all the insults humans throw at them.

A greenie keeping an eye on me and the dog

This particular evening was a very warm and sunny one and as I meandered across the fields the sun got lower and lower, and bigger and bigger, in the sky:


And as the sun got lower and plunged us into the crepuscular phase twixt day and night, a barn owl (Tyto alba, Dansk: slørugle) was quartering the fields looking for rodents. Barn owls were hit really hard by the previous three bitterly cold winters and then by the brutal wet and cold weather last spring. But we had at least two breeding pairs in Histon and this individual was half of one of those pairs. Bearing in mind the precipitous decline in barn owl numbers in the UK and beyond, I think that makes Histon an important place for them. I don’t know how many chicks were fledged but I’m hoping some survive the cold weather holds off this year and we get more breeding pairs in 2014.

Barn owls are great to watch. I know the routes they take in the fields local to here and when I see them coming I can crouch down and often, but not always, they fly slowly right over my head, around 10-15 feet up, and sometimes we eyeball each other and I wonder what they’re thnking. Of which more in another post in the near future.

And as I meandered home from watching the owl, the sun disappeared below the horizon leaving these magnificent colours hanging in the sky which slowly turned into dark blue-grey and then the black of night

Not a bad way to spend an evening!

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33 responses to “The owl and the woodpecker

  1. Pingback: Tyto alba | The Naturephile

  2. Gorgeous gorgeous. Really get a sense of the atmosphere in this blog. Barn Owls are wonderful, and you’re very lucky to have some near where you live and to know their routes. I’m envious (I can swap you a few tawnies – we are full to the brim of them here at Lanhydrock!)

    • Thanks Ann, we had two pairs breeding in the village last year and I’m hoping and hoping that they survived the winter and we get some more successful breeding here this year. One flew over my car in the evening a couple of weeks ago so I know there is at least one still here. But I’ll report on them later in the year. Look out for my next post – more about barn owls.

      I’ve never seen a tawny here but I hear the occasional one hooting in the big old trees near the church, so I know they’re in the village. How I’d love to see and photograph one though :-)

  3. What a night, Finn! Spectacular sunset AND owl photos. ;)

  4. Hi Finn, haven’t been seeing your blog for some time, but happy to be back and see some marvelous photo’s of yours!! I love the ones of the owls and the sunset. Stunning!!! Ciao, Letizia

  5. neat photos! I especially like that weird sunset, which must be a rare occurrence with that peculiar cloud shading so much of the light. How great to see Barn owls come out to forage in the evening. I’ve certainly never done that.

    • Hello Sue, if you ever hear of barn owls in your area, see if you can find them. They’re great to watch, and there are even stories of people leaning over fences being mistaken for a perch and the owl perching on their head! It’s never happened to me, but I live in hope.

      The sunsets at that time were breathtaking – enormous skies illuminated with a marvellous palette of colours.

  6. Wot no comments? Quick off-topic question, well sort of. Why is this post dated 31st December on my email even though I had first received it on the 11th January. That aside, looks and sounds like an interesting read, I will print off and read it at my leisure.

    • The comments were there but I’ve been working away so wasn’t able to acknowledge. But that situation has now been rectified. The reason for the date is that I created the post originally on the 31st December and I think WP publishes the date the posts are created rather than the date they actually go live. I hope it’s interesting enough to justify a sheet of A4!

      • It no doubt will justify a few sheets of A4, as ever Finn. I simply need a few moments off the PC and to get my head in books and printouts and I think that way, it helps me get the balance right. Onwards with catch up time and I also see the comments have indeed caught up too. Yes hasn’t there been some mad weather about and I do believe 2014 may well be remembered as the year of mad weather.

      • The weather is certainly starting off in volatile fashion, and I reckon you might be right about 2014 being remembered for it. Especially by those poor folk who have been flooded out – several times for a lot of them.

  7. Wonderful pics, Finn… I love that atmosphere of a winter’s night in the dusk… it all; looks beautiful….

    • Thank you Valerie, it was actually a summer’s evening – I’m 6 months behind in my posting so I’m trying to brighten up our winter with some highl;y unseasonal sunsets! But it was beautiful, I sat in the grass and watched the sun go down and the only real noise was the breeze and the insects. It was lovely.

  8. I agree: not a bad way to spend an evening at all! I love your sunset images – beautiful. You have brought back memories of June.

    Meandering is also a great thing to do (something I haven’t been doing enough of recently :-) ). More like ‘dithering’!

    • Thanks Meanderer. I think ‘meandering’ is nothing more than slightly more purposeful ‘dithering’. As long as I recognise when I’m dithering and revel in it, rather than get stressed by it, I think it’s an equally valid way to behave ;-)

  9. Hi, Finn, and thank you for the kind words and for the link! (Please correct the spelling of my site in the link, though–although it does work!) When I first read the title of your blog, I immediately thought of The Walrus and the Carpenter, for some silly reason. I love your first shot of the barn owl and the shot of the large setting sun is really spectacular. It reminds me of some of the images in the Avatar movie. I’m usually not a fan of placing the main element in the center, but your choice to do so was perfect here, in my opinion. Great stuff!

    • Hello Gary, spelling duly corrected – apologies for the typo. I know what you mean about centering the object but I thoiught this just wouldn’t look right anywhere other than centre stage.

  10. You are getting better sunsets than we are and its the middle of summer here! Lovely photos and those woodpeckers are really beautiful creatures. Cheers for the blog linky as well. Really lovely images :). I have to say I have been a bit too busy this year painting the deck and part of the exterior of the house to get outside and into nature. My veggie garden was hastily thrown together in a day from bought seedlings (to my shame :( ) but otherwise I wouldn’t have had a veggie garden this year but it is growing exponentially so I guess that is something to be happy about. The feral cats appear to have reduced our wren population down to almost nil. That makes me really sad but the arboreal birds seem to be doing alright. I am going to have to find a way to deal with the growing population of ferals around here! This summer is shaping up to be one of the hottest on record for Australia and Tasmania isn’t exempt from it. Great for the veggie garden but not so good for the wildlife. I am making sure I keep the bird baths clean and well filled so that they can at least be sure of a water supply around here. Enjoy the rest of your winter. It will be spring in about 66 days ;)

    • I hope the heat isn’t too savage and the wildlife pulls through. Seems like mad weather everywhere at the moment but it sounds like your home grown vegetables – and therefore your good self – are benefiting.

      I’m looking forward to spring over here… only 63 days to go now!

      • “WOOT!” that means only 63 days to go till my favourite season :) the BEST time to plant potted plants out into the ground is autumn (especially deciduous trees and that is what we have most of at the moment) so that they can adapt to the soil conditions over winter and be ready to set good root systems down over spring. I love the cold. You won’t find me complaining about it. I love being rugged up and knowing that there is a lovely warm fire to return to at the end of a hard days slog outside :). Can’t WAIT to offload this current stream of high temperatures and swap them for rain and cold, you are welcome to it ;)

      • I’ll have some heat… just not quite as much as you’re having at the moment!

        And good luck with your deciduous trees. I’ve planted lots of beech and a hazel, a greengage and a lilac in our garden and I wish I had a couple of acres so I could plant lots more. My latest project is my wildlife pond, I’ve dug and lined the hole with carpet and sculpted the bottom and sides with soil, and now I need to finish it off with sand and put the liner in, which I’m hoping to do this weekend. Then in the summer I’m going to sit next to it with a beer and my camera and take photographs of any creatures that venture my way. And that’s why I’m looking forward to the warm weather again :-)

      • What a great idea! I look forward to seeing the results of this wonderful creative venture and the creatures that head to the House of Finn to wallow in it’s hallowed depths :)

      • Hello Fran, don’t know about hallowed, pretty skanky actually – but hopefully lots of minibeastrs will like it. But the great thing is it’s now virtually finished and my back is still in one piece, I now need to plant it up and see what arrives. I’ll post a picture of the finished, but bare, article, and then more when it starts to flourish.

      • Can’t wait! We have a sordid excuse for a concrete pond down in the (jungle) garden that Earl discovered (it was covered by leaves) and subsequently wallowed in up to his filthy (and most smelly) neck. He smelled like rotten eggs for a week! Steve thinks he can fill the cracks in the concrete and a friend has told me that if I can sort it she has a couple of geese that I can have so extra incentive there! Serendipity Farm is FULL of minibeasts. Most of them are not very pleasant (think leeches and ticks) but some of them are absolutely delightful like dragonflies and butterflies and the ubiquitous 4 year life cycle cicada’s that came out in force this year and we couldn’t hear ourselves think for about 2 weeks till we got used to them (like nagging kids) and we don’t hear them now. We had friends over from W.A. to visit us last week and they said “how do you hear yourselves think over that racket?!!” and Steve and I looked at each other and said “eh?” ;). I love seeing the minibeasts in other people’s countries. Foreign minibeasts are the best kind :)

      • Serendipity Farm sounds like a great place (give or take the odd tiger snake!) and it could only be enhanced by a pond with geese and ducks on.

        I love the sound of cicadas, it’s potently evocative of tropical latitudes, and their lifecycle is incredible. Just how do they know when to emerge? They must have a very accurate biological clock and I’d love to know how it’s biochemical control mechanism works.

      • Ditto. I know that I can write down early November on my calendar for 2018 and know that they will be back again. We are Mediterranean and FAR from being tropical down here but I think the cicada’s are endemic to the east coast of Australia (these huge ones anyway). The local ravens and other insectivores have a feast once every 4 years and have more than enough food to raise extra broods of babies. It is a very exciting time for them and they don’t even have to hunt for food. They do the equivalent of us reaching out and picking fruit from trees and you can see them hopping from tree to tree just snarfing cicada’s as they hop ;)

  11. Such beautiful photos, Finn. I was delighted by the green woodpeckers (I’ve only seen the Great Spotted variety up here), but then a barn owl as well – magnificent! I hear owls around my neck of the woods when I’m out for an early morning walk but I never see them and I don’t know what sort they are. Interesting about the robins, I wonder if they will mate early this year after all the mild weather, let’s hope they get a good chance to do their stuff. I’m yearning for those long summer days again after reading this post. :-)

    • Hello Lorna, the greenies are in Scotland but I can’t find detailed information about their distribution, so maybe they’re not in your neck of the woods. But at least you do have owls!

  12. Interesting sunset image (3rd photo down). I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like it. We seem to get a lot more orange/yellow sunsets around my area (although there’s few pink/purple in winter).

    That green woodpecker looks a rather colourful bird. Good to hear they might be increasing in numbers too.

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