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Sculthorpe Fen Project News

September 12, 2019
David Lindo launching the Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve expansion
Sculthorpe Fen Project News Super User

Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve launch of massive expansion

September 9 2019, almost 100 key supporters gathered to raise a glass and celebrate the launch of a major 3-year project at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve. Earlier this summer the Hawk and Owl Trust who manage the reserve near Fakenham in Norfolk purchased…

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barn owl ringing. sculthorpe 040711 6

In south and eastern Britain last week the heavens opened, and it seemed like the rain didn’t stop for days. It’s not what you expect in June! How has this affected our nesting birds of prey and owls? Most likely as soon as there is a gap in the weather the adults will go off hunting and bring back food and all will be well. If the bad weather continues, however, the chicks will become increasingly hungry. At that point the oldest ones will start eyeing up the youngest ones as potential food; distasteful to us, but at least some can survive. At worst the whole brood will starve, but the adults can lay another clutch. The weather, and therefore the stories, are not the same across the country, however:

North Yorkshire. We are having an extremely poor Tawny Owl year – probably the worst I can remember in over 25 years. Many boxes are completely empty and where there have been more than one chick the second has been eaten in almost every case. Eggs have been deserted too and just left freezing in the boxes. There is no food, the small mammal population around here is just non-existent this year.  Not too sure about Barn Owls yet because it is still early for them, but initial thoughts are not good either. Interesting that this is the very opposite to the info the BTO released quoting Colin Shawyer as saying it was a cracking year and there was lots of food around. It is not happening around here!

Tawny Owl 21Salisbury Plain. Every four or five years we have a ‘vole year’, and this is one of them.  The weather in Wiltshire has been good through the winter and spring with no extremes, the voles have multiplied, and the current gentle weather has made hunting easy. It means we are having record numbers of breeding Kestrels and owls in boxes. Today we ringed Kestrels at six sites, three had SIX pulli in each box, the other three had five in each. That’s 33 pulli from six boxes, which is excellent. The normal full clutch is five. We have 62 pairs of Kestrels in Wiltshire and 112 pairs of Barn Owls so far and many sites have not been visited yet.  I expect to ring over 500 Barn Owl pulli this year. But, as ever, we rely on ‘reasonable’ weather for the next three months. Tawny Owls have done reasonably well, Little Owls are seriously down, the open habitat and greater number of other predators doesn’t help.

South-west England. Prolonged bad weather affects Barn Owls more than many other species, and numbers crash quite dramatically if unseasonably bad weather continues for long periods. Although I am in the early stages of nest checking there are signs that owlets are starving because of the bad weather. From one of the Adopt-a-Box nestboxes I monitor we saw seven eggs laid during early April, indicating that food was plentiful at that time. All seven eggs hatched but now, after two weeks of almost continual rain, only three owlets remain and, with more rain forecast, further losses cannot be ruled out.

Another pair of Barn Owls laid their eggs much later, no doubt in response to slower spring grass growth affecting their small mammal prey. By laying later this pair have a better chance of riding out the bad weather as they need less food while incubating and while the chicks are small. When conditions are good Barn Owls can have large broods and even rear two broods in one year, so they can recover their numbers quickly providing prey-rich habitats and nest sites are in place, but the worry with climate change is that these cold, wet summers will become the norm and Barn Owls will be one of the species which suffers as a result.

With thanks to A J Crease, Nigel Lewis and Chris Sperring for these observations. We will continue to keep you updated on how the season progresses.


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