Saturday, March 21, 2015

Things that go bump in the night

Observation is the keystone of permaculture designing but even the most assiduous of observers has to get some sleep. We need a night watchman. Or an infra red scouting camera (a present for my 54th birthday from my mum). The first night, I rigged it up under our covered area that runs down the side of our house, just to try it out (I knew there'd be sure to be a few cats stalking about). When I checked the camera the following morning, I was surprised to see our little foxy visitor. Round here, they're proper countryside foxes, not like their bold city cousins, and won't approach built-up areas during the day. In nine years of living here, we've never lost a chicken to a hen. During the dark hours, when foxy comes nosing around, the hens and ducks are snoozing safely behind the wire netting of their runs.
Barn owl - Tyto alba

I tried for a few nights in our woodland, without success. I was still getting used to the settings and I wonder if my regular visits weren't leaving my scent to put timid night travellers off. Next stop was near neighbours Zied and Cécile, who run a dog kennels in our village. A while back an overly zealous official from the veterinary sanitary service demanded that they cleared a hay loft ... by Friday or be shut down! The hay had probably been there for over 30 years and had become a cosy home to a pair of barn owls. They had no option but to tidy up and, with the ever-helpful neighbour Paul and his venerable Massey Ferguson (older than the hay) we scattered the lot in our woodlands to dissolve into humus. Our only hope for the owls was to construct a suitable nest box, install it once the loft was cleared and hope for the best.

Zied has since seen owls flying in and out of the loft and there are pellets on the floor. The IR camera seemed a good way to see what was going on.
Pygmy owl - Glaucidium passerinium
After changing batteries, I forgot to reset the clock, so I can't say what hour they were photographed, just that they were ten hours apart. We were mystified why only one photo in a 24 hour period; surely, if they were nesting, there would be an outward journey followed by a flight home. We believe that these two species of owl are, at least for the moment, just using the barn as a quiet place to digest and regurgitate, hoping up onto the balcony of the nest box, prior to flying back outside.
Badger (bottom left of frame)

Having got the hang of how to set up the camera, I returned to the wood and found a little path clearly used by deer (plenty of footprints in the damp but firm earth). Sure enough, there's a male roe deer along with another pleasant surprise, a badger. Wild boar move around leaving their distinctive footprints, roughing up the woodland floor with their snouts and smoothing the bark of their favoured rubbing posts; I'm determined to catch one with the camera.

I'll return to the empty hay loft, with the clock properly set, and leave the camera for a week, so see if I can get a better idea of the nightly routine of the two owls; watch this space.
male roe deer