Out With the Old in With the New
Last Friday evening I undertook a roost watch at an old castle, which is set in an idyllic area of farmland surrounded by encircling broad leaf woodland. The building is quite well preserved, it lacks a roof but its bell tower and thick buttressed walls remain intact. It must have supported a large community of people in times past, with its many rooms and network of passages. However its present day residences are of an entirely different sort. The building plays host to a large and healthy population of Jackdaws, a pair of Ravens (pictured second below by Stephen McAvoy) and a pair each of Kestrels and Barn Owls (pictured first below by Andrew Kelly). Swifts and Starling complete the list of amorous breeding inhabitants.
I arrived at 20:20 which is an hour before sunset, in the hope of catching sight of the Kestrels before I entered the castle to find the Barn Owl nest site. Happily the Kestrels were not feeling particularly shy, and on arrival the male bird roosted passively on a castle drain pipe for some twenty minutes before heading off to hunt. While I waited for his return, the ravens entertained me with their antics. They wheeled and circled, periodically herding and scattering the Jackdaws of the castle. The sun had set and it was near dark before I had sight or sound of the male Kestrel again. He flew in and resettled himself on his earlier perch and was joined by his mate. Even in the shaded light of this chilly evening the sexes could easily be told apart by size alone. As is common for many raptors the female is the larger of the two. The female finally showed me what I had come to see, her nest entrance just as the light was near fully gone. She flew lightly from her window ledge perch to an arrow slit widow and disappeared from view to resume her incubation of this year’s brood. Phase one of the mission of the evening complete I entered the castle.
Buoyant with my earlier success, I didn't have to wait long before I heard the gentle snoring of the female Barn Owl. This snoring is in fact the begging call (young Barn Owls snore too) which stimulates the male to leave to hunt. A snoring female confirms breeding, which meant my evenings work was complete with both nests found. Success!