Monthly Archives: January 2012

Parliaments and Councils

Well today didn’t turn out as I thought it would. Another cold and icy day with flurries of snow meant disruption to my aviary cleaning again, but much of my day was taken up unexpectedly meeting with various officials from the local council and community and showing them round the work in progress at the new Scottish Owl Centre site.

I am more accustomed to the company of a Parliament of Owls than members of Councils. I must confess that the different types of council and the different areas, sections, committees, budgets etcetera are bewildering to me, but, supressing my ‘fight or flight’ reflex, I did understand that everyone seems very pleased that the owl centre has moved here. This is both encouraging and very important to all of us at the Centre. To us this isn’t just a convenient location with good travel access, we want to be part of the local community and to use one of this mornings popular words; ‘integrate’. We don’t just want to see a lot of faces come through our doors when we open to the public, we want to see the same faces coming back again and again.

One thing that surprised me today, in the best possible way, was how easily I slipped into ‘school tour guide mode’ as I showed round one of our visitors from this morning when he returned with his granddaughter after school finished. Just one child but I went into tour guide mode without a thought. I counted up today and reckon I’ve been giving guided tours for children and adults for 18 years this April. I never get tired of seeing the reactions that children have when they see an owl or bird, animal or wiggly worm. I guess that’s because I have that same reaction several times every day too, I’m just a big kid myself!

So back to the owls. Over the last month I have mentioned that some of the birds have been making a bit of a din, hooting and hollering and calling for a mate. Our Siberian Eagle Owls are just one pair that have been calling daily, and the female even laid two eggs! She didn’t sit on them, and on inspection we found they were infertile, but it is a very good sign. More good signs were first seen a few days ago, then again today. Our Great Horned Owls have been hooting each and every night for at least six weeks now. At feeding time on Saturday the male flew down to snatch food off the ground then returned to the perch where the female was sitting. He began to call to her, then offered the food in his beak up to her. Hooting with his mouth full of food may not be considered rude in the owl world, as she joined in with his calls. This was great to see. It shows that it isn’t just a one sided romance for one thing! She didn’t take the food he offered but treating him mean is certainly keeping him keen!

So will there be eggs in their nest by Valentines Day? We shall see! 😉

Gnite 🙂


Can’t see the wood for the trees

Monday brought a feeling of Spring to West Lothian, with spells of nice sunshine with some genuine warmth to it. The night had been cold again, below zero celsius, so the ground was frozen.

As were the hosepipes. It has become a daily chore now to check if any taps are working around the Scottish Owl Centre site before I can begin to clean the aviaries. Nope, all frozen, so I formed a plan to wait until the temperature rose above zero – around lunchtime, and try again.

Until then I occupied myself with sourcing more felled trees for use as perches in the aviaries that are still to be completed. We have been quite fortunate that the council have been felling trees in an area they intend to make a new yard for their vehicles etcetera (having been made homeless by the Scottish Owl Centre moving into their old yard). We have been able to purchase some of the trees and have them delivered to the nearest gate to where our pens will be.

I was pleased with the negotiations with the woodcutter contractors, then with the council’s own woodcutter, and with some advice and discussion amongst ourselves we found some decent sized sections of tree. Next task of course was to get them into the aviaries…

As you can see from the picture, these sections of tree are pretty heavy, and as we can’t get heavy machinery onto the site any more the joiners had to band together to move the wood for us. (I wanted to caption the picture ‘and the other three dwarfs are just out of shot’ but thought better of it!).

With the trees inside the aviaries the joiners could proceed to finish off putting mesh on the frames. We are expecting the ground worker contractors to come in, maybe next week, to complete paths, dig holes for (live!) trees, and to cement these sections moved today into place in the pens.

And this pretty much took up my day, other than feeding the owls of course! Tomorrow I plan to get back to training some of the display team so I should have some more owly talk and pictures for you!

Til then, gnite!



Busman’s Holiday

Today was my first day away from the Scottish Owl Centre since starting work at the beginning of January, but it was still never far from my mind. I went off to Edinburgh to meet family and friends and visit Edinburgh Zoo, and had a great time. We hoped to see the Pandas there but unfortunately they were both off public display due to ill health. They have both come down with a touch of colic and prescribed some time to recover in privacy. The health and welfare of animals in the care of places like Edinburgh Zoo or the Scottish Owl Centre has to be top priority. I wish them a speedy recovery and hope to see them another day.

Visiting a zoo or other animal collection is always a useful and productive exercise for anyone working in one already. I was casting an eye on the design of enclosures, particularly of those for birds of course, but also looking at how they are planted up. The Scottish Owl Centre is still being constructed and naturally the aviaries have only rudimentary planting at this point. Once everything is built and up and running we aim to have the aviaries kitted out to look as natural to the environments that the owls are from in the wild as feasible and practical. This will take some time, what with choosing the right kinds of plants, locating and buying them, planting them… and then they will take time to grow and settle.

 Here is a photo taken at Edinburgh Zoo today as an example of the kind of planting I’d like to see in some of the aviaries for the asian and tropical owl species. Planting bamboo is an obvious one but if kept in check can produce a good natural look quite quickly – it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, even in Scotland! Coupled with shrubs like Buddleja can add cover along with pleasant looking and smelling flowers in season. Simple but effective.

I’ll be making many more visits to the zoo in Edinburgh, both to get inspriation for enclosures and presentation techniques, and just because I like to see and learn about the wonderful and varied creatures to be found around this planet. Hopefully the same things that will attract people to visit the Scottish Owl Centre!

I’ll wrap this blog up with a photo, today rather un-owl-like, taken at Edinburgh Zoo. This is one of my favourite birds (other than owls!), the Rockhopper Penguins, and I’m quite pleased with this particular photograph. 🙂

Anyhow that’s all for my blog for today. Tomorrow it’s back to cleaning, feeding, training. Simple stuff, but I love it!



Frost and feathers

 A return to freezing cold temperatures, as low as minus 5 overnight, meant that today was a good day to do very little and just keep cosie and warm! I was expecting visitors and aimed to get my daily tasks done early so I could give them a tour of the site, and then nip off to the very handy and excellent cafe just across the courtyard. Some days when there is such a hard frost you can see it on the feathers of the owls – a testament to how good their insulation is, as escaping body heat would have melted that frost – but today I saw none. Evidently the birds had all kept under enough shelter this time.

I must have tempted fate just a little too much yesterday when I said how good it was to have the hose fittings and standpipes all fitted with cladding to fend off the cold. Yes, they were all frozen today! As were the hosepipes themselves, frozen to the ground in one case! Oh well, these things happen, it is winter after all.

When my visitors arrived early afternoon I gave them a tour as promised, then as a surprise asked if they would help fly an owl. Smiles all round! As well as getting the owls used to flying in the display arena, it is very useful to get practice flying to new people, ready for working with volunteers and in front of the public – plus it’s just fun! Prince the Ashy Faced Owl was vocal as usual and very keen to be fed. Out of his aviary and through to the Indoor arena he hadn’t looked round at his new audience. I wondered if he might be put off by the presence of new people – he had been distracted by the joiners watching him fly earlier in the week – but today that didn’t bother him at all. He was so hungry he didn’t care! There was no hesitation whatsoever about flying to a different person, Prince just flew wherever the food was straight away. Once he was so keen he flew before checking out where his landing spot was and landed on a shoulder – well Ashy Faced Owls are found on the island of Tortuga, maybe they were the original Pirates parrot?!! All together now; Arrr! 😉

I was very pleased again. Prince flew to the gloves or to perches and went wherever he was asked to. He is such a good bird, eager to please – as long as he gets all the attention he demands!

So that was that for today. I’ll sign off this short day with a picture as usual. Today I bring you a picture of Oulu the Great Grey Owl seemingly not knowing which way is up! Not only can owls turn their heads almost all the way round, they can turn them upside down too! Don’t try this at home kids! 😉


Til next blog, gnite!

That Friday Feeling

A short blog today, well it is Friday!

It seems like it’s been a long week here at the Scottish Owl Centre. With delays caused by late deliveries and very changeable weather the building work has made slow progress.

Slow it may be, but today we could step back at the end of the day and see the good work that has been accomplished. The joiners have moved onto the roofing of the Education Zone, and today the delivery of roofing beams arrived. Add to that the arrival of the plumbers to fix guttering and drainpipes to the Indoor Display Arena and there was a feeling that at last we were getting somewhere. I was grateful for the plumbers fixing the hose pipe fittings too, putting insulating foam around the exposed pipes too. Just in time too as the temperature has dropped to – 1 C tonight. I’ll see if the pipes work in the morning!

With all the banging and clanging on the rooftops today I decided not to fly any of the display team owls. It was just too distracting. I spent a little time with them in their aviaries and left it at that. Everyone deserves some time off after all.

So that’s pretty much it for today. I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures of the building work on the Education Zone so you can see it is starting to take shape.

Til next time, gnite!

Ashy Faced Owl, White Faced Owl, Dirty Faced Owl.

It was another day of slow progress at the Scottish Owl Centre building site. The wood needed for the roof of the Education Zone is two days late and the joiners have caught up with all the other little things they had to keep them busy. The painter was also forced to delay his work as the woodwork was too wet today. If the delivery of roofing material arrived he could start painting that… and the joiners could move on to that job too… all very frustrating.

There are still two aviaries half built, three or four just needing finishing touches, and then eight more to build almost from scratch for the Tropical Zone and British Owls section. It all sounds like a lot of work, but the guys keep assuring us that it can be done in six weeks. Fingers crossed then!

Cleaning the aviaries today brought the same problem I’ve been having most days lately; frozen taps or burst tap fittings. Just so I don’t get bored of it, today it was both! I’m very glad of the portable reels of hose that I am getting adept at moving around the site to find ways of covering the area. I get there in the end, just a little wetter than I’d planned.

While feeding today I noticed the male Snowy Owl still has that lump on his wing. It still doesn’t seem to bother him, and he can still fly and get around as well as ever. It was discussed having it checked by the vet again, maybe next week. It certainly hasn’t put the owl off his food, and he seems to get really excited at feeding time. I don’t know whether he is getting used to me or he just really likes his food, but today he came right up to me and took food right from my fingers. I don’t normally feed the owls by hand but I was so curious by his behaviour I did it to see what would happen. Maybe he thinks I’m okay now? Maybe he just really loves his food!

Onto training the imprinted display team. Prince continued his top notch performance in the indoor arena – today with no audience. Kenya and Broo both flew to the glove for food while in their aviaries, and today I managed to do the same with Tiger the Brown Wood Owl. Hudson, well he’s still hungry, his stomach is a bottomless pit! Only once he is fed up and feeling more like taking life easy will I start to try to fly him to the glove. Plenty of time, six weeks or so yet.  😉

Today’s new territory was a first go at working with one of the two Barn Owls in the team. One of them has nearly reached his ‘flying weight’ and seemed keen inside his aviary, so I took him round to the display arena to see what he would do. Dylan is one of the original birds from the early days of the Scottish Owl Centre over in Campbelltown, and for eight years there he was a star performer. Today he proved his reputation was well earned as he flew ten flights without hesitation whatsoever. For a first day this is spectacular! He is a veteran after all though so it would be great to have him in the first displays at the new location for the centre too. We just need to clean his face up first. For some reason since moving here he hasn’t been washing his face. That may not sound much of a problem but what is happening is that some of his food – day old chicks complete with yolk – has been sticking then drying to his feathers. So we have the predicament of how to clean an owl’s face! I make sure he has clean water in a dish in his pen every day but he still doesn’t wash. Well given that it’s freezing cold weather in winter I guess I can’t blame him for not wanting to spend the day soaking wet! So we think that once we have the Prep room with kitchen area plumbed in (no plumbers again!) we will try to clean the mess off. It’s not as easy as a child having it’s face *dab*dab*dab* with a wet tissue by mum, this child has a pointy beak! So Dylan has six weeks to get himself cleaned up and presentable for the public. I’ll show you the pictures once it’s done!

Well I’ll sign off for today and leave you with a picture of Dylan with his dirty face. Gnite!

Give the audience a bow

Prince the Ashy Faced Owl goes from strength to strength in his training for public flying displays – until he has an audience!

Another day of cleaning and burst hosepipe fittings meant I was more than a little damp by the time I got to what is currently my favourite time of the day; owl school! Today I took Kenya back to basics and rather than take the little White Faced Owl into the big display arena, (where she was a little overwhelmed yesterday) I would reinforce the good work we had done back in her aviary. On home turf she feels more comfortable and confident of course, and she flew to my glove for food with only a little hesitation. Good stuff. Repeat three times then move on to the next step methinks.

Prince the Ashy Faced Owl has so far been the star of the training sessions. Today I was hoping to build on his successes to see if he would fly further. With the indoor display arena still being used as a workshop for the joiners who are building the roof for the Education Zone (in all weathers!), Prince was somewhat distracted by all the extra perches to land on while flying the whole length of the room. He showed signs of learning what is expected of him today, where he is supposed to go next for the next peice of food, anticipating and flying on to the next place. All good stuff unless the next place today is scaffolding that won’t be there on the big day!

Here’s a short video clip of Prince flying. Excuse the blurry picture – it’s not easy holding the camera in one hand, showing the bird the food, and flying the bird to the other hand – you need three hands for this job!

Flying easily 12 times for small pieces of food, Prince did wonderfully! The only problem arose when the joiners returned from their lunch and wanted to start work again. I told them to carry on if they liked, or watch Prince for a few minutes as we finished off his training. Adding something unexpected like this can go either way when training a free flying bird. I had the safety of there being a limit of where Prince could go to if he was to freak out – the doors were shut after all. Well Prince did stop and stare at the new audience, and he had eaten a dozen bits of food so his stomach was getting full, so would he bother flying again? Yes he did! Just a couple of shorter flights then look round at the workmen to see that they hadn’t rushed over to grab him or something. I was pleased he moved at all! Taking Prince back into his aviary I gave him his main meal as reward for doing so well again. Good job Prince, now if you can do that for 300 people instead of 3 we’re on a winner!

With the work continuing in the display arena I couldn’t fly any more birds in there for the day, but I was determined to do some more work with some of the other birds.

The team of trained owls at the Scottish Owl Centre is quite varied and represents a good cross section of owls from around the world. Some are more familiar birds like the Barn Owl or Tawny Owl, others like Prince and Kenya are more unusual. Some are very big, like the Milky Eagle Owl I have been doing some walkabouts with recently, and Broo the European Eagle Owl, definitely the largest and heaviest bird in the team. I have had Broo fly to the glove a couple of times inside her aviary before, in my first couple of weeks working here. There has been a break though, and she was nervous about me anyway. Today I decided to have another go. Nothing grand on the agenda, just see if she would fly to the glove. It took a decent sized piece of food to bribe her off her perch, and the first time she changed her mind and flew right over me. Second time she went over too, after almost landing on my gloved arm then bottling out. Third time lucky she landed and ate. Good girl Broo! I stepped her back onto her perch and offered a food reward, that was enough for one day and she did well.

There is one of the display birds that I haven’t mentioned before. One that, I have to confess I’m more than a bit worried about. He isn’t the largest owl in the world, quite a bit smaller and lighter than Broo in fact. He is a Great Horned Owl though, and what they lack in size they make up for in aggression and intent. I’m sure he is a great bird in the displays, but I have never worked with an imprinted one before, and my experiences with a part-imprint at my previous job means I have more than respect for these birds, more like barely controlled terror!

When I arrived to work here, Hudson the Great Horned Owl was not in the best of moods or condition. From what I see from him so far he is quite a ‘highly strung’ individual of a highly strung species of owl. The move from the Scottish Owl Centre’s first location in Campbelltown to the new one in West Lothian seemed to have been more traumatic for Hudson than many of the other birds. Add to that a new aviary upon arriving, quite a lot of wind and rain, plus workmen making loud noises nearby and Hudson was mentally in a right old mess. He got himself so worked up fretting about the situation, and got himself so wet and bedraggled that he couldn’t fly up to a low perch and seemed obsessed with protecting his food from theft that as the saying goes, ‘his head was done in’. Seeing this only getting worse each day I had to do something to help him. I took him into my house for a couple of nights. Having told you my fear of these birds you can imagine that having him in my spare bedroom was something akin to inviting a dangerous psychopath round for a nice chat and glass of wine! Still, the bird needed help. After a couple of nights messing on my floor, Hudson dried out enough to climb up to look out of the bedroom windows. (Hello neighbours!)  Taking this as a sign he could go outside I kitted his aviary out with a large ‘pet carrier’ with low perches for him to climb, get off the ground or out of the rain.

Well it has taken a few weeks but Hudson is in fine fettle and flying well in his aviary without walk-up perches. Pleased to have him fit and well again I’m now left with the quandry of how to go about training him for the displays when I’m still quite scared of him! Today I took a chance – and food – into the pen to see what I could do. I have worked with an aggressive Buzzard in the past so used a similar diversionary tactic to get him away from the high perch while I get into a good position (with the door to my back!).

Things didn’t go great, but I didn’t get mangled, so I’m calling it a success. Hudson swallowed the first piece of food quickly and made a runner for my feet, grabbing hold of my trousers with both sets of talons. I am so glad I was wearing so many layers of clothes today! I barely felt his talons through the three layers of thermal clothing! Trying to gain something positive – and get the bird to let go of me – I offered him food from my gloved hand. He took it and scurried away. I got out of the pen with mixed feelings about this experience. He basically bullied me into giving him all the food! Ah well, it’s all ups and downs when training birds of prey.

So I’ll leave you all with a positive. Here’s a pic of Prince sat on one of the posts in the display arena, looking cheeky. Til the next blog, gnite!