Monthly Archives: February 2012

Breaking and Decorating

It was a long day for me at the Scottish Owl Centre today. Long but productive.

Starting out at 8 a.m. I enjoyed my morning check on the owls before anyone else arrived. The place was very peaceful and as I quietly wandered round I saw many of the owls sat in different places than usual. This must be what they do when ‘off show’ and all the people go home, this is ‘owl time’. It was nice to see them more relaxed and enjoying being themselves before the work starts for the day.

Once the rounds were done I got cracking on installing branch perches in the Wee Owl aviaries. Starting with the first pen – temporarily housing a Tengmalm’s Owl – I caught up the owl and placed it in a quiet spot in a carrying box, then began to take out the old and put in the new perching. Knowing that there will be new birds moving into this row of aviaries I was able to put perches appropriate to their needs. I have worked with each of these species before and remember what sorts of perches they need and like. It was quite therapeutic to spend the day doing this task. It’s a bit like doing the decorating in a new house, or unpacking the prized ornaments and placing them just where you think they look best. It’s strangely satisfying to stand back and see your handiwork too. The test of course is to see if the owls will like and use the perches too. Once kitted out with perching that makes best use of the space in the aviary, that gives a good variety of places to sit both high and low, at the rear and at the front of the aviary, I then take out all of my tools and put the owls back in their home. To begin with they often sit and stare around at the new ‘furnishings’, or they fly up to their old perch and stare at everything wide eyed. Eventually you see them calm down and start to explore the new places to sit and that is very satisfying.

I got the whole row of seven aviaries kitted out with perches today and was very pleased with the results. Better still, other people liked them, and even better than that all the owls seemed to like them as well!

By the usual time to finish work I had the whole of the Wee Owl corner of the centre ready for the new birds arrival.

The team working on building the centre had a good day too. All of the new aviaries received the upright tree perches and gravel flooring. One of the guys build at least 6 new nestboxes for the small owls and the painter made the most of the dry weather to give another coat of paint to railings and ledges, walls and roofing frames. We even had a brief glimpse of sunshine this afternoon, very welcome for drying paint – and humans too! The ground work team finished laying the paths at one end of the centre, with only the area near the reception and side entrance still to do.

There was a real sense that things are coming on now, and feeling better about the progress than recent days.

Of course for me there was (and still is) the anticipation of the new owls arriving tomorrow morning. I am really excited actually! As well as some new owls I have never seen let alone worked with before, there will be some old favourites of mine arriving – like the Ferruginous Pygmy Owls, and the magnificent Milky Eagle Owls, the European Scops (‘owl that goes ping’), Sundas Scops, Pearl Spotted Owlet, and the Striated Scops that I haven’t worked with in a number of years. We will be receiving birds to pair up with some of our own collection too; African Wood Owl and Tengmalm’s Owl and it will be good to see them in a pair.

Hometime came and I still had some work to do. I had planned to feed the owls late today, when everyone had finished with noisy work. I decided to start moving birds around ready for tomorrow too. Initially I just intended to move the White Faced Owls that had been in the last pen in the Wee Owl section that I had decked out in perching, but as the sun was shining and it was a lovely evening we decided to move as many round as we could in readiness for the very early morning. It was quite mind boggling to work out which owl was going where but we got them all moved round eventually.

I felt really happy to be moving the owls into their correct aviaries after so long. Some went straight up to the new perches the team had put in for them and looked great! I’m charging up my cameras tonight so look out for some pictures tomorrow!

By the time I got to feeding the owls in the centre it was going dark, and the owls were beginning to call. It was ‘owl time’ again. It occurred to me that they were complaining about room service being very slow today!

So I’ll sign off for tonight and go get some sleep. I’ll be going in at around 7 but the courier with the new owls may beat me there!

Gnite then!


Can’t see the wood for the trees

Just a short blog tonight, I need an early night as tomorrow will be a long and busy day.

Today was busy enough too! The building work on the aviaries is almost done, with all the frames of the structures complete and mesh almost all done on the roofs. The tree perches are looking great as they are dug into place by the ground work contractors too. Our ‘secret project’ is taking rather large shape too, but again I’m not telling you what it is until all the work is finished.

With the deadlines all looming and the rest of the birds for the collection arriving at 7 a.m. Thursday we’re all feeling the pressure now.

I started my day by checking all the owls were okay before nipping into town for some tools. Then I was back on to gathering up branch perches from the woods around the park, taking them back to the owl centre, and placing them outside the relevant aviary where I aim to fit them. I had one slight hiccup to this plan… Yesterday I had piled up some branches that looked good, but when I went back for them today I saw a guy merrily putting them all into the back of his car. No doubt they were destined to be kindling for his wood burning stove. I didn’t challenge the old boy, fair play to him I guess. I made a mental note not to leave anything lying around where it can be convenient for walking (or driving) away with. A bit cheeky though!

Oh well nevermind, there are plenty of other branches fallen that I can use. By the end of the day I had at least two new perches placed outside the Wee Owl enclosures and some spare for any others in need. Tomorrrow I have a full day ahead putting them into the pens. As some of the owls arriving are rather large as well as very very small, I shall need to go out and find some larger branch perches too.

So I’ll call it a night early this time and bid you all a goodnight  🙂

Skunk smells, rain, thunder, lightning, oh and owls. It must be Monday again!

Sometimes the unique nature of my job makes me chuckle. I mean, how many jobs can you think of where you spend your evenings relaxing at home surfing the internet to buy skunk scent? Or tropical rainforest soundtracks? What on earth do either of those have to do with the Scottish Owl Centre? You may well ask, but I ain’t tellin’ – yet!

Back to this morning…

I got round the last section of aviaries that needed spring cleaning. Some of the owls currently in the Wee Owl corner of the centre will be moving to different aviaries later this week and a couple of them will really appreciate the extra space that the new aviaries built for them will allow. In their place we will be adding more, well ‘wee’ owls! One I am looking forward to is the ‘owl that goes ping’, the European or Common Scops Owl. There are many weird and wonderful sounds made by the owl collection at night here but ‘ping’ will be a new one! While cleaning the aviaries today I began to plan out how I would like to add branch perches most suitable for these tiny owls.

Once I finished the spring clean I went over the other sections, which didn’t take anywhere near as long this time.

The joiners, painter and ground work contractors were all busy busy getting the last few aviaries finished, and by the end of the day there was just one last roll of mesh needed to complete the last aviary – and that roll arrives tomorrow!

With that in mind I spent the rest of my day in the woods around Polkemmet Country Park finding these branch perches I want for the Wee Owls. With all the storms blowing trees down around the park over this and the last couple of years, there are a lot of branches for us to use. It will take a long time to get the aviaries all perched up for the owls, and longer still for the planting to really make the enclosures look their best, but I made a start on the job today by gathering together some branches.

We got quite a bit done today all in all. More was done on our other little secret project too, as the pic will show. But… what is it? Again I ain’t tellin’ – yet!

So I’ll let you ponder that some more as I head off to bed. Gnite all!

Spring Cleaning

Another day of cleaning for me today, as promised! I was determined to make the most of the quiet weekend to do as much of the real thorough clean up of the aviaries as possible. With all the noise around during the week I really don’t like to add to the stress and disturbance for the owls.

Like yesterday I concentrated on getting quality rather than quantity, and cleaned another section of the centre. The sections cleaned yesterday got a quick hose over to keep them up to speed, but today I was ‘spring cleaning’ along the row that currently houses Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Ural Owls and an African Wood Owl. All that is left now is the Wee Owl corner, and I gave that a preliminary hose over today to make it easier tomorrow. I know I go on about it a lot but having working hosepipes makes a big difference to my daily work; like providing fresh water in every aviary in the centre every day.

Later this week the aviaries I spring cleaned today will see new occupants arrive as we shuffle birds into the correct aviaries. The row I worked on today will be the first part of our Walk to the North Pole feature, and so we will be moving in Tengmalm’s Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and another I will reveal later this week when the rest of the collection arrive! We hope to run guided tours along this Walk, explaining about each owl and it’s life out in the wild and the further along the walk the further north you travel. Along that Walk you see the Great Horned Owls, and today I was pleased to see that the female remained on the nest (and eggs hopefully!) even while I was cleaning the aviary adjacent. A good sign that she is now in for the long haul and will see the incubation through to hatching. We will have some particularly noisy machinery on site over the next few days but I have high hopes now that she will sit tight. Part of my study back at university was on how birds were affected by human disturbance. My subjects were wild birds, Capercaillie, up in the Scottish highlands, but my research – combined with words of wisdom from my previous manager – show that many captive birds and animals are quite tolerant of work like we are having done at the Scottish Owl Centre as long as they can see what is going on. They watch and remain alert, but realise that the noises are not coming up close, and danger is not present in their own ‘territory’ that is their enclosure.

This also answers a question I got from two of the joiners in today to do some more work on completing the last aviaries being built. They hadn’t really noticed what happens when I go in the pens to clean before, and today passed by as I was scrubbing the walls of the Barn Owl enclosure. The owls were disturbed from their perch as I was cleaning the wall behind it, so they were flying around at the front of the pen. The joiners were surprised that I wasn’t bothered that two owls were flying around at head height. The birds weren’t trying to hurt me – believe me they could if they wanted! – but were more interested in getting away from wherever I was at the time. Once I had done with their pen they went back to perching at the back. I had gone beyond the edge of their zone of tolerance and their thought was just to flee. Once the disturbance was gone they settled quickly.

“Don’t any of them attack you?” they asked. “No. Well those would yes, but I’m not going in there!” I replied pointing at the Great Horned Owls. Well, would you?

Something to think about, until tomorrow, gnite!

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap

(A friend made a bet that I wouldn’t use this song title as a blog title, so I have!) 😉

My day was spent catching up on the cleaning of the aviaries today. I didn’t do much else but then there was an awful lot of catching up to do. With weeks of freezing winter weather and no water supply, the aviaries were in quite a state.

Today was mild but not as nice as yesterday at all. The sunshine proved to be brief and today we had grey cloud and drizzle. I didn’t mind that at all as I was wearing full waterproofs for cleaning. It was tiring and dirty work. It isn’t always a glamorous job being a keeper, and that’s a fact. Anyone who wants to get into this line of work thinking it’s all about standing talking to people with an impressive owl on your arm, or flying one in a display really needs to think about the days like today.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining one bit. As I think I’ve said in another blog, once you have cleaned all the enclosures and stand back and look at them you do get a sense of satisfaction. Knowing that the animal that lives in that pen is in the best place, well looked after and well fed does give you a good feeling. Even when you are wearing clothes covered in mud, grime and owl droppings!

Well with there being so much cleaning to do I actually didn’t get all the way round in the day. To give each aviary a really good and thorough scrub and rake I only managed about a third of the centre on my own today. Imagine if all of the aviaries were built and occupied! (Like …next week!)  I really need to get into a daily routine and then it will only take a fraction of the time. Now all of the hosepipes and water supply are repaired I can start that routine.

So, guess what I’m doing tomorrow? Yep more cleaning!

One thing did make me chuckle on my rounds today though. While I was cleaning Lofty the Barn Owl’s aviary he followed me round, as if supervising my work. He is a friendly soul – especially now he’s at his flying weight, he’s more likely following to see if I will feed him! I had to laugh as he landed and perched on the rim of the bucket as I was scrubbing the droppings from the wall. I turned round to rinse the brush and found an owl sitting looking up at me! He did this everywhere I moved to. I put the bucket down, started to scrub at the wall, turned around and there he was again! He did get his reward, as did they all, once I called it quits for cleaning today. I went round with the feed bucket next and Lofty was first in the queue. Having said that, the Great Grey Owls were both ravenous again even though I feed them the same daily amount as the Snowy Owls, Siberian Eagle Owls and Great Horned Owls. Soon they will be in good fitness and condition, hopefully ready to breed by the end of March. Wouldn’t that be great? We already have Great Horned Owl eggs being incubated by mother owl, who will be next?

Oh well I think I’d better sign off and go get some rest ready for tomorrow, I’ll need it. Til then, gnite!

The Hoot Is On

Things have stepped up a pace at the Scottish Owl Centre, or it certainly feels that way. We have some dates in our diaries now; new owls arriving, zoo inspection, possible opening date… but these dates are still written in pencil at the moment. We are all working harder to meet these dates.

The building work is at the stage where it looks like all of the aviary structures with roof and mesh will be complete around Tuesday next week. We certainly hope so as our new birds will be arriving here on Wednesday or Thursday! We need to do a serious shuffle of the owls to get them into the correct aviaries starting next week. In preparation for this, today I went round filling woodchip into the nest boxes and shelves that are built into some of the aviaries already. The majority of the nest provisions will need to be done once the main construction is complete, but some of the aviaries have had them installed as work went along.

The trees cut some weeks ago now that have been lying in wait for use in the new aviaries have pretty much been put where we want them now. Today we picked them out and saw them taken into the enclosures that need them, and next week they will be dug into place. As you can see from the photos it was some work for the team to get some of the bigger ones into the aviaries! Once they are dug in and the enclosures are finished I’m sure the owls will make good use of them, and look great doing so too.

The weather today was a real tonic as well; glorious sunshine! It was so much easier for our painter to work in this weather of course. If we could just have a few days of dry weather in a straight run the paintwork and aviary building would go so much easier and quicker.

The ground work contractors continued putting gravel down ready for the path materials to cover.

It was a day of much discussion and planning on the ground too. Some of my research at Edinburgh Zoo yesterday will hopefully come in handy when we move on to interactive displays and materials used for them around the Education Zone – but that’s for another day.

I’ll leave you tonight with a photo of our female Great Horned Owl – still sitting tight on her nest!

So, ‘til tomorrow, gnite 🙂


Compare and contrast;

Today I took myself off on another ‘busman’s holiday’ to Edinburgh Zoo. As well as getting out from under the feet of the workmen on the site of the Scottish Owl Centre – at least for a day – I intended on checking out some enclosures and interactive display materials for inspiration for our new centre. (Oh alright, I wanted to see the animals and take photos too!)

I did get one or two odd glances from other zoo visitors as I stood taking pictures of door frames and flooring of indoor areas, or a row of plants with no animals in sight. Yes I went to see the Pandas, and while there I took a look and some photos of one of their outdoor areas to see what the planting looked like in these new enclosures. With the Scottish Owl Centre building the new site from scratch all of our enclosures will be new, and we will have to build up the level of planting in and around them all as time goes on. I wanted to see how a big collection goes about the task so we can guage our own modest efforts. I really liked how they filled an indoor area and made it look so tropical in the entrance to the Koala house and the Brilliant Birds exhibit. It may take us some time to get that amount of coverage but it is something to aim for.

On my travels around the zoo I took a moment to look at the Rock Hyrax. They are funny little critters, and my interest comes from reading in my Owls of the World book that they are a favourite meal of the Milky Eagle Owl. These animals are most closely related to elephants! Well the Milky is known as the Giant Eagle Owl in Africa for a reason perhaps!

Well I’m going to wrap this short blog up with a picture, but as there were no owls at Edinburgh Zoo for me to see today I will leave you with the next best thing – a Stellar’s Sea Eagle! This chap was very obliging and came right up to the window when I was taking pictures. With him standing so close to me I got a real good opportunity to compare the size of this Eagle with our Eagle Owls. I have to say that our Siberian Eagle Owls compare very nicely thank you!

Anyway, til tomorrow, gnite!