Monthly Archives: March 2013

Image

Long Cold Winter

Brief sunshine and blue skies between the snowfall. Beautiful!

Brief sunshine and blue skies between the snowfall. Beautiful!

I read something interesting recently. Apparently here in Scotland (and the whole UK I suppose) we are on the same latitude as Siberia. The only reason we don’t have the same cold and extreme weather as over there is because of the Gulf Stream bringing a more temperate climate.

Drifting snow at the Scottish Owl Centre last week

Drifting snow at the Scottish Owl Centre last week

You could have fooled me lately!

They say we have ‘unseasonably late’ cold weather, and for March that’s true, but looking back at my blogs from twelve months ago I find I was complaining about the heat and how I was having to water the plants twice a day – in March!

Now that's a Snowy Owl!

Now that’s a Snowy Owl!

Serves me right I suppose, I should learn to shut up and take whatever weather comes our way.

That’s hard for me though, when I worry about what it is doing to the owls in the centre. At this time of year we have trained birds at their lower ‘hunting weight’ but they need that extra bit just to keep going. If they get too much food they don’t fly, so it’s a difficult balance sometimes.

We also have birds sitting on eggs. This week I was counting up on the ‘Breeders Board’ and was happy to write on our tenth species laying eggs. Our female Siberian Eagle Owl has surprised us all by laying 6 eggs! Some eggs have been due to hatch lately too. A brief window of mild weather a month ago fooled some of the owls into breeding early; a week early for our Great Horned Owls, two months early for the Ashy Faced and White Faced Owls. Now we have had two weeks of bitter easterly wind and light to heavy snowfall most days and it’s starting to take its toll.

Yesterday I had a niggling worry that the female Great Horned was spending too long off the nest on her ‘loo break’. At the end of the day I gave in to the niggle and went in to check on the nest. Now these owls are not best pleased when someone goes in their aviary, and they do have the reputation for being the most aggressive owl in the world… but this pair seem to recognise that I don’t mess around and just want to keep out of my way. Good plan owls! Well I climbed the ladder and found the nest empty. There were two eggs on the ground, thrown out of the nest during the blizzards on the 13th and 16th of the month – right bang in the middle of the hatching period. One egg had been fertile and an owlet was well developed when it was thrown out into the snow. A real shame, but we remind ourselves that this is still pretty early in the year and breeding season for these owls. There is plenty of time for this pair to ‘recycle’ and try again, and this is something they have done once before. (Go look back at the blog for this date last year) Fingers crossed for them then.

My fingers are remaining so crossed these days and it’s so cold I’m surprised I can move them apart! It’s freezing!

In better news, we passed our second Zoo Inspection in the last week. The inspectors seemed really pleased and happy with the work done at the centre over the last 12 months, and liked what we have planned for the coming months and years too. This was a big relief for me as I’d always approached these inspections with some trepidation before I came to work here in Scotland. This inspection went so well I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! So that’s us good to go until 2016 and our next inspection to renew our zoo license.

Well I think I’ll finish up this chilly blog with a chilly pic of a chilly owl. Here’s a close up of Hudson the Great Horned Owl with a dusting of snow on his head.

Snowy Owl? No it’s Hudson the Great Horned Owl, covered in snow!

Image

The Stars (are out tonight)

The Stars (are out tonight) … and I hear owls hooting. Living next door to the Scottish Owl Centre means that from my sofa I can hear Great Horned Owl, Siberian Eagle Owl, MackInders Eagle Owl, Barn Owl, oh and the local wild Tawny Owl that comes calling on our female Tawny’s in their aviary 😉

Well it’s March 2013 and the sun was shining most of the day today. To be fair we’ve had a run of a few sunny days lately. The owls, staff and visitors alike have all been enjoying the sunshine. It’s still cold at night though, reminding us that Winter has not finished with us yet.

It’s been a good long while since my last blog. My falling out with WordPress last year meant I was faced with finding another host, or hopefully using the blogging capabilities of the owl centre website. That wasn’t possible so I’m back to square one. Our new website is now live on the internet and looks really good, and has this WordPress link incorporated so I’m going to give WP another chance.

So what has happened since last year? Well, lots, I suppose is the short answer. We closed the centre to the public over December and January and reopened on 1st of Feb. During the closed period I had intended to get all of the maintenance work that needed doing around the centre all done and finished in time for opening. The winter weather put some of the work on hold and some stuff still needs better weather to get to work on. Painting for example. But I’m happy with what we did get finished.

One of the very first things we did when the doors shut was to take down the majority of the barriers that ran along the front of the aviaries around most of the owl centre. They weren’t really necessary, and it was always my hope we could phase them out.DSCF1142 Without them visitors with disabilities have better views plus staff and volunteers cleaning aviaries can reach without a lot of hassle now. We left the barriers around the Great Horned Owl aviary, as they are very aggressive birds, and also the MackInders Eagle Owls as in my experience they can be aggressive too, if you happen to get one that way inclined. It turned out to be a good idea for different reasons though. We got in a new male MackInders last year, and he has chosen the perch right up at the front of the aviary to be his favourite place. People can stand by the barrier, two feet from him, and he does not move, so people get to see him close up but he doesn’t feel threatened enough to fly away. He’s a great bird though, and currently hooting away telling the female that the breeding season is here!

We’re seeing more signs of the breeding season’s arrival around the centre. The Great Horned Owl female has been sitting on eggs for nearly two weeks now, a week earlier than last year. Much earlier though is the Ashy Faced Owl. They (like the Great Horned) raised two owlets last year in the same aviary and same nestbox, which was unusual too, as they normally only have one owlet. I think this all means that they like the new location for the owl centre, prompting unusual behaviour. If these eggs hatch okay we will be rearing one of the owlets for our Flying Display team. Sadly we lost our trained Ashy Faced very recently. ‘Prince’ was loved by everyone at the owl centre, particularly me, as I had taken him into my house on extended recuperation a couple of times in the last year. He was a very friendly happy soul, willing to fly for anyone and as many times as they liked in our Display Arena, or just sit near you and chill out. IMAG0020He just had a nice character and disposition. I was really shocked to find he had died when I went to check on him. He had been fine in the morning, fine when I finished work, but died before my bedtime. I had been looking after him in my spare room, a habit of zoo keepers and animal carers around the world I guess, and he had been recovering really well from a serious wing injury sustained during the coldest temperatures encountered here in December. We sent for a post mortem but the results could not show any cause of death. It’s a mystery, and very very sad, but we won’t forget him and must move on, must continue the good work he started in our conservation talks for his ‘most endangered’ species in our collection.

We have lost, in my opinion, more than our fair share of well loved owls in the last year, including the centre’s ‘founding’ Barn Owl ‘Dylan. Each one we lose saddens and upsets us, but as long as we do our best to give them as long and happy a life as possible then they repay us with fond memories that last our lifetimes too.

Darwin the Boobook OwlBack to this breeding season. Along with Great Horned and Ashy Faced Owls on eggs, our Southern White Faced Owl is on eggs about two months earlier than expected, our Ural Owl has been sat in the nest for three days, and our Indian and African Spotted Eagle Owls may be days away from nesting too. I was pleasantly surprised this afternoon to see that the female Boobook Owl was sitting inside the nestbox looking out, and the male was perched nearby looking quite relaxed. We hadn’t thought this pair were getting on very well, and had been watching camera recordings of their behaviour over the last week. The male had been calling to the female but she had been ignoring him, hiding behind a post. The male had been inside the box during the week but now the female has taken that place. I hope it means they have bonded after all, it would be great to breed them this year.

Signing out for tonight, I hope it won’t be as long before my next blog update.

Goodnight ‘owl.