Title is a reference to how long this blog thing is taking me to post. How can something that so many people use be causing me so much grief? My last blog entry took three hours and three re-writes due to WordPress losing all of the formating then all of the text, causing me to do the whole thing again.
Well anyway enough of the moaning I’m here now.
Since the last post we’ve had a very wet week here in West Lothian. Days of persistant rain can get anyone down, so no real surprise then that some of our owls were feeling literally ‘under the weather’. A few of our trained flying display birds were wet and bedraggled, grounded and weak, so needed a little TLC and a few days in our Recovery Room until the weather improved. This worked well for them and they perked up enough to return to their own aviaries, but what about the collection owls? Well that’s a different thing. Our trained birds are handled every day and we quickly notice changes in their behaviour or moods, from this we can act accordingly. The other owls aren’t so easy to read. Owls, and many other birds and animals, will hide any weakness to avoid predation. They won’t show that they are sick or injured until they really can’t hide it any longer. Unfortunately for us trying to care for their welfare this sometimes means that by the time we see something is wrong, it is too late to fix the problem.
Sadly this was the case for one of our Western Screech Owls on Saturday. It had been sitting up in it’s usual perch beside it’s mate on Thursday and Friday, but a volunteer found it on the ground looking ill on the Saturday morning. Picked up and moved to the Rec Room it was apparent that the bird was in a very bad way indeed. There were no outwardly obvious problems, it wasn’t soaking wet, there were no injuries visible, no breaks, it was well fed (keel bone could not be felt through the feather and muscle), but it was sleepy and shivering. Left in the Rec Room but checked regularly the poor owl deteriorated until it was unable to stand, then passed away mid-afternoon. We don’t know as yet what the cause was, quite possibly some internal problem like a tumor, but being cold and wet may have brought the situation to a head. We will await the Post Mortem results anxiously.
So Saturday was tinged with sadness for all of us at the Owl Centre, but as is always the way when working with animals good things balance out the bad.
On Sunday we had another of Dean Bricknell’s photography workshops and as seems to be the way, he brought the sunshine along again. One of the great things about the location of the Scottish Owl Centre now is the wonderful resource that is Polkemmet Country Park. When the weather is favourable we can take owls out into the park that surrounds the Centre and photographers get some great natural looking pictures. I barely recognise Hosking the Tawny Owl in the photographs that have come from previous workshops, even though I see him every day he just looks like a wild Tawny that you would find out in these woods. Spock our Long-eared Owl is just a superstar in these workshops too, so patient and a natural poser! If only the midges had given us a break the day would have been perfect. Why are midges still around anyway? Oh well.
In the afternoon flying display I took a leap of faith and chose to debut Fetlar the young Snowy Owl in front of a public audience. It was a bit chaotic, with Fetlar still learning to fly in the large space that is our indoor display arena, but the fact he/she flew at all was a great result. It all takes practice of course, so each day we will continue with the training both with and without audiences. I have never flown a Snowy Owl before and there is just something magical seeing these big white birds in flight. If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself!
In contrast to our big white arctic owl, we are also training an owl of the desert… Our Pharoah’s Eagle Owl is around the same age as Fetlar, about 5 months or so, but had little human contact or handling after being creche reared and moved up to our Centre. We have been taking training very slow and gentle with this bird and we had a breakthrough on Thursday afternoon. She had been coming cautiously over to take food from our fingers for a while, but on Thursday I managed to get her to take the next step and fly to a perch then fly to the glove for a food reward. I was surprised to find she then sat happily on the glove waiting for more food rather than fly away again straight away. She did three short flights to my glove on Thursday and I called that a win and left it at that. On Friday she did it all again for Centre volunteer Ian, and again each day since. She is a beautiful owl and smart enough to remember what is expected of her each day. I can see us moving her training on to flights in the arena very soon at this rate.
I think I’ll call it a night with this short update, get it posted and get some sleep ready for work in the morning.