A wise man once said ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. From the wisdom of the Big Yin, thoroughly Scottish Billy Connoly, we certainly needed some good clothing in the last week. Storm force gales followed by snow then followed by yet more severe gales hit the centre and are still doing so.
My first thought in weather like this is whether the birds are okay, then are the aviaries ok too, has there been any damage? The morning after hurricane force winds hit the Scottish west coast, dissipating by they reached us but still ferocious, I expected more than just a bit of roofing felt to be lifted off a roof. We were lucky, and the aviaries are pretty solid.
This was the first real test of our newest aviaries, only occupied over Christmas. As you can see from the photo, birds like Altai the Siberian Eagle Owl sensibly make good use of the shelter area to keep away from the worst of the wind, rain and in this case, snow. The aviaries passed the test with flying colours.
The gales and blizzards hampered the construction work on the next aviaries but didn’t stop us completely. Unfortunately the foundation posts I spent the weekend digging and cementing in were in the wrong place, but hadn’t set anyway so were easy to pull out! Despite a bit of two-steps-forward and one-step-back, we finally began to put the structure of the new Burrowing Owl aviary together yesterday.
On the owly front, our recently arrived Barn Owls – one white and one black – have been doing fine despite their first week living in an outdoor aviary being in some of the roughest winter weather that Scotland could muster for them. They are very friendly so far, and we soon discovered that they are already pretty well trained to fly to the glove, they do it in their aviary even if you haven’t got any food with you! As an experiment we took them into the flying display arena to see how they’d respond. They flew to the glove for food pretty well. I don’t think it would take a lot of time or effort to train them up for displays. This would mean we can elaborate our talks about why colour is important for an owl. We might think that an albino or a melanistic creature is beautiful, but would it survive in nature? Come along to our shows this year and find out what we reckon ; )
See you next week, take care and wrap up warm!
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!
A hard frost and minus four degrees celsius greeted me as I stepped out of my door this morning. Doing my rounds to check on the owls I found them all present and correct. Some were snuggled into the corners of the aviary in the most shelter, others in pairs were snuggled up to each other, but all of them had better protection from the cold than I did – back inside for another layer I went!
Most of my day today was spent around the new aviaries and areas of the centre that haven’t been developed yet. I helped pick out some more large perches to go in part-build aviaries, where they will be dug and concreted in, and helped carry some through to the pens. More of the plans were explored and it felt good for me to have some input to this. I’m looking up plants that we could use in the aviaries, whether those are alpine plants for the Snowy Owl pen or climbers for the walls or plants for the tropical zone, some will hopefully go in ready for opening, others will have to wait until the centre has been open for a while. Helping to add to the sensory experience that a visit to the centre will become, planting things like buddleja would be good, and honeysuckle and rose climbing some of the walls of what was built to be the old estate Walled Garden. It would be nice to see the plants in the aviaries develop and grow, literally, as time goes on. I’ve done a fair bit of research now so hopefully we can start to source plants and see what we can get hold of in the local area.
Building wise, the team have been as busy as yesterday working on what was called ‘phase two’. Technical complications with the layout of the photo booth cropped up but have been resolved to everyones satisfaction and it will be a good feature to the centre once it is complete. Along from that are the four aviaries that together make the ‘tropical zone’, or Realm of the Rainforest. Talking about it today I realised how excited I am about this feature. It really is unique I think, something you would see in a zoo but certainly not in a bird of prey or owl collection anywhere in the UK. (If anyone knows of another then please tell me, I’d like to compare notes!). Today we talked through which owls were going in which aviary; Brown Wood Owls for Asia, Black-banded Owls for South America, Boobook Owls for Australia, and maybe White Faced or African Wood Owls for Africa. The plan is to have a raised temperature and a sprinkler system, and to make it a real sense of being in the forests with the birds, a sound system playing the noises you would hear in the rain forests. I think it will be a really popular feature once we open and I look forward to seeing it coming together in the coming days and weeks.
Well that’s all for tonight I think. Til tomorrow, gnite!
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!
Quite a big day in a way. Today I tried out the Scottish Owl Centre’s new indoor display arena, and one of the team of imprinted owls took his first flight on day one of his training programme!
Back to the beginning of the day first though.
Making the most of milder weather and lack of snow and ice I started out by cleaning aviaries as usual, then feeding time followed as usual too. With the joiners and painter away during the weekends the site was quiet and peaceful. An opportunity to spend time with the trained birds again.
I had a good look around the indoor display area, now with completed roof and doors fitted. Now the area could be made safe and controlled I wondered if I could begin to train the birds for the flying displays a bit early, like today perhaps? Prince the Ashy Faced Owl hadn’t been fed yet and so was shouting for his lunch. I had a volunteer!
Carrying Prince into the display arena I wondered if he might be distracted by his strange new surroundings and not fly to me, but the power of an empty stomach meant he never took his eyes off me. I stepped him onto one of the posts set into the ground in the arena and walked a little distance away. Raising my gloved arm I called his name. With just a moment of bobbing his head about Prince took flight – straight to my glove! Picking up the piece of chicken I’d placed on my hand he ate it down quickly. Well that was brilliant! I had prepared a few more bits of food but I really didn’t mind if he wouldn’t fly a second time; for a first time in free flying training we were already on a winner!
Placing Prince onto a different post I walked away again, this time a little further. No hesitation this time, he flew right over to the glove and the piece of chicken waiting there. I must have been grinning like a big kid now, this was way better than I’d dared to expect. I figured it was worth keeping on going so took him to a post further down the display arena then walked back to my original spot. Again Prince flew right over straight away. I did this over and over until all the food was gone, eight flights in all, ending with a larger piece of chicken as a reward for his good work. I couldn’t help telling him how good he had been, as if he could understand me, then walked him back to his aviary. Giving him his daily food rations I hoped that we could try a repeat performance in the arena tomorrow.
I was really really pleased with how easy and willing Prince was to fly on our very first attempt. Not only that, I was thrilled because I had never flown an Ashy Faced Owl before. He is a stunning looking bird and flying free in the arena he looked even better. I hope he is as willing tomorrow!
So I’ll leave you with a pic of Prince and sign off for today. Gnite all 🙂
The title today has two meanings, both weather and health wise, as I woke this morning feeling like I had some cold or flu thing. I knew it was going to be one of those days where I wished I was under my duvet in the warm all day. Outside, well one thing you could never call the weather round here is boring. I think we had a bit of everything during the day, starting with nice sunshine, sleet, snow, rain, hail, wind, even thunder!
I decided that my priorities today were just to make sure the birds were all okay, and get them fed. They of course were all sensibly tucked away from the weather in the corners of their aviaries and under shelter. It was only silly humans that chose to wander about in weather like this!
Not for longer than I had to that’s for sure!
If only I had the same ability to keep warm as the owls, with layers of feathers to trap in warmth and insulating enough to keep it there no matter how cold it is around them. By keeping still they conserve energy as well as heat, so next time you hear someone say ‘owls don’t do much do they? Just sit around all day’ you know who is the wisest critter around!
Speaking of wisdom, today I was delighted to receive my copy of ‘A Wisdom of Owls’ by author Mary Pay Hyland.
Mary Pat was kind enough to use one of my photographs of a Barn Owl for the cover of her latest novel. I have to say it was strange but thrilling to see my name in print on the back cover and inside with the credits! My sincere thanks go to Mary Pat and I hope her book becomes a best seller!
So now I have a good book to read I’m away to my bed to hide under the duvets until tomorrow. Gnite all!
Another day of intense cleaning of the aviaries for me. With the weather mild for the most part we reached the balmy heights of 7 degrees above freezing. This may be short lived if the weather forecasters are right about what’s coming tomorrow. There is an Amber alert on for the Highlands, Central and Borders regions for snow tomorrow. All the more reason to make the most of the day to get more cleaning done. I found myself surprised by how close the male Snowy Owl will allow me to get to him before making a fuss or flying away. Their aviary is nice and long – longer than any I have seen before – so they have plenty of space to keep to the opposite end when I’m in there cleaning. It’s nice that he is comfortable enough to let me get that close before moving and it will help me get a good look at him without catching him up.
Two weeks ago we had our first (and so far only) visit from our local vet. We wanted our male Snowy checked up as we had seen a lump or growth sticking out through the feathers of his left wing. The vet gave us the options and suggested we keep monitoring the bird. If the lump got larger or the bird showed signs of distress then the vet would remove it, possibly with laser surgery. Today I could see how calm and peaceful the owl was, then getting so close I could look at his wing. I couldn’t see any outward sign of the lump at all. It might well still be there but now covered by new (or better preened) feathers. The vet said it might just sort itself out naturally so I think we just need to keep on watching and checking periodically. He’s a very nice bird, so is the female, and they are both in great health. I have never seen captive Snowy Owls fly so much or so well. In the wild their flight is described more like a peregrine than an owl. I find that very hard to imagine but it is a real pleasure to see these two fly so well in their nice long aviary.
Work is still going forward on the rest of the aviaries of course. Today half of the joiners worked on the indoor arena doors while the other half finished a roof and resumed work on what will be the MacInders Eagle Owl and Milky Eagle Owl pens. These are both African species and it will be nice to see them next door to each other. It will be interesting to try to find appropriate plants to go in their pens, it is hardly an african climate here in Scotland at any time of the year!
Once the centre is built and ready to be opened to the public there will be advertising all over the place of course, but already word of mouth is bringing people to the park to see what is going on. Today Reception also started getting phone calls from people asking if the new owl centre is open yet. Great stuff. We’re really looking forward to opening and the more we talk about how the indoor displays will be the more exciting it all becomes.
I’ll sign off today with a picture of the indoor arena, now with roof but still a lot of work to be done.
I hope you are all keeping warm and snug and shall ‘see’ you all again tomorrow.