GBOMP’s recent activity

Here’s what the GBOMP team have been up to since our last update, which took us up to the end of February.

Happy BO monitors 19082015Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Site Visit 8. Visited two sites in the Newent area MG. At the first, a barn, a bird has been seen regularly feeding in the surrounding area. There is lots of slash on the wall below the box and on beams, and a large pile of pellets on the floor beneath the box. All boding well for the coming breeding season.

The second site has had a couple of boxes for a few ears that have not been checked. Both boxes are outdoor boxes. One appears not to have been used at all, and the other had a kestrel sitting on it when I arrived, and appears to have been used. More to come in May.
Following these two I put a Tawny Owl box up at a site on May Hill.

Monday 9th March 2015
Site visit 9. Return to Grange farm to finish repairing the old box MG and WB. Also put up a little owl box to complete the collection of boxes at this site. Whilst removing branches from the Badger sett box a Barn Owl flew from the box and was seen to fl to the far side of the farm and enter the lower tree box – a good reason for having multiple boxes on a site.

Tuesday 10th March 2015
Site visit 10. MG and VJ. Visit to a site just outside Hawling, to survey the site and start positioning nest boxes. Two boxes were installed today, and sites surveyed for further boxes. Whilst there we saw Red Kites, Buzzards, and three Kestrels.

Briefly visited a site to west of Hawling with two boxes to remove a branch from in front of a box. A Barn Owl was present. From this site we saw more Red Kites, and a Short Eared Owl.

Wednesday 11th March 2015
Site visit 11. MG and VJ. Visit to position nest boxes on a site on outskirts of Cirencester. Buzzards soaring over site, and 2 Red Kites seen on way home at Bentham domes.

Tuesday 24th March 2015
Site visit 12. MG and RH. Visit to site west of Guiting Wood to put up three new nest boxes to join the old one already on the site. Several Buzzards soaring over the sites and a Sparrowhawk.

Friday 24th April 2015
Visit 13. MG, to Longney Orchard to survey for presence of Barn Owls. Plenty of rough grassland, both in orchard and along river banks. Evidence of Barn Owl activity in two buildings on site. Pellets collected.

Tuesday 12th May 2015
Site visit 14 MG and DA. Last visit for a while to put up boxes. A bit of a rest then start monitoring. Put up nest box in low barn at Longney orchard.

Friday 22nd May 2015
Monitoring visit 1, MG and DA. Unexpected early request to visit a nest site at Bourton on the Water. 4 eggs and a female barn owl present. More on this site later as the season progresses.

Tuesday 16th June 2015
Monitoring visit 2 the start of the main monitoring period. MG, WB, AH. Visit to Orchard and barn site near Hartpury. Stock Dove in one box and kestrel on 3 eggs in the second box. The box in the small barn with lots of pellets had nothing present and no new pellets, so high hopes of this box have been dashed for the moment. Two boxes in the Leadon Valley which are usually occupied either by Kestrels or Barn Owls also proved to be empty. Its beginning to look like a late or poor season.

Friday 19th June 2015
Bell towers are awkward places to monitor barn owls June 2015Monitoring Visit 3. MG and DA. Fourteen boxes or nest sites were visited today in the Guiting Power, Charlton Abbots and Syde areas. 3 boxes had adults present with lots of well trodden in pellets in the boxes, but no eggs or young yet. A fourth site had four small young. This latter site is in the Belfry of a church tower, and a nice surprise on entering the belfry was to find a brood of Kestrels on the windowsill as well as the barn owl chick
s on the floor. ( Also in the belfry were nests of Jackdaw and swallow.) Of the remaining 8 sites: one had a brood of kestrels, 3 others had stock doves nesting, two had had jackdaws nesting, and the others were empty. Although one had much evidence all round it of little owls. Again it looks as though the season is going to be late or poor. A bonus of the day was finding a Hobby nest.

Wednesday 24th June 2015Chicks in the bell tower June 2015
Monitoring visit 4 MG and VJ (Barn Owl Centre Gloucester). Nine boxes visited in the Charlton Abbots area. No Barn Owls present and only a few pellets at two sites. Stock Doves were present in 3 boxes. Possibly the late season affecting this area, or possibly a change in land management, with the introduction of sheep grazing where previously there was set aside grassland.

Thursday 30th July 2015
Monitoring visit 5 MG and KM. Joined forces today with Cotswold Water Park Trust to monitor some of their boxes. Eight boxes visited in total in the Down Ampney area. Every box had evidence of recent occupation by Barn Owls in the form of pellets present, and they were large and fresh. So although no eggs or young were found, so no breeding attempts yet this year, the indications were that the adults are now finding plenty of food, so may begin breeding. Three adults were seen. One was caught and weighed 320g, so in good condition.

Friday 31st July 2015
Monitoring visit 6 MG and AL. Returned today to ring the chicks in the box in the office of the GWT staff at Bourton on the Water. An adult was present, but unfortunately the young had not survived.

Saturday 1st August 2015
Monitoring visit 7 MG and DA. Returned today to ring the chicks at Syde. After the disappointment of yesterday, it was good to find that one chick had survived what has obviously been a hard time for barn owls. So the first chick of the year to be ringed was duly processed and photographed. A healthy chick growing at the expected rate.

Wednesday 19th August 2015
Monitoring visit 8 MG, AL, AF and TBS. Visit to the Windrush valley to check four boxes. Chicks present in two boxes and lots of pellets and an adult in another. The first brood was only recently hatched with 4 young ranging from 2 to 10 days old. We will return in September to ring these. The other brood of three was between 42 and 48 days old. These were ringed and photographed.

Monitoring visit 9 MG. Called in at Guiting power in the afternoon, to check the boxes where adults had been present earlier in the season. Although adults were present, there was no sign of breeding taking place this year.


Monitoring pollutants in predatory birds

IMG_2117bThis poignant image was photographed on the hard shoulder of the M5. It’s a sad visual description of the dangers faced by our birds of prey every day – not just Barn Owls, as pictured here. This owl appears to have been in prime condition prior to what was almost certainly an RTA.  We have a document which you can download here, titled ‘What to do with a dead raptor’. Even in cases such as this Barn Owl, where it’s safe to say that the cause of death is already known, it’s still worth sending the carcass to the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS), who have been monitoring the levels of pollutants in predatory birds for over 40 years. More information on the scheme can be found here.
Many thanks to Andrew Bluett for the photograph, and for sending this carcass away to the PBMS.

GBOMP’s recent activity

Following on from our first site visit of the year on January 16, here is a summary of some further recent site visits that the team have undertaken.

Friday 27/02/20153
Site visit 6. MG delivered and installed 4 new outdoor boxes to Guiting Power. This completes the suite of boxes at this site. Many thanks to the management and staff at this site whose interest, co-operation and support are outstanding. Monitoring of boxes will begin in May. Several Buzzards two Red Kites and a Kestrel were observed whilst installing the boxes.
Site visit 7. In the afternoon MG visited a new site above Winchcombe and surveyed the area with the site manager. Four potential sites were identified for boxes, with plenty of feeding habitat present. Report to be prepared for landowner.

Friday 13/02/2015
Site Visit 5. MG delivered 6 new indoor boxes to Guiting Power for placement over next week. (Boxes in position by 20/02/2015 see photographs).

Monday 09/02/2015
Site visit 4. MG and RH visited a farm near to Guiting Power to advise on nest box positioning. This is a fantastic farm which already has breeding barn owls, being monitored by the programme, but there is plenty of suitable feeding habitat, and evidence in outbuildings and barns of visits by barn owls. Five indoor sites and two outdoor sites were identified as potential nest places, so boxes were ordered.

Friday 06/02/2015
Site visit 3. MG and WB to Grange Farm Dymock to put up two boxes. One an indoor bo2x on a beam, in a barn, where pellets were found on floor and signs of roosting on beam. The other an outdoor box positioned on an old shattered oak to replace a natural nesting site that had gone when part of the tree fell down. An old box on the site needs repairing, but a Tawny owl was using this box as a roost site.

Monday 02/02/2015
Site visit 2. Again with Vince to one of the Cotswold study sites. A new box was put up in a field where there is much barn owl activity, and pellets found at base of old shattered and 1dead oak. This oak also has a lot of splash on it and is the current roost site. However the tree will not last much longer, so the new box will hopefully be adopted by the owls. Also evidence of little owls on the site, and a kestrel seen feeding in the field.

The story of Barn Owl GR00719

Barn Owl GR00719 is a chick that was ringed back in 2011 in Dymock. Going against previous years, it hatched in a natural nest site as opposed to an owl box – in this particular year, the box had been occupied by Kestrels, so the Barn Owls chose a hollow in a fallen tree. Three years later in 2014, Barn Owls experience a record breaking breeding season, and GR00719 contributed to it – she was found breeding in Chesire, 132 miles away and 1074 days later. Mervyn’s full account of the story of Barn Owl GR00719 has been added to the documents page, or can be downloaded via this link.

First site visit of 2015

The first site visit of the year, and the first for GBOMP. It was carried out with Vince from the “Barn Owl Centre” at one of his Cotswold study sites. Barn Owl pellets were found in one box, and collected for analysis. Some routine maintenance was carried out, and a new position for a box was identified, as there is sufficient rough grassland to eventually support two pairs of breeding owls. Whilst on site a Sparrowhawk was observed trying his luck with a flock of Jackdaws, three Buzzards were in the air at the same time, and a Red Kite put in a brief appearance.

Voles galore?

It is looking as if the 2014 Barn Owl breeding season, nationally, was perhaps the best ever recorded (following an atrocious year in 2013, which was the worst since 1958). The breeding success of Barn Owls is very closely linked to vole abundance, and vole populations are cyclical, fluctuating widely over a 3-4 year period. The reasons for this fluctuation are something of an enigma (further reading). It has been estimated that in a bumper year, a hectare of suitable habitat can hold as many as 20,000 voles; in poor years the same area may support literally a handful. Barn Owls are stimulated into breeding condition by prey availability – the more prey there is, the earlier they lay their eggs, and this provides the opportunity for second clutches in good vole years, as was seen in Gloucestershire for the first time last year. Early indications are that 2015 may also be a good vole year..

Seen a Barn Owl recently?

When it comes to submitting records to the group, it’s not only dedicated nest-watchers and passionate birdwatchers that can make a difference to the conservation of Barn Owls in Gloucestershire. In fact, it’s the sightings that the casual observer might have on their drive home from work, or on an evening stroll, that are perhaps the most likely to help in identifying previously unknown birds. Once birds are known about, it then becomes possible to engage with landowners, monitor numbers and ultimately to protect the species and its habitats. We’re grateful for all sightings, whether they be chance encounters or concerted studies, so please do help us to build on the group’s existing knowledge by submitting your sightings.