Guest Blogger: Alice McCourt, Warden Intern

As an intern, I am very lucky to be so immersed in reserve life, but recently I’ve had the pleasure of getting very well acquainted with some of our owl species as they have given me a front row seat to their night-time antics. To celebrate Owl Awareness Day, I'm very pleased to share the news of their breeding success across the reserve this year!

The season started with a surprise report from a visitor, of a Tawny Owlet peeking out a box. With help from the Thames Estuary ringing group, we were able to confirm two fledged Tawny Owl chicks. The ringing group were able to ring one of the individuals, which will hopefully provide plenty of information over its life-span about its movement and life history. We also know of at least one other fledged bird, as we witnessed the owlet getting in some flying practice in the woods. The Tawny Owl is an amber-listed species, which means that it has experienced a moderate decline in the last 25 years, so it is wonderful to know that they are doing well on our reserve.

Tawny Owlet by Alice McCourt

Another unexpected discovery very early one morning was a Little owlet, which was clearly very young, and had fallen from a nest up high. We managed to relocate the nest and created a barrier which still allowed the parents in but prevented the chick from falling back out. Thankfully, I have been able to keep an eye on this Little Owl pair and their chick, and was delighted to spot the now much bigger fledgling out of the nest at the end of last month. It was being fed by both parents and flapping its wings whilst doing short hop-like flights. Though the family group have now moved away from the nest, they can still occasionally be spotted (or heard!) in the wider area. We also believe another pair have bred successfully near our old radio relay station out on the marsh, as we’ve had several reports of a young bird being fed by parents on the roof of the building. Although Little Owls are not native, having been introduced in the 19th century, it is believed their numbers are declining, therefore it is positive to learn that they are breeding successfully.

Little Owl by Alice McCourt

By far the best delight, however, has been watching a pair of Barn Owls raise their rowdy brood. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw an adult bird float silently past, with prey clearly dangling from its feet. Unfortunately, neither could the team quite believe it when I recounted the story, so off I went with a trail camera to see if I could get some evidence! Barn Owls are a Schedule 1 species, which means it is against the law to intentionally or recklessly disturb their ‘active’ nests, so a trail camera is the perfect way to monitor such species, as it doesn’t impact on them in any way. The use of these trail cameras has not only enabled us to confirm that they are breeding, but has also allowed us to monitor the success of the nest, with four noisy and boisterous chicks fledged! Although Barn Owls are no longer a species of conservation concern, they experienced historical declines throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, so I’ve felt incredibly privileged to be able to watch this family grow.

Barn Owl Fledgling by Alice McCourt

Barn Owl Fledglings feeding outside their box.