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Trollopes Bird Notes

October 2018

Click for Trollope's September 2018 notes

Quest leads to the clifftop

For some years a pair of Tawny Owls have bred near the crossroads in Iden Green. From July onwards the young emerge and settle on a prominent position, very often my neighbours’ TV aerial, where they beg vocally to be fed. It is wonderful to know that they are breeding locally but they are very persistent in letting their parents know that they are hungry and I lie in bed hoping the parents find some food as soon as possible!

I know we have an abundant mouse and vole population, as I keep catching them investigating my bird feed in our garage. I wonder if all this noise that the young create may be a warning to the local rodent population that a predator is about and makes life much harder for the parent birds to find food. I am often asked about the current breeding population status of all species of owl, but most of our owls are nocturnal and most breeding surveys and monitoring schemes do not cover nocturnal birds at all well. The following information is based on Kent records in the latest national breeding atlas (2007-2011).

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl, Strix aluco [By Stephen Message]

In Kent the distribution map shows population gains in northeast and southwest parts of the county compared to a previous survey 20 years earlier, with Benenden showing no change. Overall the population in Kent is estimated to be 800-1,200 pairs, compared to 6001,000 pairs in the previous survey. Certainly I have heard a good many Tawny Owls during my occasional soirees at dusk to both Hemsted and Bedgebury Forests to listen for Woodcock and Nightjars. Tawny Owls like wooded habitat, of which there is plenty around Benenden, and we are lucky to enjoy their “Tweet Twoo” courtship calls in springtime. Areas like Sheppey and Romney Marsh are almost devoid of breeding pairs.

Barn Owl

This iconic, ghostly species is one of the wonderful beauties of nature as it drifts around the ditches and field margins. Their plumage reminds me of those tasty bread rolls coated with poppy seed. Although it is mainly nocturnal it is also crepuscular and it is possible to see it in all its glory early or late in the day.

There has been an upsurge in numbers in Kent since the 1995-97 survey, with the Kent population doubling from 50-100 pairs to 100200 pairs. The provision of boxes, particularly along the Rother, has increased the numbers on Romney Marsh, but it is some time since I have seen them there and as they are vulnerable to cold winters I am concerned that this last one may have reduced numbers significantly.

The pair at Forest Farm have not bred for a couple of years, although an adult is occasionally seen. A parishioner in Sandhurst who lives just over the parish border proudly told me that her box was used successfully this year, having been erected nine years ago! At least it stayed within the benefice!

Little Owl

Barn Owl
Barn Owl, Tyto alba [By Stephen Message]

The Little Owl was introduced to the UK in the late 1880s and has successfully established itself across England and the Welsh border area. Its preferred habitat is mixed farmland. I most often see them in tree-lined field edges, roosting in mature trees, usually oak, although they tend to see me first and fly off with their characteristic bounding flight. Where there are few trees they will roost on telegraph poles and buildings. They mainly hunt on the ground; beetles and worms form a major part of their diet.

Little Owl
Little Owl, Athene noctua [By Stephen Message]

The population in the western part of its range has been reduced significantly and breeding surveys across the UK show a decline of 50% since 1995. In 2010 I found a recently fledged family of Little Owls in Scullsgate but I have not recorded them since. The Kent population is estimated by the Kent Ornithological Society to be 2,000-4,000 pairs, which is 50% of the national figure. As Kent is estimated to hold 5% of the UK population, one of these estimates is wildly inaccurate. Surveying nocturnal birds and making assumptions is clearly no easy task.

Short-eared Owl

The Short-eared Owl is mainly a winter visitor to this area, where I have seen them a few times in the early evening along the Rother at Newenden. Occasionally they breed up in the marshes on Sheppey. Breeding population in Kent, 0-5 pairs.

Long-eared Owl

The Long-eared Owl is also mainly a winter visitor and a nocturnal hunter, and I have yet to see one in flight. They are unlikely to be seen locally and the ones I have glimpsed have been roosted up in dense thickets near the coast. One has been roosting in the scrub behind the dipping pond at RSPB Dungeness and is a challenge to spot as it so well camouflaged. A few pairs breed in the north of the county, in isolated conifer woodlands and copses surrounded by open country, which is their ideal habitat. Breeding population in Kent, 5-10 pairs.

Charles Trollope


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