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Owl Prowl with Chris Sperring MBE

Owl Prowl with Chris Sperring MBE

The Community Farm recently hosted an Owl Prowl with conservationist and BBC presenter Chris Sperring, as a treat for our volunteers, members and staff. The inspiring evening walk took us through from dusk till dark to give us the best chance of encountering a variety of different creatures.

We set off for the Owl Prowl while it was still light. This is the best time to catch a glimpse of the Little Owl as they tend to hunt during either dusk or dawn; rising from their roost to cast a steely stare that would almost terrify if the bird stood any taller than its tiny eight and half inches. Chris noted The Community Farm is the perfect habitat for the Little Owl. They thrive in lowland farmland full of hedges and trees. Chris’s Little Owl calls were the first in a series of impressive impersonations. He mimicked the calls of both a male and a female little owl. Something that should not be done during breeding season. Sadly the silence was striking. There were no little owls to be seen or heard – highlighting their dramatic decline.

As the night began to get darker we moved on to other owl calls. It is easier to find Barn Owls in the dark. These silent predators are as likely to been seen as they are heard. They glide across the fields like ghosts, flying eerily slowly and close to the ground; bright white faces gleaming and their screech one of nature’s most unnerving sounds. Barn Owls are built for stealth over speed. Their soft feathers making them virtually silent as they fly. This does however come at a cost. They must refrain from hunting during wet weather, going hungry when it rains.

The final owl call was the Tawny Owl. Stood at the bottom of the field we could hear two male Tawny Owls calling back. Our first response of the night! A single Tawny Owl will never make the famous (though inaccurate) "twit twoo" – something Chris playfully refers to as “Shakespeare’s biggest mistake”. In reality "twit" is the female's contact call and "twoo" is the male's territorial call. If you hear "twit twoo" it is most likely a male answering a female. However neither of these two male calls we’re coming from the farm. Both were in neighbouring fields. While we could not hear any owls close by, there was the constant sense we were being watched. Being nocturnal Tawny Owls are notoriously difficult to see, especially with their dark colouring.

As the walk was drawing to a close Chris deployed one final trick to try and get any owls that had been silently watching our progress to speak up. He blew into his hands, creating the sound of a Wood Mouse dying. We were hoping that any owl that had been quietly watching us, wary of our large group, would be finally be tempted to call. Now it appeared we were not just venturing into their territory, we were hunting on it! This solicited a truly incredible response. Very close by in a tree a female Tawny Owl screeched a warning call at us repeatedly. The message was very clear. The feeling we were being watched was spot on. A wonderfully dramatic end to an incredible evening.

We would like to make Chis Sperring’s Owl Prowls more of a regular feature on the farm, eventually opening them up to the public. We are planning to run an Owl Box Building Workshop in December. We need to have the boxes up by the end of January to be ready in time for the next breeding season for both the Little Owl and Tawny Owls.

Hope to see you at the next one!

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