With a spare moment yesterday morning, I headed up to the Chayne with an old dog kennel to provide the owls with some additional breeding cover in one of their favourite strongholds at the back of the farm. There have been owls breeding in those sheds for as long as I can remember, but in the past few years as the first slates have started to crack and come off, the old loft is draughtier and more porous than it has ever been. I hope that by adding a nest box, they might continue to use the shed and perhaps enjoy more success with a structured, more sheltered place to be on the wormy old boards. It may be that this is totally ill-founded logic, but it will be interesting to go back and check this time next year to see if my gesture has been appreciated.
The boards are coated with vole bones, cast feathers and black pellets, and rooting around during my quick visit, I found the rusted remains of a scythe blade and the almost totally unidentifiable spring-bar from a gin trap – two relics of a far gone age left quietly mouldering in the back of beyond.
The hill was almost lifeless as I came back in the car, with only a few starlings purring in the paddocks above the neighbour’s farm. I like to see these birds prospering, particularly since they represent an ideal source of diversionary feeding for the harriers and peregrines over the winter. I hold onto the (possibly naive) thought that every starling they pluck out of the sky makes them less likely to hunt for blackgame. A pair of kestrels yickered and squalled over the spruce tops as I came off the hill, and the red savannah of turning grass swept off into low cloud.