Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The owl saga continues

For the past nine days we've spent a great deal of time, one way or another, battling with the owl-house.                            
The decrepit outbuilding we thought would be most suitable used to be a bread-oven, and is still full of bundled twigs and ancient logs. Now it's an owl roost (potentially.)

 We found a piece of timber (there's a lot of old wood lying around here)

...and thought it might fit.
 The hanging festoons of ivy were removed, and the timber screwed to the roof-beams - no easy job when teetering at the top of a ladder twelve feet from the ground.

The labourer lugged the box across the garden.Minus the lid, it weighed about 11kg. Then, unfortunately, there was a technical hitch, so back it went to the workshop for modifications.

Until, at last, the final version was complete (we fervently hoped.)
Back across the garden struggled the labourer.
 Between the photo on the left and the one on the right, you will just have to imagine two old-timers, each on a ladder, manhandling a heavy, awkward box into position: no mean feat, and done with a minimum of altercation. On goes the lid, and the final image is from the window, a low-flying owl's-eye view.

As to the owls themselves, there have been developments. We decided to leave a full week before we disturbed them again to get an updated photo, but when we lifted the cover off the fireplace there was nobody home! 
That night around midnight I saw at least three owls flying around our roof by the light of my torch, and last night there were two - I suspect the youngsters - perched on top of the concrete post which carries the electric cables serving us and our neighbours. After a moment they flew off back to the chimney. It seems that's where they are roosting during the day; with the aid of a mirror I can see the chimney top from the fireplace and I think I can see a bird's tail feathers up there.
Now we just have to hope they find their palatial new home. After all the efforts we've made the blighters had better use it!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A home for our owls

The owl nest-box takes shape. Now for the tough part: getting it secure on a beam at least 10 feet from the ground in our falling-apart and cluttered outbuilding!
Some great excitement late last night, though: I went out on the off-chance of seeing an early meteorite (no show) and took a torch with me. It was very dark, with just a small light-spill from the house, and countless stars in a clear night sky. (One of the great advantages of very little light pollution here in the deep sticks.) I flicked the torch along the roof-line, and caught a movement. At the far western end of the building, perched on the telephone wire, was the adult owl. It saw me, gulped, and took off across the stubble fields. Ten minutes later I trained the torch on the roof again, and saw an owl on the chimney. It disappeared very quickly so I don't know if it was the adult returning or a baby about to embark on a test-flight; but there were more downy white feathers on the lawn this morning.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The owl saga: 3

When we gingerly lifted way the fireplace covering, this was the sight that greeted us - two very recognisable barn owls. One is bigger and has less white fluff, so is probably a week or so older. The bigger one may even be beginning trial flights; we have found downy white feathers on the lawn, and our fine new roof is already bearing the inevitable signs of owl-fouling! As we took this photo, a loud menacing hiss came from somewhere up the chimney. One parent was close by, and warning us off. We will keep an eye on them, but only about once a week while we are here. It may be that at least one will be flying away before we leave. Meanwhile my intrepid husband is rising to the challenge of constructing a nest-box, which we hope to put in place in one of our decrepit outbuildings. First we have to move a great quantity of ancient bundles of kindling; then fix in place a heavy beam across the highest point, to which the box will be attached. And we have to avoid falling off the ladder!

I'll post again soon with the progress of the box.

The finished roof

Our roof is done, and here's how it looks: at the front, at the back, and inside:

Monday, 20 July 2015

Baby owl update

This is how the owlets looked the day before we left France - getting more like barn owls. I have more information now, and am more hopeful that these fellows will be able to get out of the chimney once they can fly. Persuading the parent to leave may be a tougher challenge, but I'm hoping we can tempt it with a palatial nestbox in one of our outbuildings.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Barn owls in the chimney

We have known for three years that there's a resident owl in the unused section of the chimney in our French house - it was the reason the chimney couldn't be capped when a new liner was put in. Sometimes we hear it in the night, and it sounds uncannily like human snoring!
A few weeks ago friends came to visit, and occupied the second bedroom which is now rarely used. There's a fireplace there with a board in front of it. One night the noise kept one of our friends awake, and she decided to investigate. Here's what she found, to our astonishment: two baby barn owls.

Now we have a worry - can they get out, once they fledge, assuming they survive? Will the noise of the roofers climbing about over their heads frighten the parents? Will we be able to let them fly free and, choosing our moment when the mother or father is absent, take advantage of the scaffolding to cap the chimney at last? Can I have life and freedom for these handsome creatures as well as a more guano-free and hygienic bedroom? So much for the delights of French rural life!I'll report on their, and our, progress. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Major work

 Our house in France is at least 350 years old. The granite lintel above the fireplace (taken from a priest's house in a nearby village) bears an inscription dated 1653, and we know that parts of the building are older. The roofspace is particularly fine with its ancient oak beams. I'd love to convert this space into another room, perhaps for me to write in! But it would be hugely expensive and so far we haven't done anything except put in two roof windows, from which the views are delightful.

Originally there would have been a thatched roof, but now battens rest on top of beams, and slates on top of battens - no felt, no insulation, and with daylight now visible through many holes, no real weather-proofing either. So we have taken a deep breath and decided to re-roof the main house. We've chosen a material that includes insulation and has a white interior, so avoiding the necessity for plasterboard and painting, and keeping visible all the internal wooden structure, with its A-frame and wooden pegs.

For the last few months there's been scaffolding up back and front, while the builders wait for the opportune moment to start work - mainly waiting for good weather. The scaffolding makes opening shutters almost impossible, so we have been in the dark and rather cold! On our last visit roofers appeared and started to strip off slates and battens. The roof is very steeply-pitched, so it was dangerous work, especially as the wind was particularly brisk.

Once the roof was open, they covered it with a temporary green felt and rough battens. It looked vulnerable and exposed. Now in our absence more work is being done, and when we next go down to France in a few days' time we hope to see progress - perhaps, even, no scaffolding!