Thursday, 5 November 2015

The saga of the owls: the final chapter...possibly

The roof is done on our house in France, and all that remained was to cap the chimney - open for four years because of the resident owl, who this year raised two offspring in a bedroom fireplace. All this, as well as our efforts to provide the owl with an alternative nesting-place, has been reported in previous posts on this blog. We counted it a success that the two young ones grew and thrived and eventually left their unusual home and flew away to find their own hunting-ranges. There remained the problem of the adult owl. The open chimney meant that rain water came in, and we wanted to avoid another year of hosting nestlings, when there are so many other places to live and breed undisturbed in our ramshackle outbuildings. So we asked our builders to find some time to come and close the chimney off, and we provided ourselves with long rods to persuade the owl (gently) to depart.
One young man arrived with new chimney-pots and buckets of cement, and up two ladders he went, scaling our steeply-pitched roof and leaning precariously across our very high chimney, many feet from the ground. He flashed our torch down into the darkness, and reported that the owl was in residence. But the rods proved useless - the owl retreated down the other side of the chimney (the side where our own fire is) and was lost to view.
What to do? The last thing I wanted was to incarcerate the owl. But I also had no wish to lose this precious opportunity (our builder's a busy chap.) So we formulated a plan, took a deep breath, and told the young man to go ahead - having established that there was a big enough space at the top of the chimney's inner dividing wall for the owl to escape.
It was a fine, sunny, unseasonably warm November afternoon. The young man had the job done in a couple of hours while the light lasted. Where was the owl meanwhile? Had he flown away while we weren't looking? Or was he lurking inside the now-dark chimney, wondering what the heck was going on?
As it started to get dark that evening, about six o'clock, I took the cover off the bedroom fireplace and opened the window. Then I planted myself on a rather uncomfortable tree-stump a short distance up the garden, and as the light faded fixed my eyes on the dimming rectangle of the open bedroom window. Would the owl take his chance?
We have a colony of bats in one of our our outbuildings, and one by one they started to circle round. Our experience over the summer led me to expect that the owl would soon be hunting. I waited. I heard some tiny scratching sounds, but I wasn't absolutely sure where they were coming from. By this time it was almost dark. I could barely see the window, and the house was a grey smudge against the sky.
I didn't see him emerge, but suddenly, there he was - flying over my head, silhouetted against the darkening sky, unmistakable on those great silent wings, up over the garden and away towards the maize fields : homeless, but free.
Even though we have evicted him from the house, I hope he comes back -
perhaps to roost somewhere in our outbuildings, or even to raise young in the nest box under the eaves of the old bread-oven. But that's probably a story, if at all, for another year.

Monday, 5 October 2015

A slightly mad birthday present

My husband already plays banjo, trombone, bass trombone. He can also play clarinet, guitar, trumpet, piano. He plays in three bands. Between the three of us currently at home we have a piano, an organ, three banjos, four trombones, a clarinet, a guitar, two ukuleles, assorted recorders, a double bass, two flutes and a trumpet. Why would we want any more instruments?
He's said from time to time, 'I'd love to have a go on one of those'. If he hears one bumping along at the bottom in a band he enthuses about its sound. It's the only instrument I know of that you have to wear. In case you don't know what it is, it's a sousaphone. This is in E flat, on the small side; the B flats are bigger.
I managed to keep this thing a secret for many weeks while it was being put together from disparate parts. I know next to nothing about brass instruments, but had the good fortune to know someone who does, and who himself plays (among other things) the B flat sousaphone.
I had no doubt that my husband would be able to play it, with a bit of practice, but he surprised even me by making perfectly acceptable sounds within minutes. What a clever-clogs.
There were moments when I doubted: Have I done the right thing here? Will he think I've gone quite mad? No musical instrument is cheap.
But as you can see he's smiling as he plays, and most of this evening he's been walking around chuckling (if a trifle bemused.)

Monday, 14 September 2015

My new web site

My new web site went live this evening! Please do take a look.

A new book

My writing group The Write Idea has published an anthology of stories and poems: eight contributors with very varying styles. For every book sold there'll be a donation to Ellenor Hospices, helping families coping with terminal illness. We're very excited about our newest venture, which is the result of a lot of hard work, and are looking forward to launching it next month. Copies can be ordered from

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.