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.