Lately, there have been some strange sounds around The Lint Mill, terrifying demonic screeching sounds like this! At the very least we thought it was one of our goat kids being attacked by a predator. The sounds weren’t confined to night-time, we heard them mostly at dusk and we couldn’t connect the sounds with an animal that we could see.
Then, a few weeks ago arriving home in the dark, I caught sight of a Barn Owl in the full beam of my car lights. It’s unmistakable white, moon face sitting very still in one of our ash trees, very close to the site of the barn owl box that we put up a year ago.
So that explained the banshee sounds – it could have been courtship screeching which apparently peaks in the weeks leading up to egg laying. We were hopeful that a pair of owls might be starting to use our box as their nest site.
Then, a few nights ago, ago we had another sighting. It was sitting in the same ash tree. Later that evening Colin raced into the kitchen after taking the dogs out, his face literally shining with excitement. He had seen the owl in the ash tree, it had looked directly at him with its pale heart-shaped face before taking flight, wheeling round him silently on the great curvature of its wings and settling on the adjacent ash tree (the one with the owl box).
We are thrilled to see these gorgeous birds. Sadly, they have become increasingly rare – and the reasons are all man-made. Lack of food due to intensive farming, the loss of roost and nest sites, road mortality and rat poison, are the main factors to blame. In 1987 barn owls were at their lowest ebb with around 4,500 breeding pairs, having declined by 70% since 1932. Now there are up to an estimated 12,000 breeding pairs in the UK. There’s a lot we can do to help and many of the links above take you to The Barn Owl Trust who are doing excellent conservation work.
Meanwhile, we will cherish every ghostly sighting, thrilled by their silent flight, grateful that they have chosen to share this place with us again. And if we are lucky enough to have owlets, we’ll call the Barn Owl Trust to have them ringed…you’ll certainly hear about that if it happens!
This lovely image is a link to last month’s journal entry, when I mention The Lost Words book – it’s a beautiful illustration of a barn owl by artist Jackie Morris.