To the rescue of a poorly owl

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As any of you who read this diary on a regular basis will know, I am extremely fond of barn owls. So, when a nearby neighbour phoned to say that she had seen a barn owl sitting on the ground at the edge of a wood in broad daylight, and that it had not reacted to her being there, both of which are certainly not normal behavior, I felt compelled to go and see what was up.

She took me to where she had seen the bird and it was still there, looking a bit sorry for itself. I approached it quietly and gently, to avoid scaring it, but it allowed me to walk over and pick it up without protest of any sort. This too was not a natural reaction. It had an obvious injury to one eye which was closed, but a quick examination showed no other injuries apart from a few minor scratches around the edge of the facial disc. As soon as I picked it up, I could feel its breast bone sticking out - it was extremely thin - but of course with an eye injury it would be unable to hunt. It seemed weak and unresponsive, allowing me to carry it back to the car with out any struggle. It was dehydrated, so after thanking Ruth for calling me, I took it home, managed to get some fluids inside it and force fed it a small amount of food before leaving it in a quiet, dark place. I fed it again later on in the evening. Perhaps the injury came from flying into something, an attack from another bird or being struck by a car. We will never know, but it is unfortunate that it was the eye that had been hurt.

Being a Sunday, I had left calling in any other help for the eye injury until the next morning. By then the bird had got back a bit of its feistiness, but it was obviously still very weak. A call to SSPCA brought a very helpful man, but he ultimately decided that, as I have had a bit of experience with injured owls in the past, I could look after it as well as him and so I took it to the vet to have the eye looked at. Donview vets were incredibly helpful too, and they removed a blood clot from the eye and applied antibiotic gel. I am to look after it for a week, applying the cream twice daily and feeding it. The next day (the day I am writing this), it was starting to object to the administration of the eye gel, trying hard to get its claws into me and the eye was open. Next week, I will return to the vet for an assessment of whether or not the sight in the eye is affected. This may in turn affect its ability to be returned to the wild. However, I am keeping my fingers crossed. I will let you know how it gets on.

The sudden snow last week sent us all shivering into winter for a couple of days. Since then, I have not seen the hedgehog that had been staking out the back doorstep in the hope of mooching some of the cat’s evening meal. Perhaps the weather has sent it into hibernation. On the Friday of the snow, I was travelling to Tarland and alternately passed through heavy snow falling, then brilliant sunshine. When the sun shone the trees were stunning, The beeches in particular being the most glorious textured mix of coppers, golden yellows and russets, and with the trunks dark on one side and with the blowing snow stuck to the other, they were really beautiful to look at, particularly when I could see the rich orange tones of the leaves outlined against the brilliant jay’s wing blue of the sky. I always look forward to stopping for a moment to take in the panorama of the Queen’s View when driving this road. However, I could see nothing but blowing snow and mist. At that moment, I thought that that perhaps hibernation wasn’t such a bad idea!

The trees are losing their leaves in great swathes now, but the smaller trees and shrubs still bear bright berries to cheer us up. In autumn, a bit of the squirreling instinct comes out in me too and I cannot resist picking some of the bounty for myself. Rosehip syrup, elderberry cordial, rowan or bramble jelly, apple chutney - all bubble away merrily in the kitchen to be bottled, stored away and savoured over the winter - unleashing a taste of autumn in the depths of winter. This year, I seem to have missed the elderberries in the location that I normally pick them - I took my eye of the ball and the birds beat me to them! My elderberry cordial was sacrificed to a worthy cause though.

There are a lot of rosehips this year and, thinking back, I remember noticing that there were a lot of flowers during the summer. The frost has softened the berries and the bushes are full of small birds, feasting on them. I also found a cache of rosehips, lime seeds and sunflower seeds (no doubt from the bird food I put out), inside the large container that I keep my small garden tools and gloves in. I carefully removed the gloves and trowel that I wanted to use and left the cache undisturbed. Some small wood mouse will no doubt return to this hidden stockpile of food over the next weeks or months and I would hate it to find the larder bare.

I watched a red squirrel doing its equivalent of my jelly and chutney making, storing the glut of food away for the winter, when the trees will be bare and food much harder to find. It was burying pine cones at the edge of a wood, among the deep layer of pine needles and leaf litter from the nearby bushes. First, holding the cone in its mouth, it used its front feet to scrape out a hole. It then carefully placed the pine cone in the hole, adjusting it a few times until it was happy with its position. The hole was then filled back in, the squirrel using its very dextrous fingers to pull the debris over the pine cone. It then patted down the surface before scurrying off in search of more cones to bury. Watching it reminded me of a child playing in the sand on the beach, digging and scraping and patting. The squirrels front feet though, were bony and knobbly and looked more like arthritic, old hands that those of a child.

Snow, sunshine on the autumn beech leaves, barn owl and red squirrel - a mixed week, but not a bad one for all that.