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Georgina’s Owls

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the Staffs Barn Owl Trust, who I have been involved with over the last year. They asked if they could pass my details onto Georgina, a 13-year-old who was undertaking her own project to build a barn owl box. She also wanted to put a camera in it. Of course, I said it was fine and within a few days, I received an email from Georgina. Realising that she lived only about 20 minutes from me, I suggested that I went over to meet her so she could explain what she was doing and I could see if I could help in any way.

Today I drove over to Georgina’s house to find out more about this exciting project! 

Georgina and her mum met me and it was not long before Georgina was explaining all about what she wanted to do. As part of a DT project, she has decided to attempt to design, build and install a barn owl box into one of the disused buildings on their property. Explaining that they had seen barn owls around the farm, particularly  near these buildings, Georgina told me that the owls were already using the buildings at various points during the night and there was plenty of evidence to back this up. Not only did she want to put the nest box up, but she was also keen to get a camera inside, and this is where she hoped I could help. She had already done considerable amounts of research into all the different aspects of barn owl boxes and the recommendations regarding such boxes. Helen at the Staffs Barn Owl Group had also been out to help and advise her. I was greatly impressed with Georgina’s interest, enthusiasm and the work she has already done.

I am always very keen to encourage young enthusiasts such as her and I am keen to help her in any way I can. Obviously, I will greatly enjoy working on a project like this so close to my home…. I do not have a suitable place for a barn owl box here so, as I explained to her and her family, I would be more than happy to help her as it will also be a learning experience for me. I have not set up a box like this and have always wanted to! I have a few good contacts in the business as well, who I know will help us both out… we were getting very excited!

I was keen to get outside and take a look at the barn. Georgina explained that there are two disused buildings and both have had barn owls in them.

The broken windows and large, beamed space inside set my heart racing! They were such classic barn owl haunts and I was picturing the photo opportunities in those windows! We carefully went inside and I searched the floor for evidence.

Although I could not see any very recent pellets, there were certainly old pellets and feathers around in one of the old stable blocks. In the second building, where Georgina plans on putting the box, the family have seen them emerging. Sometimes when they drive up the drive, they catch the barn owl in the headlights as it emerges. It is probably perched in the window and is disturbed by the car. Georgina has also seen them sitting on the posts a little further up, facing the fields. This barn had more evidence of barn owls and under one section, it was like a vole graveyard! Hundreds of old pellets had rotten down and the floor was littered with tiny bones. A few, more recent pellets were evident as well.

I could not believe how lucky Georgina was to have this right on her doorstep! What I would do to have such a superb owl haunt so close… well it is only 20 minutes away, so as you can imagine, I was pretty excited! 

These buildings are not the only places for barn owls though. Georgina’s dad farms the land around their property and has put a number of barn owl boxes up, with the help of Staffs Barn Owl Action Group. They have recently been monitored and one has three chicks in and the others also show signs of barn owl usage. Georgina took me on a tour of the land and pointed them all out to me. Her dad is also part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, where he works hard to set aside areas for wildlife. The large corridors of grassland on the edge of all the crops are a clear way to provide excellent hunting areas for the local owls.

They are also working on thinning some of their wooded areas and have tawny boxes to go up in these as well. As we walked around we could see some clear badger tracks coming out of some of the wooded areas and you can imagine what I suggested next….. yes Bushnell trail cams! Georgina was very excited about borrowing some of my trail cams and I have agreed to return very soon and help her set some up. I will then leave one with her for a couple of weeks, so she can have a ‘play’ and see what she can capture! 

I am also going to help Georgina set up a website and a blog to document this ‘journey’ of discovery. Her whole family are very excited about the possibilities of this extending well beyond the original project! I did try to warn them that this could lead to all sorts of other exciting wildlife projects and that once they had one wildlife camera installed, it would not be long before they would want more! Having seen the footage on my website and nest box camera and feeder camera was something they were also interested, especially as Georgina also has two younger sisters, who would be interested.

I quite literally had to drag myself away… I could have enthused all day about the amazing possibilities!

Georgina and I will now keep closely in contact. She is going to visit me here so I can explain how my system works and I have already contacting a few people I know who are more experienced than me in setting up systems such as this. They will be able to advise us and help us on this exciting project! I will also pop out again with the Bushnells and we’ll set those up as well and see what other exciting creatures we can capture…. deer, badgers, foxes…. who knows! 

I will be blogging all about how the project goes so keep a look out on my website and blog. How wonderful to find such an enthusiastic young naturalist and to hopefully play a part in nurturing and developing a love of natural history… one which will stay with her for the rest of her life. Georgina and her family kept thanking me for taking the time to come and see them and help them…. I kept saying thank you to them…. believe me, I am going to enjoy this as much as her!

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