Journal Entry: The valley is once again home to the barn owls | Written by Susie White
The straight green path before us winds its way through a field of tall, strawy bumps and bent grass. Every few steps, we startle a small brown creature as it scurries away in panic for cover. In all the time we’ve been here, we’ve never seen so many voles. Burrow entrances can be found everywhere we turn, marked by neat, round holes partially concealed by the grass.
The number of bank and field voles goes through a cycle of fluctuations. After a year of high numbers, there is a sudden decrease before the population builds up again. This affects the predators’ health and abundance. The cycle occurs in a small area, and in this valley, it is an exceptionally high-peak year.
The heron is standing still with one leg bent and its foot suspended, almost like it’s playing a game of musical chairs. Its long neck extends forward and its sharp yellow beak dives down, barely missing a vole. However, there will surely be more opportunities for the heron to catch its prey. I have personally observed a heron swiftly capture and devour voles from my kitchen window.
Many others also claim this bustling area. Kestrels float in mid-air or sit on the lone hawthorn tree. Buzzards take off from the wooded cliff and soar over the valley, their heads tilted downward as they search intently. Tawny owls, known for their loud calls at sunset, urgently call out “kee-wick” from the trees in the garden before embarking on a silent hunt.
Every day, I encounter the usual birds in this avian puzzle, but the barn owl has been absent for two years. In 2021, I shared in a Country diary how this stunning and recognizable creature had endured Storm Arwen. However, just weeks later, I was grieving its disappearance; it likely perished from starvation after facing three named storms in one week in February. The feathers of barn owls are not fully waterproof, making it difficult for them to hunt during windy and rainy conditions.
With happiness, I observe a barn owl perched attentively on a fence post. It is even more heartening to see two a few days later. In the twilight, we catch glimpses of their pale wings as they swoop by the headlights. The sound of their prolonged shrieks can be heard outside the closed shutters in the evenings. The missing part of the puzzle has been found – the barn owls have come back to the valley.