‘Here today, gone tomorrow’

Nothing is ever certain in life, but less so in the wild animal world. On Tuesday evening I waited for my tawny owl to appear but there was a marked difference. He arrived in the sycamore tree, silently, unannounced. There was no alarm call from the blackbirds whose strident and ear-piercing racket had been a feature of every other evening and a precursor to his appearance in the garden. The following day, I checked the blackbird nest and there the chicks were – gone. The nest was in pristine condition so I’m hoping they just fledged rather than experiencing some less attractive outcome.

The same night, my trailcam picked up a badger in the garden at 10.45pm.

Last evening, after watching the male tawny owl deliver the chick to his offspring in the nest, the chick appeared in the entrance hole. A much larger grey face than I expected, its two big eyes peering down at me. It was a delight to see. After I’d finished watching the owl, I set up my camera on a pile of dog biscuits, strategically placed to get a nice close-up of the badger, should it grace us with its presence once more. With a pot of tea and a plate of brie and Long Clawson blue, I settled down to watch from the comfort of the conservatory.

I can sit for hours behind my camera in expectation of a photo opportunity but ancillary activity is always welcome as a temporary diversion. The garden was bathed in light from a full moon so visibility was pretty good. For some time, I watched a small rodent bouncing across the grass to the biscuit pile from its cover in the flower bed and bouncing back again. I imagine it was stealing biscuits to take back to its own nest.

On our trips to the supermarket for food, the last thing on our minds is whether this might be our final journey. Unlike many animals, we don’t have to keep one eye aimed on our objective and the other looking over our shoulder (unless we’re stealing biscuits…) I have no doubt that this mousey animal was very aware of the dangers of foraging from a pile of food out in the open but, if you have young mouths to feed, it’s a risk you sometimes have to take. As it happened, my amusement at this animals antics was, dramatically, cut short as a pair of tawny owl claws grabbed said animal and carried it off right in front of my eyes.

This was as much a surprise to me as, I imagine, it was to the rodent. Instead of feeling sorry for the ‘mouse’, my immediate regret was that I wasn’t prepared with my remote button in my hand, ready to fire off a shot which would have captured the attack perfectly. An award winning image (in my head) which I will never see.

I stayed up until 12.45am without a glimpse of a badger and with nothing else to divert my attention. If tonight’s victim had a nest somewhere, I’m left wondering if there is another parent to care for the youngsters. But, this is life – or in this case, death in the natural world. Nothing is certain. As the saying goes, ‘Here today, gone tomorrow’.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. jim west says:

    Ray and Sarah,
    Your intertwined tales of the tawny owls and badgers, the terrestrial meets the aerial, brings back early childhood memories of my wildlife explorations. Some 60 years ago, while exploring our coastal grasslands, I came upon an abandoned badger excavation that provided a nesting habitat for a family of burrowing owls. The image of a family with the two parent owls and their up and coming owlets, ringing the virtually circular entrance to their pre-made home, still haunts my memory. Now, after a long absence, the badgers are slowly returning to the Swanton area and so have the burrowing owls. CalPoly’s conservation ethic and research based utilization of my family’s former holdings, have given these two dissimilar species a new lease on life, at least locally. I have shared your website and blog with many of my young scientist friends, and the overwhelming consensus is, how can you and Sarah, cover and document so much of our planet, with such exacting excellence and only in one lifetime. Such are the mysteries of life and special friendships.
    Cheers and keep safe,

  2. Ray Brown says:

    Jim, thank you for sharing that story. I wish we had discovered this amazing nature years before we did. It’s so fascinating to watch the natural world in parallel to our own. Have a look at my newest post with the four spotted chaser. I marvel at how a creature can emerge from a small and quite ugly case and in the space of 90 minutes fly off as a fully developed and beautiful adult dragonfly.

    Your tales of badgers and burrowing owls are making me miss Swanton Road. I hope we can get back there one day.

    Take care

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