Tea with a Barn Owl

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I spend my working days on an ancient farm in the South Downs National Park, and over the last few months we have been constructing an Anglo-Saxon longhouse based on local settlement excavations from the 1960s. The timbers were hand-hewn by a treewright specialising in woodland management and coppicing, and the walls are made of beautifully woven split-hazel wattle. It’s a rather magnificent masterpiece, and the thatched roof has proven popular with a particularly special visitor…

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Early one November morning, our thatcher arrived at the house to discover a large owl pellet on the floor. Being the so-called ‘nature nerd’ of the farm, I am usually given bits of bone to examine or feathers to collect; someone once brought me a baby bunny in a bucket to look after… The pellet was therefore swiftly brought to my attention and I took it home to inspect further with a lovely cup of Earl Grey; tweezers in hand, I dissected it to discover its origin and gruesome ingredients. It was a barn owl pellet! Dark in colour and notably dense, it was brimming with vole skulls, spindly bones, tufts of fluff and even a rubbery tail.

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The farmer next door is very fond of wildlife and a few years ago, he found a dead tree and replanted it in his field, complete with barn owl box. As there aren’t many droppings or nesting signs in our house, we think this barn owl simply stops by to consume his grizzly meals, before swooping off into the night to hunt. The next evening we watched in the darkness to see if he would return, huddled round the fire beneath a blanket of stars. We listened to the tawny owls catcalling each other in admiration, but there was no sign of our ghostly visitor. Perhaps tomorrow night?

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