At 8 am on 4 April in full sunlight I was surprised to hear a female tawny owl calling loudly from a gum tree near Manor Road. Why was she in full voice? I have no idea. She was being mobbed by a jay but that in itself is not unusual as jays are noisy crows and will not give up an opportunity to harass an owl. Was this tawny owl Mabel? After all this road is only about quarter of a mile from Mabel’s tree in Christchurch Park (as the owl flies). This is highly unlikely, however, but it could well be a descendent of our favourite bird. Last year I was shown a young tawny owl in The Spinney and I often hear tawnies, mainly males, calling at the dead of night. Despite the fact that we may have lost Mabel, it is good to know that ‘clan Tawny’ is still to be found in this area.
Did you see the article in the local paper, or the piece on TV, about a road to the south of Ipswich being closed because the road had subsided owing to the fact that badgers had set up home under the tarmac. Have you any idea of the number of badgers culled because of the ongoing saga of badger, cattle and TB? In Suffolk, we close a road to protect “Brock”, whilst in the West Country I believe the number of badgers shot or gassed is in the region of 33,000. It seems incongruous that on the one hand we go out of our way to protect a badger sett whilst badgers that happen to live elsewhere are slaughtered. I notice that along the local country roads I travel, there are large gaping holes by the roadside (and not the potholes). Badgers have dug down with their powerful claws to reach young rabbits which are in burrows by the roadside. Badgers do not only live on worms and peanuts, they are omnivorous and enjoy young rabbits and hedgehogs as well.
My French ornithologist friend is making me feel very envious – he is already enjoying the call of the cuckoo in the forest where he lives. I well remember last year hearing and seeing cuckoos in his garden! I am monitoring the tagged cuckoos and I am disappointed to see that only two of them seem to have reached Europe. For whatever reason the others appear to still be in Africa. Have they lost their transmitters or are they dead? They could have become trapped, shot or food for a bird of prey. We may never know. I myself cannot wait to hear that two-syllable call. I regularly used to expect to hear that first call on about 17 April but in those days cuckoos were so much more common.
‘Countryfile’ is a very popular BBC programme on Sunday evenings and I often find some of the subjects raised very interesting (despite the presenters speaking with seemingly exaggerated Northern accents.) I feel that sometimes their opinions on country pursuits seem very biased and this week several newspapers have commented on last Sunday’s edition. It appears that many viewers are concerned about the programme’s apparent bias towards ‘townies’ and favouring the anti-farming attitude which featured ‘veganism’ and animal welfare activists. Dr Toni Shepherd of Animal Equality told presenter Tom Heap “Our vision is a world in which all animals are respected and protected. Ultimately, the best way to spare animals from suffering is simply not to eat them.” One clip from the film showed examples of cruelty to animals on a supposedly British farm except that the signs on the farm were in a foreign language – I prefer my steak well-done. A Welsh dairy farmer was accused of being a murderer. Mr Heap was slammed by farmers after suggesting that up to 100,000 dairy bull calves were shot on UK farms every year. Apparently, there is no evidence of this. Also farmers are being blamed for the decline of hedgehogs. No mention of course of badgers.