Our owl theme continued in February with exploring the diet of barn and tawny owls. The day began very early in a field above Charterhouse checking traps. Chris Sperring from the Hawk and Owl Trust had laid traps the night before and was keen to release the occupants before they became dehydrated. Out of the 8 traps, 7 were occupied (5 small tailed voles, 1 bank vole and 1 wood mouse). Chris was very pleased with the numbers as it indicated that this rough grassland provides good habitat for these small mammals in terms of food, cover from predators and shelter.
We then moved on to Blackmoor Reserve walking through the old mining area full of rabbit warrens. The rabbit population peaks in the spring and early summer taking food away from the voles. It is only when the rabbit numbers decline because of disease that food becomes more available for the voles and their population increases. Beech woodland is the favourite habitat of the wood mouse which feeds on the beech mast. Here in the reserve the wood mice support a pair of tawny owls.
In the afternoon we dissected barn owl pellets to find out what they eat. Out of 10 pellets we found 27 prey items, mostly skulls, including 23 voles, 3 shrews and 1 rat. Chris updated us on the siting of the barn owl boxes and said that we will be able to visit some (hopefully in use) later in the year.