To date, I have been unable to locate any breeding birds in South Gloucestershire, with the nearest, best know site being at Stock Hill Plantation on the Mendips, where there is a large tract of the long-eared preferred breeding habitat, conifer forest. Another site where wintering long-eared owls have been recorded in the past is at Warmley Forest Park. This site is now a Local Nature Reserve, and although small, is being managed for all wildlife, with good vole-rich grassland as well as lots of areas of scrub. With Overscourt Woods just down the road, it could turn up LEO’s any year. They have also been recorded at Inglestone Common.
Long-eared owls are much smaller than people realise, weighing less than 300gms and smaller than a barn owl, and with superb camouflage, it is no wonder they are so hard to find - and I have sore feet from walking along miles of hedgerow to prove it! If you have an useful information on records or sightings, please let me know.
Being a diurnal species, they are seen in broad daylight, with the afternoon towards dusk usually being the most active time. The number of owls along this site can vary from year to year, being influenced by weather conditions in their home areas and vole populations at Severnside, but at least a couple are seen on almost a daily basis most winters and sometimes as many as a dozen. There is a great website called Severnside Birds run by Paul Bowerman that records daily sightings at Severnside and its good way of monitoring the birds at Aust.
Short-eared owls are also spotted each winter on higher ground in places like Marshfield and Tormarton and the surrounding area.
The management of land in South Gloucestershire is at time brutal - even when grass is left, a vole-rich field one month can be a cut to the soil ‘vole desert’ the next. Long grass is often seen as ‘neglect’, and with an obsession for tidiness, a demand to feed horses together with dog walkers complaining that their feet get wet in damp grass, there is an awful habit of ‘tidying’ the fields in this part of Bristol. This can have a big influence of the chances of barn owl populations increasing now and in the future.
Other factors affecting the spread of barn owls here include the huge rise in traffic in recent years, with fast roads becoming a killing ground for owls. The use of rodenticides by modern owners of old farms that jump a mile when they see a mouse, and of course the huge demand for new housing which is eroding the green belt. Despite popular myth, South Gloucestershire Council are a very green council, with a brilliant team of Countryside Officers who are amazingly dedicated to wildlife conservation - it is government that is demanding more houses in the area, and the council is up against the wall with this issue.
There are established barn owl breeding sites in the countryside around Wick, Dyrham, Doynton, Pucklechurch, Siston, Overscourt, Sisiton Common, Iron Acton, Engine Common, Old Sodbury, Inglestone Common, Badminton, Wickwar, Charfield, Latteridge, Thornbury, Oldbury, Berkley, Keynsham, Hanham, Tortworth, Severnside and many other areas.
As far as having a chance to see them, Overscourt Woods at dusk is worth a visit (both sides of the road) and they are also regularly seen along the Iron Acton bypass, as well as the fields and lanes around Doynton.
In fact, any large field that has been left as set-aside and is vole-rich normally draws in barn owls at some time or another. In this part of the country, barn owls normally become active at the very end of the day, as the light fails, but after a very rainy June/July night, they will often hunt in the morning daylight when the rain has stopped, responding to the hungry calls of growing chicks that need feeding. With high volumes of traffic in the area, sightings near main roads are often made in the hours after midnight, when things quieten down a bit.
LITTLE OWLS are found a number of sites in South Gloucestershire, and in fact is the owl you are most likely to see in this area due to it’s diurnal habits, where it can often be seen sat on telegraph poles or in trees.
The region has quite a lot of suitable little owl habitat such as hedgerows, orchards, grazing meadows, smallholdings, allotments as well as lots of suitable nest sites like stables, old farm buildings and industrial buildings.
Through my talks, I meet hundreds of people, and I am often told stories by retired ladies of how ‘their’ little owl sits on the fence ‘by the apple tree’ and stares at them with those yellow eyes and intense frown!
When I have surveyed for little owls, there has hardly been an area of ‘likely little owl countryside’ where I have not had a response to my survey tapes. Generally, the young seem to set up new territories close to where they were hatched, so where the countryside is suitable, there are often connected territories - I call them enclaves.
The most likely places to look for them is in the areas by old ramshackle farm buildings, like old piggeries or stables and also any likely rotted out hollow trees.
Places that I regularly see little owl are Iron Acton, Latteridge, Engine Common, Old Sodbury, Chipping Sodbury, Doddington, Wick, Doynton, Dyrham, Badminton, Winterbourne, Frampton Cotterell, Westerleigh, Pucklechurch, Overscourt Woods, Siston Common, Thornbury, Aust Wharf, Severnside, Almondsbury, Oldbury, Tortworth, Tytherington, Tockington, Charfield, Wickwar, Ingleston Common, Frenchay and many other areas.
Sadly increasing development of old farm buildings in the area and changes to land use is having an impact on some established pairs.
Owls in South Gloucestershire
THE WEBSITE OF OWL SPECIALIST & WILDLIFE EDUCATOR IAN McGUIRE
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