6/4/17. Late afternoon on the old stone bridge near the Farm. Skomer.

Thursday 6th April, late afternoon and early evening; I spent the morning just walking around the island. Mid afternoon I decided to try to record some of the island’s sounds.

It’s windy, so I sought out some shelter to improve my chance of recording without wind noise. I went back to the hollow through which a small stream runs between the two North ponds. It’s an area just 100 metres north of the Farm. It’s where the old stone bridge (part of an ancient boundary wall) affords a crossing. I sat there surrounded by low, waterlogged trees; and I watched and listened to the birds and the slow trickle of the stream.

It was a serendipitous decision.

In just a few minutes I saw the Hen Harrier that had been spoken of on our arrival earlier that morning. It’s larger than a Kestrel; and differently coloured. I watched it hover for a few minutes, then off it went and I lost sight. But something moving into the view of my binoculars gave me hope I had recovered it. But no; this was something altogether different, and in many ways more exciting. It was clearly a bird of prey and had a large wingspan of a metre or more that it effortlessly employed to float and manoeuvre just a metre or so above the dry grass in its search for food. It was miraculous to watch as it made numerous passes over the grassland area that separated me from the Farm enclosure. Many times it flew directly towards me and I could see its amazing flat round face and beautiful colouring.

I watched it for at least 15 minutes; up and down the field; moving up the shallow valley and back again. At times it was worried off͟ by gulls, by ravens and magpies. I’m always amazed to see this behaviour: birds of prey being chased away by other birds that might in fact be putting their lives at risk. I think they do it to protect their young; though at this time of year there aren’t many young about.

I heard no sound from the owl, but all around were the ever-present gulls, and several individuals of my favourite water birds, the curlew. The curlew has the most amazing song/call; I’ve heard it described as a ͞bubbly͟ call. It is unmistakeable, and begins around the 5th minute of this recording. Eerie and mournful and lovely.

So while the owl remained silent, its presence is an intimate part of this particular recording. Like the aural equivalent of a homeopathic treatment, the owl is there on the recording, whether you can hear it or not. It made that 30 minutes wondrously memorable.

After many passes and being chased off several times the owl returned; seemed to almost stop mid-flight, not hovering but hanging, adjust its orientation and then dropping the 2 metres into the grass. And there it stayed; gone from sight, presumably to eat its evening snack of Skomer vole.

Over the course of the next two days I would see this owl many times, and each time it was a riveting experience.

Note: there is a little rustling on part of the recording; I’m afraid my waterproof jacket is not very helpful to these kinds of recordings.

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