Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My mother was a great storyteller, and one of her favourite stories was about me when I was a little boy. She had taken me to visit a friend of hers who lived in a house with a large garden. It being a sunny day, she’d allowed me to play in the garden and after a while she and her friend had looked out to see me sitting on the lawn, surrounded by birds.

And it appeared as if I was holding court, engaging the birds in earnest conversation as they took turns to fly up and land on my outstretched fingers.

I’ve no memory of that incident today, but I’m sure my mother wasn’t exaggerating. I’ve had a lifelong interest in birds, and for my sins, I can still do a very good imitation of many different birdsongs today. I suppose that’s reflected in my choice of a Canary as my blog avatar, and why I spend so much time in the Canary Islands, where there is an astonishing variety of exotic birdlife.

I’m mentioning all this because Kathy and I are now back in the UK for a brief visit, and in the evenings I’ve been busy making friends with a tawny owl. I haven’t actually seen the owl yet, but we’ve exchanged hoots.

Barn owls in the UK tend to hoot, while those in the Canary Islands are mainly screech owls. I’ve become quite good at imitating the characteristic “Scree!” of the screech owl, which is absolutely ear-shattering at close range. So you can imagine my delight at the opportunity to practice my tawny owl “Hoo!” while I’m back in the UK. And Kathy is quite pleased too, because she seems to like my hooting much more than my screeching.

Anyway, I’ve been out in the garden every night waiting for the tawny owl to hoot. And I’ve not been disappointed, because it has made its presence known at around 11pm each evening. On the first evening, we only exchanged a brief “Hoo-Hoo!”, after which it fell silent. I’m sure that like me, it was being a little cautious. Tawny owls are extremely territorial, and one has to exercise a great deal of patience over many evenings before they will accept the presence of another owl in their vicinity.

But we’ve now got to the stage where we can exchange a full range of friendly hoots. I was up last night until 2am, teaching the owl to count, by replying to each single hoot with a double hoot, and then replying to each double hoot with a triple hoot. We got as far as six hoots, after which we ended the conversation by slowly counting down back to one.

But the really amazing thing is this. Kathy tells me she has just met the lady who recently moved into the house next door. And would you believe it? That lady’s husband is also a keen bird-fancier, and he spends a lot of time in their garden in the late evenings, just like me.

I can't wait to meet him...


JW10 said...

This is a hoot.
Interesting post (and nice photo) CI.

As one who cannot tell one birdsong from another, I am impressed. I have a splendid image of you conversing with the owl. :-)

Canary Islander said...

Hi JW!
Yes, I wonder which twitcher will be the twitchier when we meet...

Expat said...

JW, you stole my line!!!

We don't have too many owls around here. We do have vultures. I don't think they are much given to conversation, though, being more intent on tearing carcasses of squirrels apart (Sorry Dolores!).

Lovely (and funny) blog, CI. I'm a backyard birder myself but I have not tried talking to my feeder patrons. I don't count "getthehelloutofhere" screamed at greedy bluejays as talking...more of a warning before the air rifle comes into play (sorry again, Dolores).

Canary Islander said...

I didn't know you had a rifle, Expat!

I was staying at a friend's estate last year and he suggested I grab a shotgun, take his dogs, and go shooting. It was great fun, and after an hour or so I returned and asked him if he had any more dogs...

(Sorry, Dolores!)

Dolores Doolittle said...

Good god - such Gore! George has had to waft me vigorously & apply smelling salts. HeeHohtley-Ho for the Bring More Dogs though CI!

We have delightful yet unexotic blackbirds, great tits, blue tits, chaffinches & a Woodpecker who jets up from the bottom of the garden & scares the hell out of the teenies by making holes in their tree.

JW10 said...

There are not many exotic birds (steady, steady CI) round our parts, though I'm sure I saw a swan the other day.

Canary Islander said...

We are all strictly for the birds!