Encounters with Owls

Encounters with Owls

January for me is quite exciting for old favourites.

The cold frosty air really gets the tawny owls hooting at night and because the nights are long they can be heard by children before bedtime or not so early in the morning. The frost especially seems to get them going and cold still air seems to help their voices carry  further and to echo, spooklily and mystically, I love it.

It starts in the autumn really but intensifies as the males set up territories and defend them, mostly with noise. The classic owl sound Hoo-hu-hu-hooooo comes from the male and he carries the last note like a diva. He will often be answered by another male in the distance and a hooting match commences with the protaganists flying round the woods. This probably is not to be recommended (people lose eyes to angry owls but usually when disturbing nests) but I like to join in and position myself where a likely perch has a backdrop of sky. The owls figure out quite quickly that my weak whistling is no owl but still sometimes answer and occasionally come to take a look, it is thrilling.

Also joining in are the females, often more vocal than the males but they do not hoot the female call is Tee-wit (high-pitched and sharp like someone stamping on a squeaky toy) so, together, occasionally there might be a Tee-wit-hu-hoooo if they call in the right order.

When I was 16, I was out on an early frosty morning and heard a female tawny owl calling above the road ahead of me. She was so intent on what she was doing that she allowed me to approach the telegraph poll she was on and, quite indignantly, tee-witted at me and gave me time to ready my camera. Unfortunately I could not see her well enough through the lens to focus and had to guess; auto-focus was just a dream in those days and it would probably have missed her anyway. I took the shot, there was a burst of light which dazzled us both and she was gone. It took two weeks for the photos to come back but, although it is not quite in focus, the shot records my first eye to eye meeting with a wild owl and reminds me that it really happened, I love it.

the owl photographed

Stories about Nature

Our Story Books to Colour are all written in rhyme, inspired by the works of Dr Seuss. As a child I loved finding facts about nature and reading books with the facts easily discovered and easy to remember. As a Dad I loved reading the same books to our boys. So when it came to writing books to empower children with knowledge about nature, turning to rhyme seemed to be the best approach. I’m rubbish at maths, but I can still remember my times tables because of the rhythm.

I wrote the following in my head on a woodland walk and thought I’d share it here, to give you an idea of how our books are written.

Please play this while reading to set the scene

Scenes that play out in the woods

The woods near our house is a smashing location

Where I take, every day, a fleeting vacation

If I can to unwind and to open my mind

But mostly I go there with hopes that I’ll find

Signs of my friends, or see them maybe

On the ground, in the stream or up in a tree


The woods are owned by Sir Tawny Macduff

Or he thinks that he owns them and that’s good enough

His claim is disputed, of course, by Macbeth

Who goads Macduff to fight to the death

And nightly this happens in the coldest of weather

Without either opponent losing a feather


Among my best friends in the wood was a mouse

Whose parents had used an old stump for a house

I met him by chance on his first wander out

Luckily for him no Macduffs were about.

He was nibbling on an old beech nut he’d found

Amongst all the leaves lying there on the ground

His fur matched the leaves in a wonderful way

In the dappled sunshine on that memorable day

The next day I took him some crumbs from a loaf

And sprinkled them for him, I’m a soppy old oaf


I sprinkled them daily and saw him quite often

If anyone met him, their feelings would soften

For mice and their kind in their woodland retreat

What more could you ask, to make life complete


I called my friend Yorik, it just seemed to fit

I’d chat to young Yorik from the stump where I’d sit


This went on a long time and I watched him grow up

Whilst daily poetically, together we’d sup


But one day old Yorik just didn’t appear

But sits in my memory where I hold him dear

And I visit the spot and imagine him there

Nibbling crumbs that I liked to share


On moonlit nights I’d oft take a walk

Down in the wood to hear all the talk

Made by foxes and badgers but mostly the owls

Who talk very loudly on my nightly prowls

The Macduffs own the woods as I said before

But the Macbeths believe that they own it more

Sir Tawny calls Hu who who who who

And lady Macduff calls tee-wit not tu-woo

Then old Captain Macbeth starts up hoo hooing as well

And the couples call over the woods for a spell

Hu hu hoo, tee-wit, tee-wit hu hoo hoo

It means go away, not how do you do

And by frequent visits I found under a yew

Signs of a thing that tawny owls do


A small oval mass lay there on the ground

And I picked the thing up to see what I had found

It was without doubt a tawny owl pellet

I could tell just by looking with no need to smell it


Fox poo’s quite different and has quite a pong

Sniff it and you’ll get a whiff that’s quite strong


I took home the pellet, because I wanted to see

What had been eaten by the owl in the tree


I dropped the small find in a water filled tray

Rummaged around and then with dismay

Saw the skull of a mouse staring right back

The pellet contain the small friend that I lack


I knew it was him in my heart I could tell

Alas, it was Yorik, the mouse I knew well


Old tawny had seen him and swooped without sound

To pick up poor Yorik up off the ground

Where he had been feeding right up to the end

On some crumbs he’d been given by a silly old friend


Macduff in his nest had a fluffy young chick

Who called out for food with a curious click


The clicks, to Macduffs meant feed me & quick

And right at the moment Yorik snapped a small stick

The sounds of poor Yorik did lead on Macduff

To pin-point the noise and, by the scruff

Grab my small pal, my crumb eating friend

And that’s where our story like Yorik must end

If you know your Shakespeare you won’t like this ending

You’ll cringe at the literary message it’s sending

So wait,  just a while one moment, please wait

Yorik’s skull and its scratches tell that his fate

Came from the front and not the back

Yorik faced the cold attack

And I can hear him call his bluff

And shout, not squeak, “lay on Macduff”


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