Barmy about barn owls: Owl pellets

Currently we have at least one pair of resident barn owls on our 250 acre Dairy Farm, with one notable pair being seen amongst our farm buildings and fields closest to the centre of the farm.

On 26/05/16, I found a barn owl pellet within our straw barn, which was at least 1 month old. Through my interest in barn owls and the other species living on our farm, I then soaked the pellet and teased it apart to find the small mammal bones within.

The pellet was filled with lots of bones, such as shoulder blades, hipbones, femurs and humeri.

From the skulls and jaw bones found in the pellet, I was able to identify the four skulls to species level. Two skulls were from common shrews…

…and two skulls were from field voles.

It was really interesting to be able to get closer to the small mammals that can be found on our farm, whatever the level of species abundance. It also gave me the opportunity to brush up on my skull and bone identification skills with the help of an RSPB owl pellet identification guide, which can highly recommend to others


I also recommend to others to get out at this time of year and to find your own owl pellets to learn more about the owls and prey species in your local area.

Winter into spring: April on the farm

April is one of my favourite months of the year on the farm. During April, the Dorset countryside begins to burst into new life. Newborn lambs bounce in the fields, newborn calves snooze in the fields in the spring sunshine, birds begin to nest and raise a new generation, and flowers carpet the woodlands.

Plants this April still followed a trend of being late, with some woodlands not becoming decked out in their full splendour during this month like in past years. Still Bluebells, wild garlic, early purple orchids and late wood anemones began to coat the woodland floor. Also, the woodland ferns began to unfurl in the woods later than usual.

During this April, trees were very much still late, with sycamore and silver birch finally bursting into leaf. Oaks were noticeably asynchronous in their bud burst, with some trees on there way to being in full leaf and others yet to start.

April saw the main crop of migrants arriving on warm winds. This year our barn swallows returned on April 6th, exactly the same date as in 2015! By the time we were fully into April, bird breeding pairs had been firmly established, and the nesting season for many bird species was fully under way. During April, more birds can be heard singing at dawn than any other time of year, which is quite magical to hear.

This year the tawny owls are breeding later than last year, but by the end of April the first hissing calls of tawny owl fledglings could be heard resonating through Dorset woodlands.

Life could be seen blooming everywhere throughout April. Dog violets and cowslips, among other species, were seen flowering along roadside banks.



Brimstone butterflies, orange tip butterflies, and peacock butterflies all began to emerge during the first half of April.

Throughout April, I made myself busy amongst the mounds university revision, by setting up my camera trap at different popular sites around our farmland. It was amazing to see the first badger cubs emerge from their den, and even more special to me, was being able to watch fox cubs beginning to explore above ground with their siblings, during the second half of the month. Fox cubs have to be my highlight of beautiful April!