Everyone's been home this weekend so it's been a fairly non-stop couple of days, topped off last night with a pub supper.
On the way back we experienced a moment of existential crisis (actually, it wasn't existential at all- for a second it was frighteningly real) when an oncoming car suddenly swerved deliberately into our path. M braked, the car swerved back onto its side of the road, and a second later I realised why it had swerved- there was a pigeon in the road.
At least I thought it was a pigeon.
We stopped and I leapt out to move it off the road, then discovered it was a baby Tawny Owl (an owlet).
I've had one or two Close Encounters with owls over the years. They are not called "wise" for nothing. Under the unblinking scrutiny of an owl you feel reduced to a fairly inconsequential being, wondering at your own temerity at even daring to look directly at them.
The babies are no different in this regard. This little one fixed those extraordinary round eyes on me and tapped his beak in warning as I approached and opened his wings to flap at me. All good signs, I thought, hopefully I'll be able to pick him up and pop him back in the woods over the fence and mummy or daddy will come back and look after him.
Then I realised he'd been hit. There was fresh blood coming out of his beak.
My default position with any wild creature is always to move it away from immediate danger and then leave it be, because wild things belong in the wild and are almost always better off that way. Indeed it is illegal to remove them. But this was an injured baby, dusk was approaching with all that that means in terms of predators, and what's more he was small and fluffy and not yet fully fledged and, more importantly, there was no sign whatsoever of his parents.
I picked him up and couldn't feel anything broken, but leaving him in that condition was out of the question, so we took him home and I rang my friend Jill who is a Wildlife Rescue Wonder Lady to ask her advice.
You can't leave him out like that, she confirmed. Bring him over, I've another baby Tawny here, they can keep each other company.
So after the children had gently stroked his furry head, and he had fallen asleep in my hands all soft and warm and comfortable, M drove me and the Tawny Wol over to Jill's place. When we were nearly there he woke up, stretched, flapped his wings and hopped up onto the dashboard. The bleeding had stopped, and when I dabbed at his beak to clean him up a bit, he grabbed the tissue. He then did a poo on me and decided to flutter over to land on M's knees. He seemed utterly unperturbed by us and behaved, as all owls do, as if this was his kingdom and we there merely to serve (which to be honest is how I felt) :o)
All Good Signs, I thought, grinning at the sight of M, in all likelihood the only husband in England to be calmly driving along a country lane at dusk with a wild owl sitting on his knee :o)
I retrieved Bop (as we decided to call him) and discovered that Owls have extraordinarily sharp talons and a Very Strong Grip. He was reluctant to let go of my finger but I managed to persuade him to sit on my lap the remainder of the way instead, which he did, keeping his enormous eyes trained on me the entire time. I braved out the scrutiny and smiled down at him, explaining that we were taking him to a lady who would make him better and look after him until he was big enough to go out into the woods and look after himself.
Jill has a wealth of experience rehabilitating wild creatures, she's a country woman through and through- straightforward, no-nonsense, more at home with animals than people and what's more she has a Magic Touch- wild things respond to her in a way they don't to other people. I met her several years ago when L and I found a brand new hatchling on the verge by school. A crowd of excitable mothers and children were gathered round exclaiming and pointing at the baby but no one was actually doing anything to help it.
I picked it up (impatient with the useless chattering of the watching people) while L looked for the nest, but we couldn't find it, so we took Peep (as L christened the baby) home, L holding her while I drove. I rang Jill who advised me to give her some rehdydrating salts in water and some tiny sections of softened meal worms, then tuck her up in the airing cupboard on a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel for the night and if she survived the night to bring her over in the morning. At that age they need feeding every 15-30 mins during the day, something I couldn't do.
With such a brand new baby none of us expected her to survive so it was with some astonishment that I was woken at 4am the next morning by a loud and insistent peeping coming from the airing cupboard.
We drove Peep over to Jill and both shook our heads over her and thought it still unlikely she would survive, young as she was, but to our amazement she did and eight days later we returned to see her and discovered she was a sparrow.
A few days on from that and she was fully feathered and living outside in a cage, from which she fledged successfully to be a proper Wild Bird.
So I know Jill is a miracle worker with a magic touch and I wouldn't trust Bop to anyone else.
We arrived at Jill's last night in one piece and she gathered him up in a very professional owl-handling manner, checked him over and declared nothing broken (phew). After studying his beak for a moment we worked out where the blood was coming from- the tip of his top beak was broken, so I think he was clipped by a car seconds before we found him. He would have died if we hadn't intervened, not least because he was sitting in the road close to a bend and wasn't moving. He settled down in Jill's hands enjoying being smoothed and while we caught up he fell fast asleep :o)
We left him looking quite happy about to be fed a mouse or two and drove home. I will ring her later today to see how he passed the night but we were both hopeful that short of internal injuries, he would be OK.
I am wondering (of course) whether my diary is clear enough in the next fortnight or so for me to raise him here. I'll chat it over with Jill and make a decision based on her advice. It may be that one move is enough and he's better off staying put with her. The advantage to him being here (apart from the obvious one of us having a beautiful owl to look after until he fledges properly) is that he'd be released close to where he was born. I'm not sure if that makes much difference with owls.
Hope you all enjoyed that :o)