Owl on the prowl?

August 1st 2017

Owl on the prowl?                                                    

On 18th July 2017 Bill Badger, Gwen Richards and I were recording the plant-life of a wooded island at the eastern end of Loch Urigill (NC246094), of which expedition more in a later article, hopefully.

Towards the end of our visit I collected, from beneath one of trees that occupy much of the island, a furry scat or pellet. On further examination the loose fur and bones strongly suggested a bird pellet, probably that of an owl. However, the contents were not the usual collection of skulls and other bones of voles, mice or shrews that make up most owl pellets. The most conspicuous item was a front leg, with large flattish claws and a most unusual X-shaped bone. I had a vague recollection that this bone might be the humerus of a mole, a diagnosis I confirmed on line; the rest of the contents of the pellet fitted, although there was no skull. We did not see any molehills on the island, so it was probably caught, venturing incautiously above ground, somewhere around the edge of the loch, where molehills certainly occur, and its remains ejected at a roost on the island.

This conclusion threw some light on another curiosity, which also had us puzzled at first. We had found a leaf of devil’s-bit scabious which was almost completely covered with a chalky white deposit, with a pimply texture and leaf hairs protruding through it. At first we thought this might be an unusual fungus and retained it for examination by an expert. Looking at it later under the microscope, the deposit showed some signs of flaking off. In light of the pellet, we revised our opinion to the ‘splash’ which is ejected in liquid form from the other end of birds of prey such as owls! Ever been fooled?

Ian M. Evans

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