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The Owl Encounter

Loud alarm wakes me up at 2AM. It's a chilly, misty October night. I brace myself and crawl out of my warm sleeping bag and out of the tent. It's time to check the nets for owls.

I put on my waders and waterproof cloak, grab the torch and head to the center of a reedbed. In the complete silence I can only hear the sound of dense mud clinging to my legs and rustling of the reeds around me.

In order to extract an owl from a mistnet, you have to bear in mind that it's the talons that are the most dangerous, not the beak. So you grab the owl's legs first and immobilize them. The rest of the procedure is similar to other birds, but just a little bit more complicated. Their feathers are more fluffy, so it's impossible to see the net strings at all. You have to feel them with your fingers - that's why we don't use gloves.

Various species of owls behave differently in the nets. In general females are more aggressive. Tawny owls, for example, seem to be the mot passive - sometimes they even look as if falling asleep! However, a single lack of attention results in an attack. Then we have Short-Eared Owls that are relatively manageable. But now, right here, hissing in the net, I have the most difficult case - a large female Long-Eared Owl...

Agata, our ringer, extracts it very swiftly and hands it to one of the Volunteers so that she can prepare the ring, scales and the manual.

- OUCH! - just one moment of distraction and the owl pierces Rachael's fingers. Slowly we manage to spread the bird's legs and get the talons out. The bird is then sexed, aged, measured, weighted and checked for parasites. This one is very alert, healthy and tough, with many chances to survive the migration.

We take the owl out of the tent and away from any sources of light. Then we put the bird on the ground and release it. It disappears straight away, in total silence.

I think it summarizes our Bird Ringing Camps quite well. It is all about the Mission. We work day and night, in a moody weather. Shortage of sleep and, in case of many birds in the nets, not a lot of time to rest. Curiosity at every new species. Pain of the talons in your skin. Rain, mist and Autumn storms with the wind of more than 100 km/h. Excitement of your first bird extracted all by yourself. And at all the time - awareness that we are here with a Purpose.

We have no words to say Thank You to all our Volunteers. You are the Change. Without you we couldn't impact the reality around and beyond.


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