What’s for Lunch?

I’m finding work hard going at the moment.   However many leaves I rake up

One of the large oaks on the east lawn (hanging determinedly on to his leaves) in the mist.

there always seem to be more.  I look up at the oaks, sigh, rub my back and realise that there are still so many more leaves to come.  So many, many more.  Oaks hang on to their leaves longer than most trees; the ash trees lost all theirs weeks ago.  Ash comes into leaf late and loses them early; hardly seems worth the bother.

Another big oak on the east lawn, in the mist.

Because it’s still so warm, the grass is still growing and in need of cutting.  Mowing soggy grass is a pain.  The muddy clippings clog up the mower and the heavy roller churns up the wet ground.  The lawns look like a panzer division has trundled across them.
Still, at least I’ve got the Priory Owl to keep me company.  Not that I’ve ever seen the Priory Owl – though I hear her often enough.  And I know where she is.  Roosting in a dense clump of  conifers close to the greenhouse.  Sometimes I go into the clump and peer, myopically, up into the branches.  But I can never see her, though I know she’s there.  I find her pellets, you see; at the base of one of the conifers.

Here’s one.  (Not a thing of great beauty so I’ve included a pretty auricula in shot).  In case you don’t know, owls regurgitate the stuff they can’t digest.  They will swallow their prey whole, digest what they can and then bring up the rest; all the fur and bones, in a neat little parcel – for sad gardeners to fascinate over.

Soak the pellet overnight and you can then (if you have no friends to talk to during your lunch hour) carefully prise it apart.

Teasing apart the fur reveals lots of little bones,

a couple of lower jawbones and a skull.

I’m by no means an expert but it’s probably a common or bank vole.  (And to the lower right is an insect wing – a beetle of some sort I imagine.  Yum yum).

Common vole - September 2011

I would dearly love to secure a good shot of the Priory Owl.  But I’ll need to see her first!  She’s probably a tawny and she’s picky where she nests.  Despite making her a nest box two years ago, she has yet to use it.

Common vole - September 2011

But with so many voles in the gardens perhaps she’ll decide that 2012 is finally the year to start a family at the Priory. Here’s hoping … though the voles probably won’t agree.

23 thoughts on “What’s for Lunch?

  1. Hi Mr K, hmm I can see that after the first couple of pellets another vole skull isn't going to have you punching the air in triumph (this was my first ever pellet so I was allowed). Wow, you have a fox-tooth necklace? How cool (and primitive) is that? Do you wear it often? And when? We should be told.

    Hi Erle, I am going to try that as soon as I'm back at the Priory on Thursday. Sounds amazing. I'm practising my hooting as I type! (Thanks for dropping by).



  2. Try calling back to your owl. My wife and son did this regularly at our last garden and once had one come down to the apple tree only a few feet from them. Nearly gave them heart failure and it was a while before they tried again.



  3. I used to dissect owl pellets with my children, but the excitement wears off, because they do tend all to have the same contents. We also found a dead fox, left the corpse under a couple of heavy stones and came back a year later…Somewhere, there is a fox-tooth necklace that we made from the remains.


  4. You certainly know how to have fun!! Actually, I am rather envious. I remember dissecting an owl pellet when I was at school as part of a nature table project, though I don't remember any soaking. I now really, really want an owl to drop leavings somewhere convenient so that I can have a play. Did I mention that I used to want to be a pathologist when I grew up?

    I feel sorry for the voles though…


  5. Hi Kris, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Scaring stay-indoors neighbours is a perfectly acceptable past-time and unbridled enthusiasm for anything is to be applauded. I have to admit that I do find gardening alone pretty liberating too. At least sometimes. I can be happily grumpy and bad tempered without offending anyone.



  6. Hello, Dave. Just discovered your blog and really enjoyed this post. I, too, garden by myself and it can be a little sad, but also liberating at the same time. (Here amphibians are allowed full rights-of-way.)

    A couple of seasons ago I was lucky enough to find several pellets from the resident Great Horned Owl, and, like you, succumbed to curiosity – and eventual dissection. I think I sometimes frighten my stay-indoors neighbors with my unbridled enthusiasm for outside adventures. LOL I look forward to reading more of your kindred adventures.


  7. Hi Shirl, I had no idea I was going to put so many people off their breakfasts. I haven't been watching autumn watch this year – did Chris do an owl pellet? Like I said above it's just something I've been meaning to do since I was a kid. Pleased people found it interesting. And it didn't really smell either. Not much anyway!

    Petra, tell me you don't take the bones of small mammals away with you on holiday. Petra? Please?

    Wow! Faisal, wow! I've just google-imaged a tawny frogmouth. Wow. I want one. Wow. I'm smitten. Totally. He's been designed by the Muppets!! I'm going to check e-bay. A muppet owl. I shall put him in my pocket and take him everywhere. Wow.



  8. I like the natural history, Dave, and I like that you're orientated to it, in the garden. One of the best things, as a gardener, to me, is to find wildlife thriving behind your back.
    I've encountered owls myself – only a couple of times – once, at my inner-city flat, and once where I am now, a tawny frogmouth ( Podargus strigoides ), which is able to camouflage itself as a branch…it takes time to suss them out.


  9. Haha… do we have a Chris Packham groupie here? Oh… but the joke was on me yesterday as I was having breakfast yesterday when I scrolled down to the pretty auricular pic. I decided I would come back later. Good plan I see now.

    This morning, breakfast eaten and on second cuppa I commend you on taking the time and stomach to open the owl pellet and share its contents. Nature is fascinating and it’s brilliant that we can learn so much about a species by such a simple process. Lol… Conservation really stinks! Well done 🙂


  10. Sometimes the music does get ramped up a little in the greenhouse, Stacy. Helps with the watering I find. Haven't been at the Priory for a couple of days and it's been really windy so hopefully the oaks are now bare?

    Nah, Janet that's a step too far. Even for me – I'll stick with my pellets! Might do another one out of personal interest to see whether there's anything else in there.

    Hi Di, I haven't got any colleagues I'm afraid … so I have to make my own entertainment! Thanks for stopping by (and nice looking crab apple jelly by the way)



  11. Huh–you have to wonder why some things get digested and others don't. What was wrong with that one wing? And who knew that all of those bones could fit in such a small pellet?

    It does look awfully gray and soggy outside the greenhouse. Hang in there, Dave. Tea and biscuits are prescribed, and a little cheerful music, loud enough to shake the rest of the leaves off those dillydallying oak trees.


  12. Hi Boys, blimey that's a grisly fact about you! Did you ask permission beforehand? And I hope you don't go up to people at parties and impart that. Do you? As an introduction?

    Hi WW, I can't believe I haven't seen her. I get ever so close and right beneath where I know she is … but not a glimpse. The vole was under the site of a bonfire I was clearing and remarkably unfazed about me looming a few feet away with my camera. Perhaps it was terrifically short sighted?



  13. Fascinating post and lovely photo of the vole. We were lucky enough a couple of years ago to come across a tawny owl's nest and see the baby owls in it. It was an amazing experience. Hope you get to see your owl soon.


  14. Thoroughly fascinating David! I'm actually glad you did a photologue of this to show what is in an owl regurgitate. Not for the squeamish I know (and I'm certainly not as I've dissected humans before…) but there's a fair few of us here who finds these things really fascinating!


  15. Hi Lucy, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Soaking an owl pellet and taking it apart has been one of those things I've been meaning to do since I was about 8!

    Er, no Elaine. Sorry, I should've issued a 'Stop reading – if you're eating porridge' warning.

    Hi Andrea, no-one to share my cutlery with (sniff).

    Oh dear. Another porridge eater. Sorry, Sara. I do hope I'll see the owl one day – afterall it's been over three years now! (Glad you 're-appeared').



  16. I had to abandon your post halfway through in order to finish my porridge this morning without regurgitating it myself. Fascinating stuff though.
    We have a lot of voles here, small field voles. Or certainly had. The cats were bringing in at least one most days (sometimes three or four), dead or alive. I rescued those I could, though whether they managed to evade our voling machines again we'll never know. Fortunately they seem to have run out now. Or at least found better things to do, mostly sleeping.
    I hope you catch a glimpse of your guest one of these days.


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