Assorted Toffees from Colne Engaine

Assorted Toffees from Colne Engaine

Nocturnal Predators

A few days ago, early in the morning, I opened my back door to let out the dog. There was blood on the doorstep and blood in the air. Two cats were pacing up an down, heads low, tails twitching, sinews taut – they had made a kill. Mildred found the victim, a hapless, headless leveret, twice the size of either cat, but younger and alas, less clever. They must have pooled their resources and stalked and pounced on him together.

Our cats are not the only predators in the garden. One night we were quietly standing out on the lawn in the moonlight and suddenly swish, something swooped down and skimmed my head, then swooped again at the dog. Her swoop was silent, but her cry was blood-curdling. “Filthy cheat, filthy cheat!” she shrieked. A little owl? The hair rose on our necks. The next day we saw the cause of her agitation: a baby little owl, her fledgling, was out of the nest and sitting on the telegraph wires below Mill Lane. So small, and yet so fierce, like a kitten but with feathers and beak, he and I had a staring match for several minutes. Yellow eyes full menace, little feathery whiskers, fluffed up feathers, his silent message was “Dare to threaten me and you`ll regret it!”

This ferocious baby owl reminded me of our six week old kitten when she first arrived; just by hissing and arching her back she could send the huge clumsy dogs running for cover. How similar are cats and owls! They are both nocturnal, preferring to hunt silently by night and sleep by day.. They are both partial to mouse and vole for breakfast, and rid themselves of unwanted roughage by disgorging pellets and fur balls. Also, while most animals avoid eye contact with humans, cats and owls have the audacity to meet our gaze with fearless yellow eyes. Small wonder then that owls and cats have been known to sail away together and even to get married.

Meanwhile there is an uneasy truce between two mother and son teams sharing the same territory in Mill Lane – Olga and her son Umbrage on the ground and Mrs Little Owl and her fledgling in the air. The cats twitch their tails, prowl about and stare malevolently at their winged rivals; the owls cry “filthy cheat” and swoop down at the cats, talons spread. As far as I know Olga has no plans to sail away with this small male owl, nor to dance with him by the light of the moon.

Polly Clarke


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Paperback, 76 pages with 21 illustrations price £6 plus 60p for postage and packing

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