A remarkable experience for me yesterday evening. Our 4th storey apartment in the city centre of Almaty Kazakhstan faces a quiet street to the North, populated on our side of the street by tall Wych Elms at least as high as our 5 story building, and a green tree-filled square (mainly Birches and younger Wych and Siberian Elms) on the other, with great Tienshan Mountain views. Even today from my South-facing home office window, I see snow-covered peaks over the green branches of a pollarded Wych Elm.
There are 8 wires strung across the gap too, which, while unsightly, have provided exciting sightings: Hobby, Oriental Turtle Doves, Red-rumped Swallows and a migrating Pied Wheatear last year. They normally harbour our ubiquitous feral pigeons, House Sparrows and Common Mynas, all of which are nesting within site of my window.
In spring months from mid-April, European Scops Owls call regularly on both sides of the apartment and I suspect that they nested last year in the avenue of indigenous deciduous trees on an adjoining cross street. I can hardly see the trees from the apartment, but they are close enough to hear calling owls, blackbirds and the usual suspects mentioned above.
By late May and into June, the Scops shut up; presumably they have mated and are now nesting. This is followed later in the summer by the appearance of loudly calling juveniles, if I’m lucky. This year I was lucky – and how!
Yesterday evening, a little after 10 p.m., with the apartment already shut down for the night and SheWhoMustBeObeyed already fast asleep, I snuck into the kitchen for an illicit late snack. I was distracted by a loud screeching out side the kitchen window – adjoining balcony window actually. I had heard them before over the years: juvenile European Scops Owl. Their erratic raucous calls are nothing like the sweet regular 3-second call of the adults (which I didn’t hear last night). They are loud and harsh. 150619_001
I watched for a while and at first couldn’t catch sight of either of the 2 birds that I was hearing. They were in the trees in front and to the right for over 20 minutes. Eventually, not only did they show themselves on the branches of the tall tree right in front of me, one flew right past the window, and, in the dim light pollution from the city, I saw the bird, fly out over the street, turn back and land on a bare branch a meter above me and 2 metres from me.
On a recent birding tour of Kazakhstan, one of the birders had kindly left his high powered torch with me and for the first time in earnest, I used it to spot these magnificent little fellows. The bird on the bare branch looked down at me, clearly not bothered by the strong beam, his unblinking eyes orange in the torch beam, giving him/her a look of curiosity, perhaps surprise and definitely, ‘why are you shining that thing at me’ disdain! Ten or fifteen seconds was all I was allowed before he/she flew off again, but it was enough to indelibly imprint this sighting on my mind for life. So so exciting; I could hardly sleep last night.
I rushed to set up my camera, fixed a suitable lens and flash gun, arranged the camera settings, focused on the branch and waited…and waited…and waited. All to no avail. No more calling, no sightings, no birds. Ah well, maybe they’ll be back another evening.
In the excitement, I nearly forgot my snack! Now I’ll have to sneak out for a snack every evening, or even several times every evening. Goodbye waistline (OK, what waistline you rightly may ask)!
(Note: I picked this excellent photo from Google Images believing it to be unprotected. If it is your copyrighted image, leave a message and I’ll remove it with apologies).