About fifteen feet from our front door there’s a head-high ledge about a foot wide running along the top of a retaining wall.
Piled onto this ledge is an approximation of a dry-stone wall and inside this, for the second year running, a family of Abruzzo Owls has successfully raised a brood of chicks.
The Abruzzo Owl is a feathery ball a touch larger than a grapefruit and a local sub-variant of the widely-spread Little Owl. (Athena Noctua, since you ask).
In our immediate area, you can hardly avoid seeing them as they nest in the old ruins around us and rather like perching on top of our villas as the sun’s starting to go down to see if they can spot anything tasty scurrying through the olive groves.
You can hardly avoid hearing them either, as the Abruzzo Owl has a voice out of all proportion to its size.
The first time we heard one was an alarming experience. A bit like a cat being trodden on. More animal than bird.
Maybe nobody’s told it that owls are supposed to emit a pleasant ‘too-whit; too-whoo‘. Not scream like a crazed banshee.
When her chicks are nearly fledged, Mamma Owl likes perching on top of our chimney and encouraging them to fly. Her exhortations come echoing down into the house.
“COME ON. DON’T JUST SIT THERE LIKE A DUMPLING. FLAP YOUR WINGS. YES, THAT’S RIGHT, NOW JUMP UP AND DOWN.”
Not unreasonably, the chicks, being fat and round, view the prospect of getting airborne with considerable mistrust.
They’d rather scuttle along the ledge outside their nest, which they do at impressive speed, vanishing at the merest hint of unexpected movement.
I can show you literally hundreds of photos of where one of our owl chicks has been a nano-second previously. But none, alas, of a chick itself. Let alone one looking obligingly at the camera.
I’ve tried to out-fox them – if out-foxing an owl is technically possible – by taking up position outside, camera pointed at nest, and simply waiting. I got bored of this before they did.
But when they do fly, Abruzzo Owls are the stealth bomber of the bird world. On a summer evening, outside on the terrace, you might hear the faintest whoosh as one glides past on the look-out for something small and squeaky for supper.
They’re nowhere near as impressive as the big birds of prey that glide down from the Majella and patrol the skies above us, but they’re quirky, and rather endearing.
You might not hear a wolf, a bear or a wild boar on your Abruzzo holiday – though they’re all part of the local wildlife.
You might well hear a golden eagle or a red kite.
You’ll hardly be able to avoid hearing an Abruzzo Owl announcing its small but unmistakeable presence…