Tawny owls and precious memories: for my late grandad.

Saved from flickr.com
Saved from flickr.com

Thirty four years ago today, 17 August, 1982 my beloved grandad passed away from cancer. He’d been given the cruel news just six weeks before and a once vibrant, active and devoted family man was snatched away…just like that.

This post is not going to be a morbid account of life with terminal cancer, as experienced in the less medically advanced 1980s. I want to pay tribute to a man who featured prominently in my younger life, but was also part of my first real memory; when I was aged around two years.

I can recall a walk along the side of a house, that I now know was the bungalow of where my grandparents lived at that time. Whether or not I understood the garage, at the end of the drive I can’t really say. But, I do recall two eyes at the far end of it, gradually getting brighter, as grandad had opened the door.

Grandad had rescued  a tawny owl that was injured. He’d taken advice from various experts and was nursing Joey, as he had been named, back to health. I seem to remember Joey sitting on a perch of some sort. One again, how much of that is my two-year old memory intermingled with my older knowledge who can say.

Saved from flickr.com
Saved from flickr.com

I can’t remember whether grandad crouched down to my two-year old self, or maybe I was lifted up to him and Joey. And whether it is my older self that can vividly recall the smooth and almost silky, mottled feathers of this wonderful creature, I guess I’ll never know. I haven’t stroked an owl since. But, I do seem to have some sort of recollection where I stroked Joey and I remember his stunning, piercing eyes looking at me.

Grandad and Joey.
Grandad and Joey.

Eventually Joey recovered, grandad released him back into the wild and I grew up.

Over the years I came to discover just how much my big-hearted grandad had loved that beautiful bird, and how difficult it had been for him to do the right thing and give Joey his freedom again.

My love affair with owls had begun and I have spent my lifetime looking for them; and being thrilled by them ever since.

Whether it was daring myself to go through dark graveyards, in my youth, to hear the owls calling to each other ( they’re always in graveyards…right? ) or just out walking at night-time, I have had several close encounters with many owls.

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On more than one occasion I have felt the sudden draft of wings directly above me and glimpsed the dark silhouette   rise into the sky, as I’ve walked my dog up the lane, at night. I like to romanticize that it’s my grandad saying hello. Others might offer up some suggestion that the owl is actually checking my dog and I out. Either way, the owls are most welcome.

I understand the twit twoo is actually the male and female calling to each other. She calls him a twit and he asks twho. Nature has a beautiful way of sorting out the battle of the sexes, I think.

And it isn’t just tawny owls that call to each other in the area where I live.

We moved into our current home in the long, hot summer of 2006. The windows were thrown wide open and remained like that for about a month. One warm evening I leaned out of the front, upper window as a barn owl flew from the sycamore tree opposite us, across and over the window I was leaning out of. It’s beautiful heart-shaped face and eyes remain etched in my memory. And what a welcome to the area we now call home. ( More on the wildlife in our area in future posts.)

Saved from flickr.com
Saved from flickr.com

Barn owls make many strange noises and they hiss at each other. Click on the link below to watch a short film about barn owls and other lovely creatures, which was featured on Springwatch, a BBC wildlife series, some years ago.



Late on a winter’s afternoon a white, ghostly bird can often be spotted circling the paddock, opposite our cottage. One afternoon my daughter and grandson were visiting and they were also treated to the beautiful display, as a lone barn owl hunted its tea.

Perhaps one day, my grandson will recall this as being one of his earliest memories?

As for me…today my lovely grandad is flying Joey in a beautiful sunlit meadow somewhere.

Thanks for dropping by.

Dorne x










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