Saturday, 13 September 2014

Children and owl pellets

I was kindly asked to run my owl pellet table at the annual Ashcott Village Harvest Fayre. I didn't want to charge anything and wasn't selling anything and I am sure that it all bemused some of the parents, Q 'Are you the man letting children play with poo?'. I had to explain to many that it wasn't poo, it was more like sick or a cat's fur-ball, not everyone was re-assured. Many older village residents warmly remember the same activity from their childhood and in that sense I suppose it belongs to the same school of nostalgic country activities as tree houses, conkers and blackberry picking.

The children of  course loved it. If you present a child with an owl pellet, a piece of card, some glue and a pair of tweezers they will quite happily spend an hour finding all of the bones. The level of focus and interest was quite astonishing, I wasn't astonished but many were and some had to be persuaded to give it a go. I spent 3 or more hours identifying bones and talking about prey species and swapping stories about owls. I found out about two roosts in the village, 1 tawny and 1 barn, and helped identify innumerable bones and bone fragments. The children were soon explaining to other children about identifying shrews by their long noses and red teeth and calling out ' I've got another vole femur'.  As the bones were identified and compared to human equivalents there was lots of discussion. On finding two skulls in one pellet one child was very excited abut finding a two headed mouse, I didn't want to suggest a less exciting alternative interpretation. Parents often stayed to help but were also clearly interested and the children went off happily into the crowds with their bones stuck carefully to cards. Children are so naturally enquiring and as they focused intently on the task in hand I was keenly aware that these eager little minds will be the future conservationists, artists, naturalists or perhaps forensic pathologists.

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