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    A very special nature encounter

    Barn owl ringing

    We had the most incredible encounter with nature recently, and I have been so excited to share this.  You might remember a while ago we donated to my Dad’s local branch of the RSPB who were crowdfunding for bird boxes. Barn Owls are very special to me and so I decided we would donate enough for a barn owl box. We were really lucky to be able to go and help finish making the box, and put it up with the Macclesfield RSPB local group.

    Over the last few months Dad has called me to mention sightings at the Cheshire Wildlife Trust site, first of a tawny owl, then a barn owl. Just before we moved house he called me to let me know there were definitely chicks in there. It’s really lucky to have an owl move in so quickly after setting up a box, sometimes you wait years. We were thrilled.

    Then we received a very special invite, to go along and watch when the birds were ringed. I’d simply hoped we might glimpse them from afar one day, I couldn’t quite fathom that I would actually get to see the beautiful creatures who had moved into the home we helped provide for them close up.

    Ringing is a way of monitoring the health and survival of a species and involves putting a unique numbered metal ring on the bird’s leg. This identifies the bird as an individual and provides information on where it goes to once it has flown the nest, how long it lives, along with other data relating to the breeding success of the particular species.

    The Barn Owls were ringed by specially trained volunteers from the South Manchester Ringing Group, who are licenced by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the organisation who manage and monitor bird ringing in the UK.

    We had to be oh so quiet as the rather sleepy owls were handled and ringed. Then data such as sex, (female Barn Owls have fine dark spots on their plumage,) body weight, which provides information on the bird’s health, and specific wing feather length, which helps age the birds to within a couple of days, was then recorded. All this information is sent to the BTO by the licenced ringers.

    We didn’t even know if we would get to meet any of Barn Owls, as according to the RSPB, a staggering 75% of Barn Owls die in their first year. They are especially vulnerable in the early days if food is scarce.

    We waited nervously in a clearing while the experts went to check the box.

    When the birds are carefully lifted out of the bird box they are placed gently in cloth bags to help them feel safe and secure. We waited, incredibly anxious and hopeful. Then my daughter L said she could see the team coming back carrying bags through the undergrowth. We all began to feel incredibly excited.

    Barn Owl chicks are very calm and docile, I expected them to be flapping and clawing, but they were like newborn babies in many ways. An adult bird will be quite different and so it needs a trained expert with special equipment to approach a nest without injury.

    We had no idea how many to expect, but there were three of them and they were utterly spellbinding. I had tears in my eyes they were so beautiful and I felt so lucky to see them so close.

    I’ve photographed Barn Owls before, rescued owls in a farm park, but there was something very different about seeing owl babies in the wild.

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn Owl parentshaped.co.uk

    Barn owls are a protected species, according to the RSPB they suffered declines through the 20th century and are thought to have been adversely affected by pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s and ’60s. According to the ringers we met, barn owls seem to be on the increase in this area of Cheshire, and hopefully providing them with more nest boxes has helped.

    Thanks to all the organisations involved for their time, patience and for kindly allowing us to come along. The Macclesfield Big Bird Box Build project is run by Macclesfield RSPB Wildlife Explorers and The Macclesfield RSPB Local Group. The box is situated on a Cheshire Wildlife Trust site and South Manchester Ringing Group carried out the ringing. Disturbing barn owls recklessly is against the law and carries a heavy fine, only licensed organisations can take birds out the nest like this.

    I also made a video of this encounter, watching the young birds’ feathers waving on the breeze still gives me goosebumps. You will need sound to make sense of it:

    I will leave you with the post about my Mum and first seeing Barn Owls in the wild.

    Best Family City Break Inspiration: The Weekend We Broke Bologna

    As my kids and my parenting skills grow up and their personalities truly begin to crystallise in my mind, I find myself wishing I could revisit a couple of things and do them a little differently. At the same time I love looking back at how our love of travel has blossomed together.

    Our first proper family city break was to Bologna. It was slightly ambitious and in partnership with the amazing Bologna Welcome, who were keen to show us absolutely everything. I totally overestimated what my then 4yo was capable of and ended up in tears when I had to take my youngest child, in complete overwhelmed melt down, out of a personal museum tour, leaving my Dad and daughter to finish off with the shell shocked guide.

    My Dad had taken one look at the itinerary the night before we left, and told me to reorganise the museum tour, how I wish I had listened, brilliant though Museo della Storia di Bologna (Museum of the History of Bologna) is.  Looking back it was no wonder the poor child lost it, after a journey kids need to let of steam and relax. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. Continue reading

    My Top Travel Sleep Tips: Tempur Comfort Travel Pillow and Eye Mask

    Tempur Travel Sleep Pillow and Sleep Mask

    Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, my Grandma let me have a cushion of hers. It was purple and soft as clouds and I used to love snuggling up to it in her house, so when she let me take it home I remember being over the moon and I promptly fell fast asleep against it on the car journey home.

    It was one of a pair however, and it didn’t take me long to work out that Grandma had given me the slightly less fluffy of the two. I was undeterred however, and I decided to return with my cushion next visiting time, and while my unsuspecting Grandmother’s back was turned, I swapped the two cushions. Continue reading

    Fancy making the best home made pizza? Pizza Friday with Firepod!

    Pizza Friday, cooking with the Firepod gas fired pizza oven

    Before we moved house we had a dirty Dominoes Friday night pizza habit. The stress of trying to move made it worse, all we could think of on a Friday night was ordering pizza in and collapsing in a heap on the sofa while the kids watched TV and we aimlessly scrolled on smartphones. It was costing us a fortune and felt really unhealthy.

    Then we moved house, and no one delivers takeaway here, except for one kebab house. It’s 2 miles to town where you have to pay to park, or 5 miles to a village with a chippy.

    Mass produced supermarket pizzas weren’t really cutting it for us either. So you can imagine my excitement when David from Firepod pulled into our drive two weeks ago. Max the greyhound was drooling and Mr A was thrilled he was working at home that day. Continue reading

    Strawberries & Settling in with Italian Scones

    I have had an awful lot on my plate since we moved, but on the whole it’s nice stuff this week. A month in and the kids feel settled in the new school, they are really thriving. They miss old friends, and organising their social lives with both new clubs and old friends is pretty exhausting, but seeing them in school productions and seeing lots more of grandparents is lovely.

    The house feels like ours now, the times when I wake up or walk into a room and feel a little lost and wonder when the previous owners will walk through the door and ask for it back are dwindling.

    I look back and I realise my to do list has been relentless. I’ve ploughed on but only in the last week have I started to feel like I can juggle my blog fully again too. Everything is new, which is tiring and so many everyday things needed rethinking, from doctors and vets to running routes and food shopping.

    Continue reading

    Fairytale Destinations: The Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh

    The Elephant House cafe, where JK Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter, Edinburgh. On parentshaped.co.uk

    The Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh is one of the places where JK Rowling’s rags to riches fairytale began, where she wrote Harry Potter, with the magical views of Edinburgh castle that inspired Hogwarts just outside the window. We took our kids there, on a mission to help them to think about their own dreams, to feel they can write their own fairytale adventures, or rewrite them if needs be. They’ve been brought up with my feminist re-readings of fairy stories; ‘Nooooo! We can’t just “watch it” or “read it” kids’. I want travel to inspire them creatively too, and our trip to The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh was such a lovely example of this. Continue reading

    Adventures in Moving House: How to sell your home in 24 hours and 9 months

    How to sell your house in 24hours

    Old sign in the garden of our new house

    Last time I shared how we nearly turned away from the viewing of the house we now live in. Now for the buying and selling bit. Our sale was very complicated, with more twists and turns than even my weekly running buddy could keep track of. It’s an epic tale with prophecies, unbelievable twists of fate and uncanny timing. I learnt a few lessons too, with hindsight. So I wrote it all down in one go and felt the weight lift…

    Summer 2016

    ‘I’ll have sold it before you get back.’ said Mr A confidently. I laughed. We left him to do the viewings and the kids and I went camping with my mates from uni.

    And sure enough, the call came as we were winding back through a wheat field to the campsite after floating home made boats along the river. I stood stunned in a field. An offer at the asking price, from a super keen family, within 24 hours of the house being on Rightmove. We were actually going to leave suburbia and move to the country. So fast.

    Too fast. Continue reading

    Best Family Campsites: Embers Bentley Camping

    Family Camping with campfires at Embers Bentley, Lewes, Sussex

    The first photo I took at Embers Bentley campsite, near Lewes in Sussex, showed the 10yo running into our bunting clad bell tent and the 8yo running past it for the trees. This set the tone for the weekend, the 10yo and I snuggled under blankets reading and watching the world go by while Mr A slept off tonsillitis and the 8yo ran wild with new found friends with whom he formed ‘Team Savage’. Continue reading

    Travel Tips: Planning a trip to Orlando

    Planning to visit Orlando? Here are my tips.

    Last year, with about two week’s notice, we were invited to fly to Orlando to spend time at Universal Resorts for 3 days. We had little time to prep, but it gave us a taste for Orlando and I would love to go back and experience more. I would definitely revisit Universal, I would like to see bits of Disneyland, the nearby beaches and national parks, experience more variety of food and take in the less obvious tourist attractions too. I would like to stay longer too!

    Are planning or considering a trip to Orlando? Today I am collaborating with Travel Planners, who offer all-inclusive package holidays mainly to the US, and specialise in Florida and California. Here is the prep I would do if I went back again: Continue reading