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Smoke and heat from the recent wild fire near Mallaig might be the reason an exhausted barn owl was found floundering in the water at Traigh Beach near Arisaig last week.
The bedraggled owl was plucked from the cold water by local resident Bob Shirley who spotted the bird during a walk along the beach.
Mr Shirley, who said he alerted a local SPCA liaison person to the owl’s predicament, told the Lochaber Times the poor bird had died soon after being rescued from the sea.
Mr Shirley explained: ‘It passed – think it was smoke inhalation or water in its lungs, poor wee thing. I was walking the dog, saw it and pretty much stripped off and jumped in to get it.’
Mr Shirley told the Lochaber Times the SPCA liaison officer had suspected that smoke or maybe the heat from the fire might have had something to do with it.
The SPCA liaison officer – who preferred not to be identified – said when she examined the dead owl it most likely had water in its lungs.
‘The death was accidental so there was no need to call it in to be collected or taken to the vets,’ she explained.
‘It’s impossible to know if she was disorientated by the smoke and fire and landed in the water. But they don’t usually go for a swim, especially in daylight. I just know she had no other injuries but as she had been struggling in the water when Bob found her and had fluid in her beak when I checked her, she most likely had water in her lungs and died a few hours later.
‘He kept her warm, calm and quiet. It’s all he could have done really and she didn’t die alone and frightened. It’s all we can hope for when nothing else can be done I’m afraid.’
Asked about the fire, a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: ‘We were alerted at 1.03pm on Tuesday March 22 to reports of a fire affecting grass and gorse, south of Mallaig, between the A830 and B8008.
‘Operations Control mobilised five appliances to the scene, where crews worked to extinguish two fire fronts covering approximately 80 acres. There were no reported casualties.’
However, Dr Jon Mercer, chairman of Lochaber Biodiversity Action Group, thinks the wildfire at Mallaig is unlikely to have been the cause of the owl’s predicament.
‘I think this is unlikely. More likely starvation. A lot of young barn owls do not last the whole winter,’ Dr Mercer told the Lochaber Times this week.
‘Unless ill, it should have been able to fly from the smoke, unless it was actively hunting escaping rodents.’
Bob Shirley with the barn owl shortly after rescuing it from the sea. Photograph: Bob Shirley. NO F13 barn owl at Arisaig 02
The barn owl was found in the water at Traigh Beach. Photograph: Bob Shirley.
NO F13 barn owl at Arisaig