If the full-throated ease of the fabled nightingale is no longer to be heard in Berkeley Square, we now know why. A tawny owl has been spotted there, which is enough to frighten off the light-winged dryad of Keats's melodious imagination. It has followed the fox and the seagull as part of the encroachment of country upon town which has been a feature of our landscape.
Now the public in the capital are to be signed up to hunt for more owls with an Owl Prowl survey which is being launched by the London Wildlife Trust. It is an unlikely business which brings odd juxtapositions: the comedic borough of Ealing is not the place you might expect to spy the slow white silent glide of the ghostly barn owl.
But better-managed parks, combined with the townscape wilderness of railway lines and even the capital's diminishing brownfield sites, all provide fine hunting grounds for this most secretive of birds. They have called the owl, as another poet, Laurie Lee, once put it, from his country wastes to hunt a newer wasteland here.
Owls have been spotted in every one of the 32 London boroughs excepting one – the City which is the financial heart of London. Perhaps the owl, familiar of the goddess of wisdom, Athene, knows something we humans do not.