Hi and welcome to my Blog, my name is Paul Riddle and I live in south Leicestershire, UK. Back in August 2007 my quest began to locate as many local Little Owl territories as possible. The driving force was a reported decline in the uk numbers so I thought I would do my bit and conduct a study in my area. After 7 years and countless hours out in the field I have detected over 200 different sites. With a thirst for a greater understanding of the owls a more comprehensive monitoring and nest box programme then commenced. This also now includes monitoring the local and very sparse population of Barn Owls, please pop back occasionally and catch up with the life and times of my owls and any other wildlife that I come across. I hope you enjoy your visit!!!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Premier league owls.........

During recent years my main focal point has somewhat drifted away from Little Owls and moved more over towards Barn Owls, don't get me wrong my affection for Little Owls is still as strong as it ever was and I really enjoy spending time with them, but when it comes to "making a difference" and putting something back the local Barn Owls needed more help. Col Green and I have already started doing "our bit" again this year, only two weekends ago we made another 3 Barn Owl boxes (see poor quality iPhone image below) of which one has already been sited because a local farmer disturbed a pair of Barn Owls that were roosting in haystacks in his barn.

Col with more "internal" Barn Owl boxes
Back in 2009 I knew of only one breeding pair of Barns Owls within my survey area, for this reason Col and I started making and erecting boxes and slowly slowly they are starting to make a difference. Last year we had eleven breeding pairs and that was in somewhat challenging weather conditions, so goodness knows how many there would have been if we'd had settled weather? It is very satisfying to visit a nest box in the spring to find Barn Owls have taken up residency, they don't always breed (bad weather, young birds, lack of food, just a roost site etc) but never the less it is just enough reward to know we have helped in someway to support/repopulate the local numbers. However, the problem with Barn Owls is they are almost entirely nocturnal (90% ish) which makes watching them very difficult indeed. 

So to compensate for the lack of watching daytime activity with the Barnies I then turn back to my Little Owls to get my "owling fix" because they are far more active in the daytime. I have found that early spring (yes it's upon us earlier this year, or the birds in my garden think so as the Robins and Blue Tits are nest building already!) is an excellent time to search out owls because they do tend to be quite vocal and give up their presences prior to the breeding season, especially Tawny Owls. So for this reason I have started to get out and about again in the evenings, I crawl slowly along the quiet country lanes (far away from any noise pollution) listening for any calling birds. So far on 5 or 6 trips out I have located 12 different Tawny territories (5 of them new ones!) but only 6 Little Owl territories (which is concerning), of which none were new ones. I must admit though, my gut feeling is the local numbers of Little Owls is also starting to dwindle, I'm just not seeing as many as I use to, or is it that I am not dedicating as much time to them?

It was good to confirm that one of my Little Owl sites (No 47) was again holding a pair, at the time of finding it was dark so viewing and photographic opportunities were obviously limited. I had to wait for the weekend before I was able to re-visit, but again my time was limited because the mighty Leicester City FC were live on the TV in a top of the table premiership clash against Manchester City, and I wasn't going to miss that!  

Initially I parked up near to an area that I knew the owls favoured and regularly frequented. After a 30 minute wait the male owl appeared in a nearby tree, soon to be followed by the female.


After a while the male's confidence grew and he moved a little closer, but he continued to give me "the stare". 


During the next hour or so the views of both the owls (mainly the male) were excellent, it was windy and spasmodically cloudy which kept changing the light conditions making it a challenge for photography, but I did manage a few "keepers" below........





The hen bird (below) is very shy compared to the male, she only came close on the one occasion. I did notice however that her left eye didn't appear to be quite right?


It appears that since my last visit back in late 2015 she has damaged her left eye, see close up image below. Initially I was concerned but it didn't seem to be bothering her as she was flying around without too much bother.


This last image was my favorite from the session, good light and a great pose whilst he was calling.


As it turned out I was very lucky that day, early morning the weather held off (later it turned into a horrid grey day with torrential rain) whilst I managed my "owly fix" and later on that day I joined my mates down the pub where we watched my beloved Leicester City trounce Man City 3-1 for us to go back to the summit of the Premier League, as you may have guessed a few pints were had in celebration, it would have been rude not to!!!! 

Thanks for stopping by, hopefully catch up again soon......................

Sunday, 17 January 2016

"Snowy Owls".

Hi all!!

This is my first post of 2016 and not surprisingly it features Little Owls. On the morning of January 17th Leicestershire awoke to a blanket of snow, this was encouragement enough to get me out there in search of some "snowy owls". 

The conditions made it tricky driving as I negotiated the slippery country lanes, but I had no option as to see an owl at one of my "known sites" getting deep into the countryside and off the beat and track was a necessity. Initially no owls were seen which was a disappointment, however my persistence was eventually rewarded when a single Little Owl was espied perched up in one of its favoured trees. The views were really close but its not exactly the "snowy" image I was after, I suppose beggars can't be choosers? 

Little Owl - Site No 87
Later on in the morning another Little Owl was located perched up on top of an old farm building, this bird was a lot further away than the first owl I located but this did allow for a bit more snow and nearer the wintry image I was after.

Little Owl - Site No 53
This morning was also the first time I have tried out the new Nissan 4 x 4 in "trying" conditions, it performed very well indeed and I didn't get stuck! 

Sorry it's only a short post, much more to come in 2016 hopefully!

Catch up again soon.................

Monday, 4 January 2016

Sparrowhawk

This is my first image of 2016, and a complete fluke! It was taken at 3:30pm today (only 20 minutes ago as I write this post). I was busy working away at home when this handsome chap landed on the fence right outside my office window. 

Initially I just watch and admired knowing that as soon as I moved he would fly off, but after staying perched for a minute or so I went for it. I gingerly moved away from the window, grabbed the camera and returned to my seat, he was still there! 

I called my son (Joe) in to my office to slowly open the blinds, remarkably as he did the Sparrowhawk still stayed put. I couldn't get the whole of him in the frame (too close) so I just rattled off a few shots of its head and shoulders. Shooting through the double glazed window has obviously effective the quality/sharpness as has the high ISO and slow shutter speed but the results are not too bad considering. The pinkish backdrop is the brick wall of my next door neighbors house.




This was the closest I have ever been to a Sparrowhawk and to get some images too (albeit through glass) was a real bonus. I hope this bit of luck is a sign of what is to come my way in 2016?

See ya all soon!!!!!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Raptor alley!

Hi all!

Getting out lately has been somewhat limited, dark mornings and nights leaves only the weekends for any quality birding. But quality was just what is was at a site in Leicestershire that I have been concentrating on lately, raptors of note have been Kestrels, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, 2 x Tawny Owls, 2 x Barn Owls, 3 x Short Eared Owls and a Merlin!!

This area has a good variety of different types of habitat but my main tactic has been to settle down out of view in a small spinney that overlooks an area of rough grassland. Viewing has been excellent but photographically it has been a challenge, either the subject is too distant or the light levels have been poor.

However, after several visits and countless invested hours the subjects and light do sometimes oblige.

The Short Eared owls here only show/hunt for a few minutes at a time, in between there can be several hours of waiting. My chosen "staked out" location on the edge of the spinney had a few posts running along in front of me, I was hoping that one of the owls would land here and offer some better views, one of them did but it was the furthest post away, typical!


I'm pretty sure the owls didn't know of my presence and occasionally one would drift across right in front of me. The views were utterly breath taking but the lack of light and slower shutter speeds did hamper the final results somewhat.  




Several times the owls would dive for prey right in front of me, I never did see them catch anything, a 100% unsuccessful catch rate! This bird below sat in the grass for an age after another fruitless dive, lucky it did as I had to revert to manual focus to attain this image as the long grass played havoc.


In between the owls showing I had to be satisfied with what ever other bird species decided to put in an appearance, on several occasions a Sparrowhawk would fly in and attack the Yellowhammers and Buntings, I didn't actually see it catch anything and I tried in vain to capture a flight shot of it, without success! However, it did once land reasonably close on top of the hedgerow, I managed this next image just as it took flight. 


A pair of Stonechats came very close on occasions, they did keep me entertained and occupied my time whilst waiting for one of the raptors/owls to show.





A pair of Kestrels also frequently showed, most of the time hovering over the field whilst hunting, sadly most of the time they were too distant to capture an image. But after several flyby attempts of a flight shot I did manage to capture the two images below. 



Sorry but I'd like to finish this post with a few more Short Eared Owl images, they were my main quarry and thoroughly satisfying to see these majestic winter visitors up so close.




I will definitely be making some return visits, hopefully the Shorties will hang around long enough for me to capture them again only in some better light conditions. And maybe, just maybe I will also be lucky enough to have some closer encounters and photographic opportunities with one of the Barn Owls or even the Merlin?

Thanks for stopping by, the chances are this will be my last post of 2015 so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting and here's wishing you all a very merry xmas and a happy new year!!

Paul.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Ravens!

This morning just as I was getting into my car to head out for work I heard the very distinctive "cronk cronk cronk" call of a Raven. Not a call you hear in Leicestershire that often but to have heard one within hearing distance from my home was very rare indeed! I glanced down the road to where the calls seemed to be coming from just as a pair of Ravens spiraled down out of the sky and seemingly into the nearby sheep field. I couldn't be sure that they had landed as a huge pile of manure obscured my view? 

I needed no further incentive, my work documents and briefcase were thrown into the car and I rushed back into the house to grab my camera. The walk to the end of my road took me all of 30 seconds, there I stood at the t-junction watching over the field for a few minutes. No Ravens could be seen, however there was an unusual amount of activity from the local Magpies and a solitary Buzzard that dropped down behind the large manure pile. I walked along the road for a hundred yards or so. thus enabling a better view behind the manure pile, what I saw next was amazing!!! All on the ground tucked in behind the manure heap was three buzzards, at least 20 Magpies and 2 Ravens!!! It was too far away for an image so I quickly crossed the road and went through the kissing gate and into the field, I was then presented with a dilemma, a muddy quagmire was in between me and where I needed to get to!!!  Now normally this wouldn't present a problem but because I was in my suit and dress shoes I knew they were going to get pretty messed up, I hesitated for a few seconds and then just went for it. A few seconds later I was up against the far end of the manure pile which ran a hundred yards or so away from me. Because I was crouched down the birds couldn't see me, my black shoes were now brown and to compound matters there were muddy splashes all over my trousers dooohhhhh!!!

Gingerly I glanced around the pile which spooked the Buzzards, then the Magpies all at once took flight but the two Ravens remained. The camera was raised and a few shots of them were rattled off, one second later they too were spooked and took flight!

Considering the distance and the lack of preparation I am very pleased with the results, albeit the murky brown blob (manure pile) in the front left corner of the first image does spoil it somewhat?



It wasn't until I studied the images later that I realised the attraction to all this activity was a carcass laying in the field, I can only presume it was that of a poor sheep? 

These are absolutely my best ever images of a Raven, even if they are a bit gory. Definitely worth the dry cleaning bill!!!

Thanks for stopping by, catch up soon.........

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Short Eared Owl - December 2015

Tis that time of year again, no I'm not on about the on-approach of xmas, but something totally different.........Short Eared Owls! 

Each winter we are blessed in the UK with these birds moving down from their northern breeding grounds in search of suitable areas that will provide food and shelter. Their numbers can vary from year to year but looking in the birding news over the last few weeks it appears that we maybe in for quite a good year as sightings are frequently being reported, possibly a sign of a harsh winter to come?

If your lucky they will settle for a wintering area near you, so for the last few weeks I have been regularly visiting suitable areas to see if I could find a bird(s) of my own. Up until last weekend I'd so far drawn a blank, not one bird seen. However, I don't give up that easy and finally I was rewarded with the sighting of a single bird at a location I'd already visited four or five times! 

To be fair I nearly missed this bird too, I'd been parked up for two hours viewing a suitable looking tussocky field and nothing was seen. I was just about to call it a day as the light started to fade,  I was again resigned to another "no show"  when a single bird emerged from the long  grass!

I watched as it quartered back and forth whilst hunting for voles, it was getting darker by the second which wasn't conducive for photography, shooting at an ISO of 1600 this was the only "usage image" I captured of it in flight.


It then settled down on the ground after an unsuccessful dive for prey, it sat there for a few minutes and I was quite amused as a male Pheasant walked out to have a look at it! They had a "stare off" for a few seconds before the owl took flight again.


The owl then came closer than before and settled on a spindly twig about 50 yards from me, it sat here for quite some time which allowed me to add my x 1.4 converter to my 500mm lens. This gave me a bit more focal reach, considering the distance and low light levels I am very pleased with the results even if the sharpness isn't top notch.


So now I have located a wintering bird it is fingers crossed that it stays using this same area until I can re-visit at the weekend?

Sorry it is only a short post, but not much too see and do at the moment.

Catch up again soon folks!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Up to date, Oct - Nov.

Flipping great isn't it, you work all week hoping the weekend would come around as soon as possible so you can then get out and see what delights of nature are about. Then the weather takes a dreadful turn for the worst and I find myself house bound looking out of the window at the pouring rain, just typical!!

Therefore, rather than do nothing I have instead just spent a few hours doing this latest blog post with a catch up of what I have been doing during the last few weeks, accompanied of course by some images.........

In the middle of last month (October) I ventured over to the south of the county, there were no real plans, it was just such a nice day it seemed a shame to waste it. Whilst driving around I chanced upon a Red Kite floating around the side of the road, I pursued it for a while and managed a few images. 

Red Kite
I was heavily engrossed with the Kite when annoyingly my phone rang, it was my mate Mick Townsend, (who rings my owls). Mick was over at Stanford reservoir doing some ringing, he had caught a couple of "nice" birds of which he wanted some images, hence he called me. Luckily I wasn't too far away so I abandoned the Red Kite chase and made my way over to Mick.

The first "nice bird" was a Yellow Browed Warbler, a gorgeous bird to which I have only previously had fleeting glimpses of. I was quite taken back at just how small it was? 

Yellow Browed Warbler
 The second "nice bird" was an "eastern" Lesser Whitethroat,  although at the time it's exact identity wasn't known? However it has since been confirmed (feather sent for DNA analysis) to actually be a Siberian race "blythi", a very rare and cool bird which had obviously "lost its way".

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat (Blythi)
On another day in late October I had a very enjoyable but frustrating time trying to capture some flight shots of Skylark at a farm where I regularly watch Little Owls. 

Skylark
During another venture out where I was searching for Short Eared Owls I chanced upon a family party of Stonechats, they proved to be very obliging birds in glorious sunshine.

Stonechat - male
Stonechat - male

Stonechat - female
Stonechat - male

On the 28th of October I headed up to Scotland for a few days birding, en-route I stopped off at RSPB Leyton Moss, Lancashire with the target species being Bearded Tit. Sadly upon arrival the heavens opened which absolutely ruined  the visit and viewing was limited to just a few bird species.

Because of the weather the only option whilst there was to sit in one of the public hides, photography opportunities were so limited I even turned my attention to this nearby Carrion Crow!

Carrion Crow
From the same hide quite a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits dropped in, nice to see but it was scant consolation for a Bearded Tit! 

Black-tailed Godwit
A distant Kingfisher brightened up the dull day for a while, we watched as it had several successful dives. 
 
Kingfisher No 1
On walking back to the car this female Marsh Harrier was spotted sitting out the rain in a tree, don't be deceived by the brightness of the image (editing software) the day was still grey, damp and dank!

Marsh Harrier
On the first full day in Scotland the weather was somewhat variable, one minute full sunshine and then the next clouds and rain. There were no plans as to where we were going to go, it was just a case of point the car and follow the bonnet. 

Now I know in recent years there has been an explosion in Common Buzzard numbers in Leicestershire, but what we saw up in Scotland was ridiculous, they were literally everywhere! However, when it comes to gaining a decent image they are just as shy as their English cousins, this one below was one that hung around for just long enough.

Common Buzzard
The other species that seemed to be high in numbers was the tiny Goldcrest, there were literally thousands of them! However, getting an image is somewhat of a challenge, but I finally attained a result that I was pleased with.

Goldcrest
Driving along the shores of one of the many lochs was a pleasure in itself, surprisingly not a lot of bird life was seen, apart from that is this very confining Little Grebe.

Little Grebe
Day 2 in Scotland found us catching the ferry over to the Isle of Arran, what a beautiful place! In the six hours we were on the isle we drove around the whole circumference on the coast road,  loads and loads of birds were seen including Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier. This was more of a fact finding mission for a future longer visit rather than a wildlife watching/photography visit. However, a few images were captured as we drove around.......

Black Guillemot
Curlew


Hen Harrier (female/juvenile)

Common Seal

Shag
  
Dipper

Eider

Twite
It was a very short visit where we crammed an awful lot in, but it wasn't a waste of time because I have seen enough to justify a long weekend return visit for the spring of next year.

Back home I was again out looking for owls on the morning of November the 1st, none were located but this Kingfisher was seen from the bridge at Eyebrook Reservoir. 

Kingfisher No 2
On the 2nd of November I had a day off work, it was an early start to the but the weather wasn't on my side at all, thick fog almost everywhere!

Over near Launde Abbey in the east of the county I was rewarded after a long wait with some close up views of a Little Owl as it day-roosted at its nest entrance.

Little Owl
Also near to Launde Abbey I chanced upon another Kingfisher, my third different one in under a week! Photography wasn't easy as the hanging fog made for very difficult conditions.

Kingfisher No 3
Last weekend I had an overnight trip to Norfolk, the weather was again atrocious with this Little Egret image being to only image taken!

Little Egret
It was a superb visit though with 107 different bird species being seen, the highlight birds being; Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Rough Legged Buzzard, Great White Egret, Common Crane, Short Eared Owl, Snow Bunting and MERLIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Yes yes yes, in 15 years of local searching and dedicated visits to Anglesey, the Isle of Man, umpteen visits to the coast and four visits to Scotland at last I've finally nailed my bogey bird, the dam elusive Merlin is now on my list! What a bird too, they were only scope views as it sat on top of a grassy tussock but hey I'll take it............

That's all for now folks, just about up to date now, lets hope the weather settles down and I can bring you a few more goodies from a day out tomorrow, fingers crossed!

Catch up again soon.............

Paul.