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!!!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Its been a while.......

As the blog title suggests, I haven't published a post for some time now?  I have still been getting out owling occasionally but my focus of late has just been general birding. I have also made a couple of trips over to the east coast, but more locally I have been concentrating on a few nearby and very under watched areas that just ooze potential.......

In just a few visits to one particular site I have very quickly notched up a list of over 65 different species with the jewels being Kingfisher, Stonechat and passage Redstart and Whinchat. I don't always take my camera with me when walking because of its weight but when I did a few images were bagged.

There were at least two Restarts seen over consecutive days, their presence being given away by their persistent calling. They never really came close and this "record shot" was my best effort.

The single Stonechat was a far more confining individual and after being persistent some closer views we had.

Whilst watching the Stonechat a young Whinchat also put in an appearance, it constantly followed the Stonechat around whilst what appeared to be begging for food, strange behavior?

But for me the far most rewarding bird (and image) was that of the Whinchat. It was a devil to get close to but after what seemed to be several hours in the trying I did eventually manage an image that I was very pleased with.

I think the main reason for not concentrating on my local owls of late is the fact that my beloved Landrover has been sold. She was just too thirsty, at 12 miles to the gallon the wallet was soon bare!! This has obviously hampered my access to the more remote owl sites that I use to visit/monitor. However, I have seen a few owls over the last few weeks at some of my more accessible locations, here is a quick catch up.........

Over the last two months I've made many visits to my Little Owls site No 4, here the results were disappointing. In previous years this location has proven to be a prolific breeding site, but not this year, well not that I have proven? Whilst there the adult bird(s) were regally seen coming and going from the nest hole, (images below) but they weren't taking in any food. The other compounding factor was no begging calls from the chicks could be heard either, I've now resigning myself that for what ever reason this site has failed this year?

Adult at nest entrance - Site No 4

Adult at nest entrance - Site No 4
I was pretty confident that better results would be had at the second location, site No 250, here the outcome was very similar to site No 4. Both adults were in attendance, although they kept quite a low profile most of the time. And after many hours of observing there was just no evidence that they had any youngsters?

LO site 250. Keeping a low profile whilst watching me!
Whilst out searching for juvenile owls I was distracted some what on a couple of occasions by the local Kingfisher family.

Kingfisher - Adult
There was better news on the breeding front with the Kingfishers, this next images shows a pair of recently fledged youngsters.

Kingfisher - Juveniles

Kingfisher - Juvenile
This next image was taken after the young birds had fledged, occasionally one of the adult birds would make another visit to the nest, maybe a second brood was in the making?

Kingfisher - Adult
The male bird would on the very rare occasion pose nicely for me in good light.

The checking of my Barn Owl boxes still continues (to be fair it never really ends!). It has been a fantastic breeding year in my survey area with a confirmed 11 breeding pairs, although I must add the brood sizes are down.

Whilst en-route to check one particular box out a Barn Owl was seen flying from it!!!  This was very much a surprise as the box has only been up a few months. The owl in question flew around for a few minutes before landing in a nearby tree cavity. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to capture an image of it as it stared back at me.

New Barn Owl Location?
Although all of this years young Little Owls have now fledged their respective natal sites I did manage to see a few of them a month or so ago. The numbers of proven breeding sites in my survey area does seem to be very low this year, or is it that I have been too pre-occupied with the Barn Owls I just haven't noticed them?

Juvenile Little Owl
Since my last post two new Little Owl sites have also been found, the first had a pair in residence although only one of them obliged for a photo.

1st new Little Owl site.

1st new Little Owl site.
1st new Little Owl site.
The observations at the second new site was all over and done with in a matter of seconds, I spotted the bird perched up in a roadside tree. It was a very quiet lane so I was able to stop intermediately, the camera was poked out of the window and just the one image (below) was obtained before it flew off!

2nd new Little Owl site.
So that has just about caught up with all my goings on of late folks, thanks for stopping by..............

Friday, 4 September 2015

Mercy Mission?

Hi all, one of my farmer friends called me very early this morning, he'd discovered a Barn Owl lying face down in a ditch and didn't know what to do with it? He said it appeared to be injured but it was still alive as it turned its head when he got close. We talked through the possibilities of what we could do and what may have happened? Maybe it had been hit by a car, or could it have been attacked by another animal or bird, or even worse still had it been shot like the Barn Owl last Christmas? 

Because it was still alive and very close to a barn where I have a box I made a mad dash over to meet the farmer, with me I'd got a plastic box that could be used if necessary to transport it to the vets or local animal sanctuary.

The Barn  (a secret location).
Upon my arrival the farmer (Steve) pointed out the bird in the ditch, I gingerly moved nearer and upon closer inspection I realised it wasn't injured at all, it was a fledged juvenile!!! Now this was very interesting indeed, just where had this bird come from? Judging by its downy appearance pretty close by was my guess, there was no way it could have travelled any distance. There was really only one explanation, it must have come from the box within the nearby barn. The young bird was collected up and placed safely inside the plastic box that I'd brought with me, then Steve called me over to where he was standing, he'd discovered another young owl that was lying on the ground just inside the barn, that too was quickly placed with its sibling inside the plastic box. 

A quick call was then made to Mike our local ringer, my apologies were made for calling him so early, I explained the situation and he said he'd be with us in 30 minutes. Whilst we waited for Mike to arrive Steve and I had a good look around to make sure there were no other young birds that we'd missed, there wasn't. I then checked inside the nest box, it was then that full confirmation was attained as inside was yet another young bird!

The nest box (No 41).
All three owls were now safely placed inside the plastic box, here they seemed content whilst we prepared for the ringing of them. I did managed to record the events on my I-phone, not great images but good enough for me to share in this post.

Mike was soon with us and in no time at all he was ringing the first bird, this one seemed to be the eldest as it was less downy than the other two.

Juvenile No 1

Juvenile No 1

Juvenile No 1

Owl number 2 was soon processed too.

Juvenile No 2

Juvenile No 2

And then finally owl number 3.

Juvenile No 3

Juvenile No 3

The whole brood.
So what initially appeared to be a phone call full of dread and a potential mercy mission actually turned out to be a welcome bonus and a new Barn Owl family that I didn't even know were there! That is now 10 confirmed breeding sites within my survey area in 2015,  we are now well on our way to our target of 30 breeding sites, if things keep going like this then the magical number could well be achievable in a few years?

Many thanks to Steve and Mike, top blokes!!

I'll be back again soon folks!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Barn Owls - Natural Sites

Currently I am monitoring nine different active Barn Owl breeding sites within my survey area (south Leicestershire), I know this isn't a huge amount compared to some areas but considering only six years ago there was only one breeding pair it is defiantly going in the right direction.

Monitoring the sites isn't an easy task either, initially I had to apply to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) for a special licence because the Barn Owl is a schedule 1 species and MUST NOT be disturbed unless 1, a licence has been issued and 2, proper etiquette must be employed whilst near the nest. Once this was issued it then allowed me to visit the sites and monitor any activity. All visits are recorded and at the end of the year my collated information is submitted back to the BTO. 

My licence was issued a few years ago but the initial problem was I only had the one Barn Owl site to monitor! Obviously more breeding sites were required so the next action entailed approaching local landowners to seek their permission to conduct area surveys. Once suitable habitat had been identified that it was felt could support a pair of breeding owls nest boxes had to be made and then erected, and that was a huge task in itself. Many an hour has been spent during the winter months (with Col Green) making the boxes, then early in the year we spend most weekends erecting them. 

In addition to the owls that have now taken up residence in our boxes there are another five pairs that I have located that have chosen natural sites (cavities in trees) to use as their home. The logistics behind proving breeding success in this scenario is more difficult because of lack of access to the nesting chamber. Therefore, the only way to collate any evidence is to make many visits hoping to either see an adult bird visiting with fresh prey, hear the begging calls of the chicks from within the tree or to actually see the young birds at the nest entrance! 

One evening last week I managed to actually get confirmation of breeding success at two of these natural sites. Even though I had heard chick begging calls coming from within the respective trees actually seeing the birds is the final (and most important for me) evidence that is required. 

At my site No 83/natural two young owls were observed at the cavity entrance, they looked the picture of heath and judging by their development will no doubt be fledging any day now.

Juveniles - Site No 83/natural
A hundred yards of so from the above nest location is another very mature Oak Tree that is riddled with nice owly looking holes and cavities. It is here that the parent owls roost up when they want to get away from the demanding youngsters. It was a long wait but my hunch that the adult(s) were still using this tree was proven when one of them emerged just before setting off on a hunting excursion.

Adult - Site 83/natural roosting tree

Adult - Site 83/natural roosting tree
The second location where the owls had used a tree cavity to nest and breeding was eventually proven was my site No 82/natural. Viewing the birds wasn't really a problem but capturing a record shot proved very awkward indeed. It was approaching 10.00pm and as you can image very dark, the camera struggled to focus lock so this had to be overridden and done manually, with the ISO at 2000 only 1/25 of a second shutter speed was achieved (very slooooow).

I am sure you have gathered that I am very enthused about the positive results so far with the local breeding Barn Owls, the work will continue with the ultimate aim of having 30 breeding pairs within the survey area, could take a few more years yet!!! 

Hopefully we'll catch up again soon guys, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Never seen that before!

A couple of nights ago I made my way over to where a pair of my monitored Barn Owls are holding a territory. They are one of the nine breeding pairs that I have in my area this year and at the moment they have 3 juveniles in one of my boxes that is located in a nearby barn. The male owl tends not to spend too much time in and around the barn, preferring instead to roost in the hollow of a nearby tree.

It was near this tree that I parked myself up hoping to get some views of the male or maybe even of any of the youngsters that may have fledged?

True to form, eventually the male owl did emerge from the hollow in the tree, it didn't do a lot apart from just sit there looking around. The only piece of action was when the owl started the wretch its beak wide open, I knew this was a typical action for an owl just prior to the expulsion of a pellet.

I have seen plenty of Little Owls performing a pellet expulsion but never before a Barn Owl, although the light levels were not good for high speed photography I just kept rattling off the images and luckily the image below just happened to capture the moment the pellet was ejected by the owl.  

I know it is not the most pretty of images what with the greasy slimy pellet and the owls face all contorted but that's nature folks,  I was very pleased to have witnessed it!

Just a short post, catch up again soon.............

Friday, 14 August 2015

In dusk we must trust - Site No 47

Since returning from my successful owling trip to Scotland getting out to see/monitor the local owl scene has reluctantly had to take a back seat.

However, I did make an effort on two consecutive evenings and I definitely got the "owling fix" that I so desperately yearned for. My chosen location was not far from the local village of Peckleton, here to be found is my Little Owl site No 47. I've been monitoring this particular site for over six years and over that time it's been quite a reliable location for watching and photographing the owls. The parent owls here are prolific breeders too with proven success every year whilst I've been monitoring them. But that then brings us to this year, because of my lack of recent visits I was yet to confirm if this year had been a success too? So my main objective was to see if there were any juveniles around, because it is now at the back end of the breeding season this years chicks (if there were any?) could well of already fledged?  

Initially after parking up near to one of the favoured perches that the birds frequently use nothing was either seen or heard. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary and par for the course really, especially as a pair of Buzzards were consistently floating around overhead (Little Owls don't like Buzzards!!). The waiting for "a show" gave me the opportunity to finely tune my camera settings, the light levels were not very good and as it turned out I had to pump up the ISO to 1600 in order to achieve any kind of shutter speed, hence slightly grainy images.

My vigil commenced around 8.00pm, although Little Owls can be seen at any time during the day they do favour the few hours leading up to dusk, especially if there are youngsters around as a drop in the light levels usually coincides with their time to come out to play! 

At around 8.30pm the first bird to be seen was the adult male owl, I didn't see where he flew in from but sure enough there he was on his favoured perch!

The other fact that I forgot to mention (that I have witnessed on many occasions) is that parent owls very regularly "move" the young owls away from the actual nest site to a more secure location, usually near or on the ground, ie a rabbit burrow, small hedge, a low down hole, log pile etc etc. At this site there is a huge hole in a tree at ground level, just perfect for housing and keeping safe young owls. 

The male owl flew in, flew out and then back in again, each time he landed he made quite a commotion with his high pitch calling. This I now suspect was a, "the coast is all clear call, it is safe to come out". Whilst the male made these jerky flights back and forth it coincided with the emergence of  a youngster from within the log!   

Seeing this was very satisfying on a couple of scores, firstly it was great to see the owls had successfully bred again and secondly my intuition as to where they would be "housed up" was right.

After a few seconds a second young owl also emerged from the same cavity, they seemed a little nervous at first, maybe the presence of my car had put them off?  However, with the adult male in close attendance they soon forgot about me and out they came.

The first owl to leave the relative security of the roosting site scampered across the grass in pursuit of some tiny flying bugs, it did stop for a few fleeting seconds right in front of me! 

The second youngster flew across (with great agility) onto a nearby branch, here it gave me "the stare" before flying off again to join it's dad.

Great to see that this site has yet again been successful with it's breeding attempt, I suspect by the look of the youngsters (age wise) and their ability to fly around that they will very soon be departing this natal site in search of a territory all of their own.

Finally, sorry for the lack of post lately and that this one was relatively short, I'm sure I will make amends in the near future.

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon, I hope........

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Barn Owl Ringing 2015 - Round One.....

As the title suggests we have now done our first round of ringing for the 2015 breeding season, as is now the norm I was joined by my owl box sidekick Col Green and our ringer Mike Townsend.

Due to the commitment that is required not all our boxes have been checked so far this year, a combination of bad weather, Landrover off the road, too busy with work or just too many boxes! However, of the one that have been checked so far we have breeding activity with Barn Owls at 8 separate sites. Not huge numbers I know but much better than just the single site we had six years ago, so we must be doing something right as things are definitely going in the right direction.

The first site was a bitter sweet result, this is the site where the male owl was shot and killed sometime over the xmas period of 2014, what made it even worse was this site hadn't had resident Barn Owls for at least thirty years! As you can imagine we were devastated at the time but as they say every cloud has a silver lining and nature has a way of bouncing back, and that was in the form of a new male bird moving in earlier this year. We have erected two separate boxes on trees at this site which are about 100 yards apart (boxes No 1 & 2). Last year the owls bred in box 1, on May 9th both boxes were checked and to our surprise the birds had relocated to box No 2 and had a clutch of 4 eggs!

That now brings us to this visit and sadly only one chick was in the box, I don't suspect foul play but just a sign that times are harder this year with the availability of prey. 

Box No 2 - 1 chick
What a fiery little character this chick turned out to be, easily the most active one I have come across, very vocal and snappy, plenty of attitude!!

He or she was soon ringed and returned to the box, that was around 3 weeks ago so I would now assume that it will be just about ready to be vacating the box?

At the second site our box No 67 is mounted in a Barn, here three very healthy but dozy chicks were ringed. A great result this as this was the first time Barn Owls had used this box since it was erected in March 2011, only a four year wait!

Col at Box No 67 - 3 chicks.
The adult owls must have been using this box for a while now as when Col removed the inspection hatch we couldn't see inside as it was full with discarded pellets, there were so many there was no way we could get the chicks out, so the whole front of the box had to be removed so as to get access.

One of the chicks from Box 67
The third site we visited was Box No 76, we had the same problem as before with gaining access so the whole box front had to be removed again, much to the dismay of Col!! Last year this box had breeding Tawny Owls in it so we were very pleased to have had Barn Owls in residence for the first time. 

Site 76 - 3 chicks
This box contained three chicks which were all soon rung and returned, here is yours truly doing my bit of ringing, yes unfortunately reading glasses are now par for the course!

The Riddler ringing!
And here is a mugshot of my two partners in crime with the whole brood from site/box 76 just before being returned.

The dudes - Site No 76.
Although we did plan to ring more birds at other sites on this particular evening that wasn't possible because the other chicks were either too small, the hen was still incubating her eggs or egg laying hadn't even commenced yet!

From all accounts information has been filtering through from other nest recorders/ringers in the UK that Barn Owl breeding numbers and clutch sizes are down compared to the bumper year of 2014, not good news that but if our other predicted sites produce the expected breeding results we could actually have a better returns than last year. 

Thanks for stopping by, Little Owls next!

Catch up again soon......... 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dartmoor and owls!

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, there has been loads going on and I just haven't had the time (or could be bothered) to sit on front of the computer for hours on end. Since returning from my very enjoyable trip to Scotland there hasn't been any time to rest, initially there were more nest boxes that needed to be monitored, some surprises and some disappointments. Then there was the first round of ringing that we did at a few Barn Owl sites, it's not quite so productive this year but still a few brand new breeding sites! In between the aforementioned I've also been out monitoring my Little Owl sites where I've had a few opportunities to photograph some recently fledged juveniles. 

However, all that will have to wait as I'm going to be cheeky and insert a quick post from my recent trip down to Devon. 

It was a family break where everyone had to be pleased so we had lots of different seaside activities planned, crabbing around the port, a trip to the zoo, lazing on the beach, amusement arcades, train rides etc etc.....I think you have got the gist (and that was just my list!!!) I was concerned as I'd managed to sneak in my camera and binoculars but when was I going to have chance to use them? 

Our accommodation for the week was a brand new apartment that was based within walking distance of the very pretty port of Brixham. This location was chosen with a bit of selfish intent in mind, it wasn't too far from all the required activities to keep the Mrs and kids happy but also not too far for dad to visit the moors! We'd been there for four whole days before I had the chance to sneak off early on Wednesday morning. I'd been chomping at the bit to get out and by then was sick and tired of looking at seagulls.

The moors were everything that I'd imagined, vast areas of heathland covered in gorse and heather (very similar to Scotland really without the mountains) but there were just too many other people about. I made the mistake of not having a detailed enough map with me so I couldn't really plan to head for the quieter and more elevated back lanes. Instead I just kept driving around until I eventually came across an area that was devoid of  hikers, bike riders and day trippers. My main target was Whinchat, I'd previously done some research and knew that this species bred on the moors, other targets included Stonechat, Wheatear and maybe even a Merlin? 

As I drove along the narrow lanes Stonechats were seen everywhere, initially I ignored them and concentrated on getting to a higher elevation. Then I chanced upon a family party of Spotted Flycatchers, there was six in total feeding along a fence line that offered shelter from a stone wall. I spent an hour with these birds but sadly not one usable image was acquired, never the less good to watch.

I moved on and continued to climb, my next reason to stop again was another family party only this time they were Wheatears. As I watched I realised they favoured a certain group of rocks so it was there I parked up and had a very enjoyable half hour photographing them. I did manage a hat full of images (mostly keepers) but I am only going to share this one shot (below).

Wheatear - Juvenile
For the next few hours I moved around looking and watching all the time, I was pleased with the area I'd finally chanced upon because not another soul had been seen. However, the reason for it being so quiet may have had something to do with it being a military area where maneuvers and firing took place on a regular basis, mmmm that must be what all the red flags meant!!

I'd previously mentioned that I was seeing Stonechats everywhere, eventually I succumbed and pulled over to have a go at capturing some images of them. 

Stonechat - Female

Stonechat - Male
I'd exhausted this elevated area and no Whinchats were to be seen, reluctantly I decided to move to a lower plateau to see if I'd have more luck there. En-route the road winded its way through a heavily wooded area with a meandering stream, it looked good for other target species such as Redstart and Pied Flycatcher. 

Plenty of birds were being seen or heard but mostly common stuff that didn't really call for any further action. A juvenile Green Woodpecker did land close by for about half a second, I messed up that opportunity! I then thought I heard the begging calls of a Tawny Owl? I listened with intent and there it was again, and again. It was faint but I knew what it was, it seemed to be coming from further along the lane. Rather than start up the car and risk the chance of spooking it I got out and moved closer on foot. 

I didn't go directly towards where I thought the call was coming from but instead I circumnavigated it. This plan seemed to be paying off as the closer I got the louder the call seemed to get. I then got to a small clearing at the side of the road which lead up to a small stone shed. This was the spot where the call was at it's loudest, it was by now directly above me but due to the dense canopy it couldn't be seen. This small area looked very "owly" indeed and the sort of location I have back in Leicestershire where adults encourage the juveniles to roost after fledging.

The car was relocated, the camo scrim was erected at the window and the waiting game commenced. For the next 30 minutes it was deathly silent, the car had obviously quietened them down. This was quite normal when waiting for Tawnies to show so it was just par for the course. Then as predicted the begging calls started again, it was now as loud as ever but the bird(s) were still obscured by the dense overhead branches and leaves. Then there was a movement, a youngster had re-located to a lower and nearer branch, unbelievably I had a direct view of it, what luck!!!

Tawny Owl - Juvenile
Because the action was starting to gather pace I knew I was going to be here for a while, the only problem was I didn't have a phone signal so there was no way I could let the Mrs know I was going to be late, oh no in trouble again!!! 

The next few hours proved to be very productive with respect to watching the birds, the juveniles (three I think?) got very vocal at times when one of the adults came in, occasionally taking images was possible and below are a few I'd like to share.

So it was a very unexpected species that I chanced upon on the moors, I'm pretty sure my previous experience with this species helped me initially identify their presence by identifying the juveniles calls, it was then down to doing what I'd learnt on how to locate and "work" the site.  Yes I was there for a few hours but it was time well invested as I am very pleased with my resultant images.

Needless to say when I finally got back to base I was in the doghouse, to be fair I did say I was only nipping out for a few hours and not the whole day!! Although I'd have loved to have had a re-visit this wasn't to be the case as for the rest of the holiday I was making amends.......ah water off a ducks back!!!

Back soon............