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, 28 August 2018

A long long time...........

Hi all, remember me?

It has been an awful long time since I did an update on Blogger, there are loads of reasons why I've been absent for so long but I'm not going to get into all that right now. Here in Leicestershire it's the August bank holiday weekend, and guess what? It's raining!

Because of the crappy weather there is not much to do today so I thought why not have a catch up on Blogger! Well I say catch up, if I did manage to catch up from where I left of (well over 12 months ago) I'd be sat here processing images and writing away for months! Therefore, I'm going to limit myself to posting just a few images from a couple of my birding adventures from last year....... 

Back in July 2017 we had a family holiday to Florida, obviously I packed a bit of camera equipment just in case there was a bit of free time in between visiting all the theme parks. I was only allowed to take my 300mm lens which did limit my photo opportunities somewhat but never the less the "birding" was absolutely excellent and here is a selection of some of my "better" captures.........



Eastern Meadow Lark
On the way to one of the theme parks this beauty was spotted perched up on a roadside post. The Caracara was a lifer for me and this was too good an opportunity to miss. Much to the disgust of my passengers I had to do several slow drive by's shooting out of the window and driving at the same time, what a bird!

Northern Bobwhite


Northern Cardinals were seen on an almost daily basis, their vivid scarlet plumage made seeing them an easy task, however getting close for a usable image wasn't, this was my best effort. 


For anyone who doesn't know Florida is awash with pools, marshes, lakes and swamps, these in turn attract an abundance of wildlife and birds. Observing from distance through binoculars was the only real option at most locations because of the vast dense vegetation that fringes all the water courses. However, I did a bit of research and came across one location, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive that had a one way road that ran through the middle of the swamps for ten miles! It was a 40 mile drive from where were staying so I opted out of hanging around the pool that day and set off on my own at 5am. Upon approach to the reserve I was mystified as to how I was going to gain access as the only way in was through the huge electric gates which barred my way?  Unknown to me at the time the gates opened automatically at dawn, luckily I'd only been waiting for a short while. Once in I pulled over and read the notice board, there were only two rules, no stopping and no feeding the alligators!!



There is no doubt about it, the best birding location I have ever visited. Needless to say I didn't obey one of the rules as I was stopping all the time ticking off lifers. The photo opportunities were also excellent, here are a just a few that I took on the day.

Green Heron

Great Blue Heron

White Ibis

Little Blue Heron

Bold Eagle

Snow Egret

Anhinga

Great Egret

Limpkin

Gallinule


Osprey
Swallow Tailed Kite
Needless to say there were loads of Alligators too! Everywhere I looked there seemed to be one lurking. This image below was of a female guarding her nest, she charged and came right out of the water and up onto the side of the road, I was soon back in the car!!!!!


Florida is renowned for the Snail Kite, a rare and very elusive species. Now this was one bird that was definitely on my "to see list" and I visited several locations for a distant glimpse but to no avail. Then a local birder I bumped into said the best and most reliable way was to hire a private air-boat and driver. I persuaded the rest of the family to give up on sunbathing and theme parks for one day and accompany me on the quest for the Snail Kite. Once agreed I got onto the internet and booked my guide and air-boat, it was 60 miles away and was going to cost £200 for 2 hours!

Once on the boat our first encounter was with the Gators, hundreds of them! They were everywhere, some would submerge as we approached whilst others didn't seem to be bothered, and allowed us to get within just a few feet! 



Least Bitten
 
Photography from the boat was a real challenge, vibration, wind, and choppy waters were all making life difficult. However, I did mange to capture a few of the birds that flew close by.



Including the Snail Kite!!!!
 

Snail Kite
Then we chanced upon a Snail Kite that held it's ground long enough for me to capture a shot of it perched up on a pole right out in the middle of the lake.



We all loved the two hours spent out on the water, definitely worth every penny and on my list to do again when I return. 

During the trip I also managed to photograph two species of Woodpecker.

Red Bellied Woodpecker
And the massive Pileated Woodpecker!

Pileated Woodpecker
And finally, my number one objective for the holiday was to see a Burrowing Owl, I found a family party on the edge of a residential area and lucky me they stayed for just long enough for a couple of images.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
So that's all for now folks, I shall be back again soon I hope.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Blowing the cobwebs away.........

After spending most of my free time during the winter months making and erecting Barn Owl boxes and barrels I had a very welcome and overdue "owling" session last night. Although very windy (not usually conductive for finding owls) it was however very bright during the last 2 hours before sunset.

Because time was limited I edged my bets and visited a location where I had previously seen Barn Owls in similar conditions.  Once there I slowly drove around the rough grassy area hoping to chance a hunting Barn Owl, this wasn't to be the case but instead I spotted a Little Owl flying across the field and up into a tree, I was compulsed to investigate further.

I slowly drove around to where I thought it had landed only to find a very nice looking cavity about 10 feet up, but no owl! I positioned the car in an advantageous position and waited........ After a wait of around 10 minutes the owl appeared at the cavity, this offered a great photo opportunity.


It sat at the cavity for a while scanning around making sure the coast was clear before it re-emerged. Luckily right next to the tree is a sheep pen which offered a variety of different perches for it to use.

 

After a while the owl flew and landed on top of the Hawthorne hedge, seconds later it was joined by a second owl, not sure where this bird had been hiding?


As the sun set both owls seemed to gain more confidence and moved around from perch to perch, one of them even dropped down into the tussocky grass right in front of the car! 


Eventually I was beaten by the light and reluctantly departed, whilst driving back up the field another larger bird (presumably an owl?) was seen flying across my path and up into a tree. As I slowly approached I could see it was a Tawny Owl!!!

It sat perched high up in the tree and didn't batter an eyelid at my presence! I slowly got got out of the car and pointed the camera up at it. It was almost dark, 8:44pm, at an ISO of 2000 I could only muster a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second whilst hand holding the camera (sorry for boring those who don't know photography settings). I wasn't very hopeful of attaining a photo that was going to be usable but among the rubbish I did have this one "usable" image.   


It was a very enjoyable couple of hours with the owls, two new sites that I will surely be visiting again soon...........

Thanks for stopping by, hopefully another post soon! In the meantime if you would like to keep tabs with my day to day activity with the owls I am now posting on twitter,  @PMRiddle

Cheers!!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Bluethroat

Last week I found myself working out in the Grantham area, I knew that there had been a wintering Bluethroat not too far away from where I was working and fortunately en-route between two of my planned calls. As it proved it was too much of a temptation and I made the effort to go and visit Willow Tree Fen LWT in Lincolnshire. 

So during my lunch hour I wandered down the track towards the 40 or so other birders that had already huddled together in a horseshoe shape around a small reed fringe ditch. Apparently it had been showing very well on and off all morning, but not when I arrived!

Now I'm not really one for "twitches" as some of the behavior I have witnessed in the past by so called birders/photographers has appalled me, but not this time. Everyone there seemed to be conducting themselves in quite an orderly manner, just a low hum of people chatting, no shoving and pushing for more advantageous positions and patience was the order of the day. 

I soon got chatting to the guys either side of me and they assured me that the Bluethroat would soon pop out of the reed bed and feed on the gravel track right in front of us, I hoped they would be proved right as it would be a "lifer" for me.........

After no more than five minutes out popped this first winter male, I was very lucky too as at times it came very close indeed, what a bird!






I know it must seem that I have been in hibernation recently because of the lack of posts, well I'll be back again soon to give an update on how my Barn Owl breeding programme went last year, a real success story.

Catch up again soon............  

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Kingfisher with the Thrushes.......

On Sunday morning I managed a few hours out with camera in hand, it was quite a pleasant morning and for the first time in what seems to be ages I had no other distractions like checking and maintaining my owl boxes. This was to be just a few hours out with nature and hopefully some subjects would show and allow for a few images.

My main objective was to find some Little Owls, sadly after visiting several known sites not a single bird was either seen or heard. Whilst out it became quite noticeable just how many winter Thrushes (mainly Redwings and a few Fieldfares) were about, for the best part they would settle on one of the berry laden bushes and gorge themselves stupid, however, getting close enough to them to obtain an image proved to be quite a challenge. Trying to drive up slowly was a complete waste of time, as soon as I was with 30 metres or so they would erupt en-mass and move down to the next laden bush. After 30 minutes I gave up on this tactic and instead opted to park up near what seemed to be a favoured bush and waited for them to come to me. This new tactic proved to be slightly more successful than the last and the odd Redwing did come close enough for a few images (nothing good enough to share here though!).   

Then to my complete surprise a Kingfisher suddenly appeared in amongst a small flock of Redwing! This was very bizarre indeed but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth and a few images were rattled off. The Redwing didn't stay for long, they ate a few berries each and then off they flew again, but the Kingfisher stayed for at least 5 minutes!



A very strange encounter indeed, all my previous encounters with Kingfishers have been close to rivers, lakes, ponds etc and not in the middle of a field! Well that's all for now folks, maybe an update on how my Barn Owls have fared this year in the next post?

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

Friday, 25 November 2016

2017 Owl Calendar

Hi all, as any regular readers/followers of this blog will know, I have over the years (with the help of my buddy Col Green) been designing, making and erecting owl nest boxes in south Leicestershire,  over 130 so far. This is definitely a labour of love and when owls find one of the boxes and go on to use them as a breeding site it makes all the effort worth while. However, completing all this work and sourcing the required materials doesn't come cheap! In order to help maintain existing and to fund more new boxes I compile a unique owl calendar each year with all profits going back into the scheme.

My calendar for this year has just been finalised and ordered with my supplier, each month features an owl image (four different species) that was taken by myself during 2016, see draft of each month below.



The calendars are professionally manufactured using a high quality glossy 235g/m premium paper stock which gives the images a vibrant and vivid finish. The approx size when opened is 11" wide x 17" high and would complement any kitchen/study wall!

This year I have again committed to a large quantity from the supplier, this has enabled me to keep the pricing as of previous years! 1 x calendar is £10.00 or two for £18.50, (plus p&p at £1.50).

So would you like one of my 2017 owl calendars whilst also helping the owls? If so please either leave a message on my blog or email me at littleowl123@icloud.com and I'll get back to you asap with more details.

Many thanks to anyone that is able to order a calendar, your support is greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

Paul


Friday, 7 October 2016

MERLIN!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hi all!

Yes it has been a while since my last post, my apologies but for personal reasons I decided a while ago that I was going to take a break from the social media (Blogger) that I participate in. I will be back when the time is right and post a catch up of all the activities that I am still actively pursuing, especially my Barn Owl breeding programme which is thriving and 2016 has proven to be my best year so far!

However, I am going to break my own self imposed rule on "no posts for a while" by offering this quick post following a most enjoyable few days break up in Ayrshire, Scotland with my mate Adey.

We were on the Isle of Arran, (a beautiful place and would highly recommend a visit) our main objective was to search for Hen Harriers and then if luck was on our side maybe a few photo's of them too. After three days of solid searching two separate Hen Harrier sightings were made, one of a ringtail and the other of a very handsome male, some images were achieved but of rather poor quality due to the distances involved.

For anyone who is a long term reader of my blog will probably recall the odd time I have mentioned that the Merlin has been my life long bogey bird. After many years of visiting potential sites (Scotland 4 times) my first ever sighting was made in Norfolk in January of this year, since then I have made a further 3 sightings at different locations, albeit all from distance and or very brief.  Although no "record shot images" were obtained I was still very satisfied to have just made the sightings, until now!

We were driving slowly along the west coast of the Isle near to Black Waterfoot when I spotted up ahead a small raptor like bird diving out of the sky at speed down near the seas edge. There was a scattering of small passerines (Rock Pipits) and the raptor species re-emerged catchless and disappeared further along the coast. We both witnessed this explosion of activity but couldn't be sure of the raptors identity although Merlin was suspected? I continued to drive slowly along the costal road hoping to see it again, then as we turned a corner there it sat on top of a small wooden building about 100 yards from us. The car was stopped and the bird was viewed through our binoculars, 100% it was a Merlin.

Windows opened and cameras at the ready the car was started and we inched nearer and nearer, 90 yards, 80 yards, 70 yards etc., we got to within 30 yards and the car was turned sideways so as to get an image out of the window then whoosh, off it flew, not even a distant record shot was obtained, sods law strikes again!

For the next 20 minutes we drove slowly up and down trying to re-locate it, then Adey called out that there was a bird in a tree the other side of the bay to where we were, within seconds I got it in view in my binoculars, there it was again!! A painful and tentative drive around the bay commenced, we slowly got nearer and nearer until I dare not push my luck any further and the car was stopped. I poked my lens out of the window and BOOM, GET IN THERE my first ever image of a Merlin was in the can!!!

Merlin
I rattled off over 150 images of it (Adey 300+) before it flew off at speed along the coast, I haven't as yet had the time to go through/edit all my images but what a bird, (female/1st year juvenile) I suspect? I couldn't get over how lucky I was to have witnessed it hunting let alone to have captured and image of it, I do feel truly blessed.


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

Monday, 20 June 2016

Kingfisher catch up........

Its been a while since my last post, apologies on that count but any free time I've had recently has been spent checking out my owl nest boxes (initial signs are looking promising but more about that in a future post). Add to the lack of free time the fact I have been in France for the last week or so following England in the Euro's it's no surprise my blog has been dormant!

Anyway, earlier this morning (Sunday) found me out at dawn, my initial target was to visit the Kingfisher family that I have been monitoring for the last 2 months. I knew there was a chance that whilst away I'd miss the juveniles fledging the nest? Upon arrival the male was seen on his usual perch guarding the nearby nest hole, occasionally another Kingfisher would dart by and the male would drop down off his perch and follow in hot pursuit. I was initially confused by this activity but then one of the "fly by" Kingfishers landed on a nearby post and I was able to confirm that it was in fact a juvenile bird! This was great news that they had raised a family, but slightly disappointing I wasn't here to witness all the action. With the lack of sightings of the female Kingfisher I can only come to the conclusion that she must be tucked away inside the nest chamber busily laying her second clutch? 

Before the rain became too heavy I was able to spend some quality time with the male bird and captured a few images of him in various poses, below.




 

Hopefully back to my owls very soon, it's fingers crossed that all this heavy rain we are having at the moment doesn't have too much of a detrimental effect on their breeding success.

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

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Nosy Neighbors........

Whilst out checking owl nest boxes at the weekend one of my landowner friends told me he'd seen a woodpecker flying away from a newly excavated hold along one of his tracks. I needed no further encouragement and went off to investigate.....

The said tree and then the hole were soon located, it was a bit awkward getting the car into the right position as the track was very narrow, but after a bit of back and forth shunting I was ready. As is the norm with most woodpecker holes it was quite high, this meant pointing the camera up a quite an angle, this made it most uncomfortable as I sat there straining my neck.

As I waited for a bird to show matters were made worse when it started to drizzle, this obviously lowered the light levels which in turn made getting a usable shutter speed even more demanding than just coping with the heavy shade from the tree canopy. I could cope with the additional challenge of the low light but then it started to rain heavier and due to the angle of the camera the lens started to get splattered with water droplets. I persevered and after the camera had been brought back into the car for its sixth or seventh wipe down a woodpecker showed.

I was surprised it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker as all along I was expecting a Green Woodpecker? Anyhow, it was a nice male bird (red on the back of the head) it shuffled slowly upwards around the tree trunk, most of those images were too blurred to use as all I could muster at ISO 1000 was 1/50th of a second shutter speed. However, when it reached the hole it did hold its pose long enough for me to attain this first image.      

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Male
The Great Spotted didn't hang around long and was soon on its way, this gave me another opportunity to withdraw the camera once more for yet another quick dry off.

The next half an hour or so was very quiet, then the rain ceased slightly which coincided with another woodpecker visit. But this is when I got totally confused as this time it was a Green Woodpecker that visited the cavity?? 

I rattled off a few shots and made the most of the slightly improved light levels (now at 1/200 second). This woodpecker, a female (lack of a red mustachial stripe) posed lovely at the hole entrance for me, I was reveling in this viewing, by far the best ever I'd had of this species.

Green Woodpecker - female

The brilliant views of her then came to an abrupt end as she flew off, initially I couldn't understand why she'd left but then I noticed the male Great Spotted Woodpecker had returned, he was this time a little closer and in much better light which lent for much better photography conditions.



Then the fun and even more confusion (on my behalf) set in, the Green Woodpecker again returned which in turn shooed off the Great Spotted. This time she held her pose for a good while and I was allowed (by her) to spend a bit more time trying to get a better exposure. 


Then whilst I was watching and photographing her another movement caught my eye up near the hole, no it wasn't the Great Spotted that had returned yet again but the male Green Woodpecker (red mustachial stripe) that had stuck his head out of the hole!


So after all that confusion it appears that the cavity did after all belong to the Green Woodpeckers and the Great Spotted was just being nosy, or maybe just a good neighbor?

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again I hope?