Hi and welcome to my Blog, my name is Paul Riddle and I live in south Leicestershire, UK. Back in August 2008 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!!!

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............

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

North Uist - Day 4

In no time at all our final day came around, the ferry was to sail at 3:0pm so we did have a few hours to try and squeeze in a bit more birding. It was again another early start and what a refreshing change it was to be greeted by more favorable weather as we departed the B&B. The high winds of the previous few days had all but gone and there was no rain, hooray!

As on previous mornings we initially header for the Committee Road area, but rather than wait until we got to the far end of the road to see any signs of life this time there was activity everywhere! We hadn't even got half way along the road and the bird tally was; Hen Harrier x 4, Short Eared Owl x 7! It was utterly amazing what a difference the mild upturn in the weather had made? Of the birds we'd seen so far all of them were on the wing hunting and at distance, so we chose to ignore them in favour of trying to come across a nearer and/or perched up subject.

Our request of a nearby perched up bird had been granted by the birding gods, as we negotiated the junction at the north end of Committee Road there sat on a roadside post some 50 yards from us was a Short Eared Owl. We drove very slowly towards it knowing that at any second the bird could be off and our chances ruined, but it didn't go anywhere. We got within 25 yards which I felt was near enough so here we stopped and grabbed a load of images. We were both feeling very smug as one of our main objectives for the holiday had been achieved.....

Before I'd had the chance to weigh up the risk factor of moving a little nearer the owl took flight. It's not easy wielding a 500mm lens out of the car window trying to attain flight shots, a bit cramped really but a few keepers were bagged.

I've always found it difficult to crop flight shots of Short Eared Owls, especially when "head on" due to the length of their wings. However, I've had a go at cropping the above image a little tighter so as to offer a bit more detail as you can see in this next image, not sure if it works when the wings are clipped like this?

We watched the owl fly back and forth as it quartered the roadside field, it was obviously in hunting mode (maybe the reason why it seemed to be ignoring us?).  It came to rest again only this time it was on a different post, we only had to turn the car 90 degrees to get our very best and closest views yet.

Here it sat on the second post for around five minutes, it was sods law that it coincided with it clouding over making the lighting levels rather awkward. The horrid grey sky only added to the challenge of getting the right exposure, but because it sat there long enough we were able to get what we wanted.

Then without warning it was off again, hunting along the roadside then it drifted further away and over towards the edge of the nearby loch. But, it turned and headed straight back to where we were still parked, it kept coming nearer and nearer, I panicked as I tried to alter my camera settings yet again for a "head on" flight shot.

To our delight it landed on yet another post and even closer than before, the backdrop of the green fields aided in attaining our best images so far.

For the next 30 minutes we had a very intimate time with this individual owl, it was if it was obeying orders to give us a right royal show?

This next image is what it was all about for me, a Short Eared Owl on a very natural looking perch, this is full frame too!

As with most good things they have to come to an end sometime, as did this brilliant experience. The owl eventually upped and left us and flew off into the distance.

Time was now of the essence, catching the ferry was looming ever nearer so we hadn't got time to sit there "chimping" through the hundreds of  images that we'd just captured, oh no we had to get refocused on our next mission......Corncrake.

We headed over to the RSPB site at Balranald in the west of the island, it was here that we'd seen Corncrake earlier in the week but during that visit no images what so ever had been captured. The drive over only took us ten minutes, en-route we saw another Hen Harrier and three more Short Eared Owls, all to be ignored!

Upon departing from the car two Corncrakes could be heard calling from a nearby Iris bed, but hearing and seeing them are at two completely different ends of the scale. We stood next to a fenced off Iris bed and the nearest bird started calling, I kid you not we were only a matter of a few feet from the bird but it couldn't be seen, the Iris's had grown too tall.

The scenario of having this calling bird at our feet went on for an hour,  I was very conscious of the time and something needed to happen, and fast! Then just as we were coming to the conclusion that we were staring defeat in the face another member of the watching public pointed out a bird that had moved to a small clearing. I nearly got trampled in the mad rush as everyone who'd been gathered around the area suddenly huddled together into a small group against the fence! Goodness knows what anyone turning up at that point would have made of this strange sight?? However, putting getting close up and personal with complete strangers aside, I managed an image, yeeeessssss!!!

The dozen or so other people who'd we'd been watching with all soon dispersed, that left just Adey me and another couple who had just turned up. I was very happy with the image that I'd earlier captured of the bird, but it wasn't the iconic image of it calling that I so desperately wanted. 

Then the bird started calling again, for love nor money I couldn't see the dam thing, well not until it was pointed out to me by the couple that had just arrived. It was still a little further away than I would have liked but hey ho I nailed that calling image that I wanted, so happy days!

By now time was pushing on and we really had to make tracks, we had to travel to the far eastern side of the island to catch the ferry. On the way back we saw even more owls, but none that were close enough to make us stop. There were also hundreds of waders showing with loads perched up next to the road, they too were ignored as we had just one more planned stop to make?

After 20 minutes of driving we arrived at the point were we'd had good views of Hen Harrier earlier in the week. We had exactly one hour spare before we had to go so we parked up and started to scan the skies.

Luck was definitely on our side, within minutes a female was spotted hunting over the flat grassy area a few hundred yards away. I got out of the car, set my camera up for flight shots and waited. Gradually it came nearer and nearer, then all of a sudden it was upon us and within reasonable shooting distance. Absolutely fantastic to watch this dark individual  floating around us, pure magic!

We were now clock watching every second that passed, sadly the time beat us and we had to depart before the bird returned for a closer view.

All in all it was a fabulous break, my main regrets being the weather, the long drive and not staying for longer. The highlights being everything else, but especially the Corncrake, the Harriers, the owls and the breakfast! I shall 100% be returning next year, maybe even again this year?

Lastly thanks to Adey, he was brilliant company and made the holiday!

Thanks for stopping by, local owl news to come soon.........

Sunday, 28 June 2015

North Uist - Day 3

Yet again we were greeted with bad weather early morning, the wind and rain hadn't abated at all, in fact it was probably even worse than the day before? Because of the relative success we had with finding the sheltering owls yesterday we decided to employ the same tactics again. We drove slowly up and down the same area again but nothing was seen, we then realised the wind had swung around 90 degrees which had obviously made the owls shift position too. Therefore we moved to different area where the road ran from north to south rather than east to west, this tactic paid dividends almost immediately when another new Short Eared Owl was located. The owl seemed totally unfazed by the cars close proximity and just sat and watched us, it may give you an idea of how bad the weather was in this next image, the owl was soaked to the skin!   

After 20 minutes with the owl we moved on and continued to cruise around this new area, no other owls were seen but we did have our closest fly-by views of a Male and female Hen Harrier. A few distant images were captured but I'm not prepared to share them on here because they were bloody awful!

As the morning moved into afternoon the weather started to improve, well it had stopped raining but the wind was still as strong as ever. Because of this we agreed a return to the area where we'd earlier seen the Hen Harriers could be a good option. En-route we started to see more bird activity, a sure sign that now the rain had ceased it made for much better conditions for them. We were now starting to see our first Short Eared Owls on the wing, a great sight especially over the heath and heather. The odd owl was also seen perched up on post, they were making the most of this drying out period. We came across one particular area where we noted four different owls flying about, a lot of time was wasted waiting for one of them to come close enough for a fly-by image, but they didn't.

A little further along the road we witnessed another of our "must see whilst on Uist", a Snipe on a post.  This bird was displaying and calling with great enthusiasm, it was so engrossed in it's activities our presence was ignored, this worked to our advantages as we both bagged a hat full of images. 

After the Snipe experience we continued to make our way back to the Hen Harrier area, it was taking us ages to get there because every few hundred yards or so there was something else that captured our attention. The next distraction was a small flock of Twite, although they are apparently quite abundant on the islands this was our first sighting! We spent ages trying to get some closer views, initially we failed miserably so rather than trying to creep up onto them we stayed in one spot and eventually a single bird landed on the wire fence next to the car.  

Eventually we arrived back at the area where we'd previously had our best views of Hen Harrier, the road here dissected two completely different types of habitat. To our left was a huge flat plateau area with lots of grassy tussocks and in contrast to the right it was a hilly area that was covered in heather, we parked up where we had a good vantage over both areas and waited. 

Only a few minutes had passed when a distant movement caught my eye over on the grassy side of the road, a Short Eared Owl was quartering back and forth and was progressively getting nearer. Trying to obtain flight shots from within the confinements of the car is very difficult indeed, we knew that if we got out we could ruin the chance of the owl coming within distance but it was a risk that we took! We used the car as a shield and waited, I don't think we spooked the owl but it didn't come as close as we'd have liked, but it was the closest views so far. 

The owl then duly obliged and gave us another tick to our "island wish list", it landed on a post! It wasn't there for too long but at least we'd grabbed an image even though it was distant.

Another couple of owls were seen during the next hour or so, sadly they were too distant, again! But then things got interesting, a pair of Harriers came into view at the top of the heather covered hill, they drifted closer and closer, it was bloody frustrating as I just couldn't lock my focus onto the Hen bird as it came within 20-30 metres of us. The problem being there was just not enough contrast difference between the colour of the heather and the bird, it just blended into the background. From the fifty shots I rattled off, the two images below where the best I managed, oh it could have been so much better!

This was a fantastic opportunity to nail by far the best images of the trip so far, the bird actually flew with 10 metres of the car and I totally blew it! Since that moment I have gone over in my head time and time again on how I could have had my camera setting set up differently so as to have given me a better chance,  there was nothing wrong with the settings, it was purely down to operator error!

Later in the day we also had a Long Tailed Skua drift across the heathland, a lifer for me but it moved far too fast to have captured an image of it, mmmm operator error again I think?

On the way home we also had more waders on posts, this was becoming a regular sighting and quite a comical sight which I've never seen anywhere else apart from here on Uist. 

So for our third day on the islands the weather and consequently the bird viewing did improve, the forecast for day four was predicted to be the best yet, so we planned another early start with a few objectives in mind with our main targets being, Short Eared Owls in flight and on posts, Hen Harrier  images of any type and Corncrakes.

You'll have to pop back in a few days time to see how we got on with our day four objectives?

Catch up soon and thanks for stopping by...........

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

North Uist - Day 2

Our first nights sleep at the B&B was sheer bliss, with both slept like logs after the lengthy journey, come to think of it the six pint night cap might have helped to have knocked me out too?? We had pre-arranged our plans for the day with Pat who runs the B&B the night before, Adey and I were to get up at first light (4.00am) to get some dawn birding in and then return for our full English breakfast at 9.00am.

But what met us on our early morning departure made our hearts sink, howling gales and horizontal rain! That had stuffed our plans for the day of making our first sightings of Short Eared Owls and Hen Harriers. Rather that waste our time on the heathlands and moors looking for raptors we felt our best chance of seeing anything worthwhile would be down by the side of the many lochs that can be found scattered all over the islands.

Considering the awful conditions we did locate a few birds to watch and point the lens at from the relative shelter of the car, these included Ringed Plover, Merganser and Eider. All nice birds to see but sadly our target species for the morning, a Red or Black Throated Diver eluded us!

After breakfast we headed for a recommended area up in the north east of the island, it was suppose to be one of the quietest and most remotest places and here we stood a good chance of Merlin.

Along this road we had our first close up views of Red Deer, they didn't hang around long once we'd pulled up but it was long enough to capture this single image.

At the very end of the road we chanced upon a pair of Stonechats, they gave us some great views as they perched up in the rain.

On the return journey a Great Skua was spotted flying straight at us, a big bulky bird that was being thrashed about in the high winds. There was no opportunities for any images but that didn't matter as this was a lifer for me!

For the next few hours we drove around looking for Merlin, no such luck there but we did have our first sighting of a Hen Harrier. A hen bird flew alongside the car for a few seconds before it twisted its wings into the wind and was gone! We did spend some time trying to relocate it but to no avail. In one particular area we heard Golden Plover calling, however we didn't pursue them because of the rain.

Then it happened, we had our first owl!!!! A single bird was spotted by Adey aside a small heather covered mound. It was hunkered down out of the elements looking back at us! We hurriedly turned around as soon as possible, got our lens poking out of the window and drove back slowly. The owl didn't budge and we both filled our boots with loads of images. 

I was so pleased, at long last a Short Eared Owl image in its natural breeding environment, something I'd dreamt of for years. The light obviously wasn't conductive for photography but I think I made the best of a bad lot? I have purposely not cropped the image and left it full frame as it shows the evocative greens, browns and purples of the heather's to much better effect.

Then things got mad, five minutes after leaving the first owl we stumbled across another!!! This individual was a little further away but within our range, it was a little more alert than the first and was cautiously watching us for a couple of minutes before flying off.

Adey and I then had a quick chat about these two owls and the circumstances around them being located. We realised that the wind had turned 90 degrees and this must had made the owls re-position to a more sheltered spot thus being more visible from the road. It also meant that the wind and rain would be coming straight into our open car windows but it just had to be done. 

In the next couple of hours we employed our new tactic and located no fewer than another six sheltering owls. Not all of them were photographable due to distance or heavier than normal rain that just meant the car windows had to be shut.

Just as the day was coming to a close we stumbled across a very wet and soggy male Wheatear, whilst watching it we noticed it kept disappearing behind a large roadside boulder. I was curious so I went and investigated further. To my delight there were three recently fledged juveniles huddled together out of the wind and rain. The car was soon re-positioned and we waited for the adult to return, it was going to be a race against the light if we were to obtain any images. Then just after 9.15pm the male returned and the chicks all squabbled for their feed. With my ISO set to 2000 a shots of the action were captured.

That's all for day 2 folks, I hope you have enjoyed the story and the images so far?

Day 3 soon.........

Thanks for calling in.