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, 26 April 2016

Catching up, late April.......

Hi all,

Since the finding of the White Stork a couple of weeks ago (see last post) things have somewhat settled back down to the norm. The weather of late has been a bit hit and miss but now the lighter nights are with us there has been a few opportunities to get out and about.

During early April Col Green and I made a few more Barn Owl boxes, these have now been erected in some carefully selected locations, time will tell if our strategy was creditable? We have also checked a few older nest boxes, in some the usual non invited culprits have taken up squatting rights, namely Stock Doves, Squirrels, Jackdaws and Starlings. It hasn't all been bad news though, we've also got Barn Owls in three boxes and Little Owls in a couple. It is still early days and our box checking will gather momentum in a few weeks time when Col has recovered from having his new hip fitted, oh yes he's going to be a blur as he zips up and down those ladders.........

On the owl/bird watching front I've had some superb viewings at various different locations around the Leicestershire countryside, obviously owls do dominate. Now that the breeding season is upon us the male Little Owls do seem to be easier to locate than in the winter, that is if its a nice sunny windless evening! It is still very much a waiting game and not every site has owls in residence (or not ones I've seen yet?) but when a bird does show it can be amazing just how bold they can be?




I've also invested more time over the weekends with my "church owls" (featured in a couple of posts ago). Here it is very much a case of how lucky you can get? As with the majority of my owl photography I initially spend a long time (sometimes years) making observations from distance, you get to know when its a good time to visit and also when its not! You also get to know which perches the owls prefer, I then set myself up in an advantageous position and wait.............. At this site I have gone through this same routine on many occasions and come away with nothing! However, when luck is on your side you do get rewarded for all the preparation and dedication. I'd had my minds eye an image of one of the owls perched up on a headstones, I did fulfill this objective on a recent visit but at the time I was too close and the light not so good. So another few visits were made and eventually I have got nearer to what I'm trying to achieve, this next set are not the best Little Owl views/images I've ever had but I'd like to think they are a little more interesting?





 Away from the Little Owls I have also been very privileged to have seen the Osprey hunting again at a body of water in the south of the county (no not Rutland). Mostly the views are distant but occasionally it does come a little closer and an image is attained. In this next shot the prey fish that the Osprey has just caught can be clearly identified as being a Jack Pike. 


There isn't much time that elapses without me going down to the local river and parking up with a hope of seeing the Kingfishers. I think breeding has commenced here too because only the male has been seen lately, and that is not too often either.  


As we all know now is the time when the migrants start coming in to the UK, I haven't had much luck with photographing any of them yet, however this handsome Yellow Wagtail proved to be a very confining individual and as it sang its head off it allowed me to get incredibly close!


The best bird during the last few weeks has been the on off showing of a Short Eared Owl in the east of the county. I've stood for hours in eagerness of it coming out to hunt whilst at the same time questioning my sanity as I braved the dropping temperatures and cutting winds.


But the brief and fleeting evening views were well worth the wait as it hunted back and forth in front of me whilst being bathed in the glorious golden setting sun.





Without a doubt the image of the Short Eared Owl that I was most pleased with was this next one. I was very lucky with the diffused and uncluttered background that makes the bird stand out all the better. But just as it flew past it dipped its nearest wig down slightly allowing great views of the whole of its back, in great light too!


That's all for now folks, hopefully catch up again soon......................

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

White Stork!!!!!!!

Col Green and I were conducting some more checking out of our owl nest boxes late yesterday at one site in the south of the county where (not too far from Countesthorpe) where we have several boxes sited. Whilst there the land owner told me and said there was a "strange white bird" walking around in one of his fields. I initially suspected Little Egret but he was adamant it was something else so I agreed to go and investigate......

We drove along some farm tracks to the last location the bird had been seen. As soon as we pulled up the bird came into sight, although distant (200 yards or so) I knew straight away that this was no Little Egret.

Blimey I was looking through my binoculars at a White Stork!!! I still didn't get too excited as it could be an escapee, from this distance no leg rings could be made out so it looked promising? I then called Col (who was checking boxes at another location on the estate) and he initially though I was pulling his leg. Ten minutes later we stood shoulder to shoulder watching the bird, it was at this stage that we both agreed this bird must be the real thing as neither of us could make out any leg rings and it was absolutely spot on for the time of year.

We then discussed putting out the news, sadly the landowner was adamant that he did NOT want hoards of folk all over his land and we had no option but to respect his wishes. We did try to work out a compromise but as the only access point and viewing location meant going right through the middle of the farm we reluctantly agreed. 

Luckily both Col and I had our camera kit with us, so after taking some distant record shots we drove along a dirt track and parked up. Our theory was the bird would hopefully work its way towards us enabling some better and closer up images. This plan worked perfectly and as the bird gorged on earth worms it did come closer and closer (50 yards would be a guess?) and the images below were bagged.

Posing nicely

Feeding on earth worms
Whilst watching the bird we did make a couple of phone calls (county recorder, LROS news line) to explain the dilemma we were in with respect to the restrictions of putting the news out, we made assurances that if there was any change we would call back. Well there was a change, sadly it was a negative one, as without notice the bird took flight and headed off high in a westerly direction.  

Flying off
So a great bird for Leicestershire, great views were had even though it was for only a short period. Apologies must be made to any birders who would have welcomed viewing the Stork, we tried our best but the logistics just couldn't be agreed.

I'll be back again soon with another post, more Little Owls I suspect!

  

Friday, 8 April 2016

Right place, right time!

Yesterday evening I was out with Daz doing a spot of "general birding" in the south of the county. We hadn't seen much of note apart from a single fly past Red Kite. We weren't surprised that none of our main target, Little Owls hadn't been seen as the weather was very intermittent,  one minute sunny the next it was pouring down.

As we ventured along the lanes of South Leicestershire we neared a body of water (no not Rutland) where we parked up to see what was about. A couple of Little Egrets at distance, a few Tufted Ducks out in the middle, plenty of Sand Martins skimming the waters surface feeding on flys, a Grey Heron in the reeds and several circling Buzzards up high.

Then out of the blue a flying Osprey came into view!!! It was flying straight across the lake towards us. Through my binoculars a fish could clearly be seen in its talons. At the time neither of us had our cameras out and before we knew it the bird had passed overhead without a single image being taken.

As the bird was flying away from us it seemed to be keeping parallel to the lane where we were parked, we were soon in the car and in pursuit.  As I drove Daz kept an eye on the bird and within a minute we'd caught it up and then overtaken it. Once we had managed and good lead we pulled up and got the cameras out, we then waited and as if to order the Osprey deviated slightly away from the fields and flew straight at and over us!!!



All of this action, from stopping the car to the Osprey flying overhead was over in a matter of seconds, luckily I have pre-set a custom function on my camera for just such indecencies, I turned the dial to this setting and prayed I'd be lucky! I did manage a sequence of 14 images with these two above images probably being the best? 

A superb encounter and a great bird to see, especially as it had a fish in it's talons. Obvious we have no idea as to where the bird was going, I suppose it could have been a bird from the Rutland breeding programme that was having a wander about (although that's miles away!) or maybe a Scottish bird still on it's way north or even better still maybe a bird that has set up a new territory in Leicestershire?

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

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Kingfishers - Still showing.

Another visit has been made down to the local river, an hour session parked up near to one of the favoured perches that the Kingfishers use resulted in two "stop offs". Initially it was frustrating as the birds whizzed up and down and didn't stop, however the female bird (orange lower mandible) did eventually oblige and posed nicely for a few fleeting seconds.

Female
I watched the male bird land on a perch further down the river, from here he dived into the water and emerge with a fish. Lucky for me he then landed on the perch right in front of me and then devoured his catch.

Male
I was surprised to see both birds as I would have thought by now they'd be sitting on eggs, especially as I witnessed them mating over a week ago?

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

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Holy Owls.......

A pair of Little Owls that I have been monitoring for at least seven years have recently been evicted from their nest location by a pair of Jackdaws. Not good news I know but after several return visits to this site I have eventually managed to re-locate the pair, in a nearby church yard. 

As with most sites that I stake out there is always an element of luck as to when the birds will show? One has to be prepared for loads of waiting around when nothing happens and this site proved to be one of the more stubborn ones! However, when the birds did eventually come out (after five visits and about ten hours of waiting in total) they did put on a great show for me.  As with most rural churches there are lots of interesting features and choices for perches around the grounds. The birds didn't disappoint at all as they landed on a variety of headstones, walls and fences. 







This unusual location offered up some quite unique photo opportunities for me, the time invested was well rewarded even though the birds only showed for about ten minutes!

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

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Before the storm.........

Yesterday (Saturday) was as predicted a pretty miserable day weather wise. It was inevitable I suppose, the first bank holiday of the year and the conditions were against us, bloody typical! However, at first light the expected high winds and rain hadn't yet materialized into the blowy damp conditions that were predicted so it was deffo a case of make hay while the sun shone as it wasn't going to last for long?

My first call was to pop down my local patch down near the river, all kind of goodies have been showing here lately, Kingfishers, Water Rail, Grey Wagtails, Little Egrets, Goosanders and Green Sandpipers. However, my main quarry over the years and the species that brings me back time and time again hasn't yet been seen this year, the Little Owls. It has been whilst watching the owls that I started to notice all the other species and realised just what a gem the wildlife this location is.

Upon arrival I drove slowly along the shallow part of the river, I parked up near the weed raft where I'd been seeing the Water Rail lately (see previous post). It was seen again, but no photo opportunities this time as it stayed deep in the cover. I'm sure if I'd waited long enough it would have eventually showed better but because of the impending weather I moved on.

I next parked up parallel to one of the perches that the Kingfishers use, this proved to be a far more productive stop and the male arrived within minutes. 

  
From where I was parked the Little Egret flew in and landed on the bank around 30 metres downstream. A very skittish bird this one and I had to be satisfied with a few shots from distance.

Little Egret
Again I also saw two Goosanders, (both redheads this time) that's three sightings in the last four visits. They were diving and feeding upstream from where I was parked, but just as previous times as soon as I started to drive nearer to them up they went and flew off!

The pair of Grey Wagtails were still showing well along the shallow part of the river, on this visit they kept their distance so I have used an image that I attained whilst visiting the previous day.

Grey Wagtail
These next two images of the male Kingfisher were also attained in better light the previous day (Friday) whilst visiting with Col Green. This first shot the bird held a high erect posture as a rival male Kingfisher darted past.



Back to yesterday..............

The weather was still holding out, just! A few other delights offered nice views as I worked my way along the river, this Wren sat out in the open for a few seconds as it blasted out its territorial song.

Wren
An earlier in the week visit didn't offer up any Green Sandpiper sightings, this was the first "non show" for months. I thought that their over wintering at this site had come to an end and they had finally departed to more northern breeding grounds? But I was wrong, as today one of the birds was seen yet again feeding in the river. 

Green Sandpiper
I know it's a real long shot but I am really hoping that the Sandpipers hold this territory and stay here and breed. Because of the chance of this I've been doing a bit of research on Green Sandpipers and their breeding habits, I was quite surprised to read that they actually nest in trees!!! They don't make a nest themselves but prefer to use old nests of other birds, now did you know that?

As the morning drew on the weather continued to deteriorate, that was my call to change tactics and search for other targets. As I previously mentioned I'd not seen a Little Owl here so far this year. The two active sites that use to be so reliable have both been effected, a blown down nest tree at the first site and Stock Doves moving in and evicting the owls at the second site. However, there was some hope as during Fridays visit with Col I did hear a Little Owl calling from the other side of the river, so I knew they were still here but where? It proved to be a fruitless exercise as my usual tactic of moving slowly around the site and scanning every lowdown post and likely roosting spot offered nothing, the high winds and driving rain didn't help.

I was now in the mood for more Little Owl hunting, something I hadn't really dedicated any time to for what seemed to be such a long time. Therefore, that is what I decided to do for the rest of my time out. I left the river location and drove out into the countryside where there were a few sites I knew of which would offer the owls some shelter, and maybe some sightings?

The first site I visited, an old farmhouse offered an owl almost straight away, all I had to do was park up on the sheltered side and scan all the likely nook and crannies where an owl would perch, and there it was sitting on an old rafter. 



Just down the road my second sighting took a while longer to materialise, but again an owl was seen and photographed perched in a crevice on the sheltered side of the nest tree.


The third and final owl was seen at another known site where they frequent a group of old brick building, this was my closest view of the day albeit it only lasted a few seconds!


So that is a catch up of where I am up to, the forecast for later today (Sunday) and tomorrow is still not that good, but given half a chance and a break in the weather I will be out to see what other goodies can be located.

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

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Full frame Rail.......

During the last few visits down to my local river I have been chancing upon a few bird species of note. The main target has been the Kingfishers (see previous posts), it can take quite sometime for these little blue gems to show, if they show at all? Consequently when parked up for hours on end other species do come along and sometimes can show quite well, or not!

A week or so ago I spotted a Water Rail sneaking along in the reedy fringes that boarder the shallow part of the river. This was my first ever sighting of this species down here after eight years of visiting. OK Water Rails are not that uncommon but to have one show here on my part of the river was really quite unusual and a very notable sighting as far as I am concerned. 

On my next visit on Saturday morning (with Col Green) the Water Rail was again seen, it was in the exact same location as it had been during my previous sighting, under a large reed raft and only occasionally venturing to the waters edge where it could been clearly seen. Yes I did manage a couple of distant shots of it (with Col's camera) as it scurried between the patches of dense vegetation. The resultant images were OK but I thought I could do better so a return on Sunday morning was planned.

On the Sunday morning I ignored, the Kingfishers, the newly arrived Little Egret, the pair of Grey Wagtails and the Green Sandpipers, this morning was going to be dedicated to the Water Rail. Now Water Rails are notably cautious and secretive creatures which makes watching them a challenge. For this reason driving slowly up and down the rivers edge (as I usually do) wasn't the tactic for today, instead I parked up opposite the weed raft where I'd seen it on two previous occasions and waited. 

After only 20 minutes the bird was seen as it dashed from one side of the shallow river to the other, the problem was it was 20 metres downstream! Then within seconds it emerged again and bolted straight into the weed raft opposite me, this is when the waiting game really started. For the next hour the bird was occasionally seen, it would come to the edge of the dense undergrowth, over turn a couple of damp leaves, feed avidly on what it had revealed and then disappear. In all that time I didn't manage any images that would be deemed "keepers"  the bird was either too fast or there was obstacles blocking the view.

Then remarkably and uncharacteristically and without warning the Rail just sauntered out from within the cover and just stood there, right out in the open in all its glory! I just couldn't believe my luck and the camera rocked into action.


It seemed relaxed and totally unfazed with the presence of the car or the camera shutter rattling away. It had a bit of a shake then to my almost disbelief it started to cross the river straight towards me!


As it crossed the river it actually started to come too close, I was now completely filling the frame with just the bird!


 
Just before it disappeared it held one last pose right in front of me, here I was able to attain this full frame shot with the water droplet on its bill. 


What a fantastic encounter, to have photograph a Water Rail right out in the open and up so close was an almost unimaginable encounter, and one I shall not forget in a long time.

Thanks for stopping by, hopefully catch up again soon.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

At long last!

Sometimes, and I do mean sometimes, a long term plan does come to fruition..........

For several years now whilst monitoring the Little Owls at one of my sites I do occasionally see a pair of Kingfishers. Mostly the sightings are restricted to just a blue blur as they blast up and down the river, however they do sometimes rest up on a bank side perch and offer some better views, for a few fleeting seconds!  This noted behaviour tempted me last year into to trying for some perched up images, there was a lot of time invested with mixed results initially. But in time I did manage to slowly gain better views and consequently improved images of both the male, female and juvenile Kingfishers.

But was I content?.........No I wasn't! Don't get me wrong, I was more than satisfied with the slow but sure improvements with the images that I was attaining, but the one image that I'd got in my minds eye that had so far eluded me was one with both the male and female Kingfishers together. So you can probably imagine my smugness when this morning I not only managed an image of the pair of them together and in focus, I actually superseded my own expectations and nailed a few images of them mating!!


It was an excellent and very productive early morning visit with great views of Kingfisher (obviously), Little Egret, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and Water Rail!! I now have over 400 more images to go through from this morning before I can even think of publishing another post on here, watch this space!

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

Monday, 14 March 2016

More Kingfishers

Yesterday morning (Sunday) I made another visit down to my local river, the couple of hours spent there proved to be very rewarding with some great views of both the male and female Kingfishers. These are just a quick sample from over 300 images I rattled off whilst there!

Female

Whilst there I witnessed both birds individually catch a Bullhead for dinner. Just amazing how they can swallow whole a fish of such size in comparison to their body size.

Female

Female
The male bird, below certainly has the more vivid feather colouration, deeper blues and oranges, oh and of course a blacker bill.

Male
After many many visits to this site over the years, mainly to watch the Little Owls I added another "first" to my species list in the form of a Water-rail, it took my very much by surprise when I spotted it walking along the concrete causeway. This alone is reason enough for me to go back asap, oh and the Little Owls, Kingfishers etc...........

Catch up again soon!