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 5 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, 15 April 2014

Super Sunday!

On Sunday morning Col Green and I had a couple of spare hours so we used the time wisely and went and checked some more owl boxes. Due to the time constraints we only managed to check two boxes as the rest of the time was spent doing a bit of networking with a local landowner of whom I'd never met before. This guy (I'll call him Mr X) got to find out about us through the "farmers grapevine" and wanted to discuss things with us further, we were intrigued! But before we went and met this mystery guy we checked out two Barn Owl boxes not far from where he lived. 

Normally when a box is "in use" there are some tell tale signs that there maybe occupancy, like pellets on the ground below the box or poo on the landing shelf, but there was neither in evidence here?

Barn Owl box, a pair in residence.
So when we accidentally flushed a pair of Barn Owls out of the first box we were totally surprised (yes I do have a schedule 1 licence that allows me to check/disturb potential breeding sites at this time of year). We then took the opportunity to quickly check inside the box and what we discovered next was even more a surprise.........four eggs!!! Obviously as soon as we found out this brilliant news a hasty retreat was made leaving the owls to return and get on with it.

At the second box we had more great news, before we erected the ladder a gentle tap was made on the side of the box and a Tawny Owl came scuttling out and flew to the nearby woods, wow we never expected that!
A box meant for Barn Owls, we didn't mind that a Tawny family is now in residence.
Col then gingerly placed the ladders up against the box and peered in, another adult owl was tucked away in the corner which exposed at least 3 chicks and 2 unhatched eggs!!!! This was a very unexpected but gladly received find, unbelievably my eighth new Tawny Owl territory located this year!

Once we'd done the box checking off we went to meet Mr X, a really nice guy who just loves his birds, especially owls! He'd heard of the work that Col and I had been doing over the last few years and wanted to offer us a deal? Although he owns an enormous swath of land with lots of suitable habitat for Barn Owls he hadn't seen one for years and that is where we came in. He thought we could help by doing a survey and then make and erect a couple of boxes in the most suitable locations. In return he is able to offer us as much reclaimed timber as we liked (gets it through his business) and the use of his carpentry shop, how could we refuse? So phone numbers were exchanged and I now await his call when the timber is ready, what a top chap!!

That was the end to time spent with Col as he had a pressing appointment elsewhere. I was then joined by Jonah and the two of us decided to go and check out some more owl boxes. En route over the fields I noticed a passerine on top of a manure heap, I checked it out through my binoculars and although distant there was no doubt about the species, a male Wheatear. As I turned the Land-rover in the direction of the Wheatear a Lapwing was noticed sitting in the middle of the field, as we approached it took flight but only landed a few yards away. We were suspicious there was a nest and without even getting out of the Land-rover it was discovered, along with four eggs!

Lapwing nest & eggs
The Lapwing was a brave individual as within minutes she was back on her nest incubating the eggs.

Lapwing
It was a nice distraction seeing the Lapwing but we soon got back to finding where the Wheatear had gone? In the field in question there was around 20 separate manure piles, we parked up right in the middle of them all and waited. It took around an hour of waiting but the Wheatear returned to feed, and it was accompanied by at least three others!

Wheatear - female

Wheatear - male
The Wheatears never really came as close as I would have liked (possibly around 7-8 metres) which resulted in both the above images being quite heavy crops. Great birds to discover and witness at such close quarters and with the added bonus of another species to my annual list (now at 98).

Since my last post I have also made another couple of evening visits to my Tawny Owl site No 7, one visit resulted in no birds being seen at all and on the second visit one bird posed nicely for just a few seconds on one of its favoured perches. Sadly I didn't manage the flight shots that I am now after but never the less I am well chuffed with the one image I did get, below.

Tawny Owl - Site No 7
Thanks for stopping by, will catch up with you all again soon...........

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Tawny re-visited, again........

I know this blog is becoming a bit one dimensional of late but who honestly could resist it, a very local Tawny Owl site where the male bird shows in the daylight on a regular basis?? Well not me!!! As they say "make hay whilst the sun shines" so I made another visit on Thursday evening, the male bird was again showing well within 10 minutes of my arrival. 


Each time I visit I am learning more about this bird and it's habits, it certainly has a few favored perches which makes my life a little easier when deciding where to park and set up. Another bonus of late is the surrounding trees are just coming into leaf which offers a more pleasing background to my images. 


I had a go at getting some flight shots as it came through the pines, dam difficult at the best of times but with low light and a fast moving subject it was tough going. 



I now have loads of portrait images of this bird so now I am going to concentrate on attempting some improved flights shots during my up and coming visits, wish me luck!!!!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Hangover owling......

Nothing much owly to report from the weekend as I was busily having a double celebration, firstly it was my beloved Leicester City finally gaining promotion to the promised land of the Premier League on Friday night and secondly it was a friends wedding on Saturday. Needless to say monster amounts of beer were consumed over the two days which rendered me in a total mess come Sunday. 

However, late on Sunday afternoon I started to come back to life and I made the effort to go out and get some fresh air. I made another visit to my Tawny Owl site No 7, it proved a long wait for the owl to show but when it did I was richly rewarded with some fabulous views. Although I managed quite a few different types of images of the bird on this visit I have selected just this one image to share. I had previously imagined the owl in this exact pose and on this very perch, but I didn't think my wish would actually come true, well not to this extent!


Thanks for stopping by, catch up with you all again soon.......................

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Wow, another Tawny...............

Whilst out checking nest boxes on Sunday morning unbelievably I stumbled upon yet another new Tawny Owl site, my 7th so far this year! Although the owl was perched quite high up in a Scots Pine Tree it was only partially hidden from view and its distinctive silhouette gave it away! Luckily at the time I was on foot and not in the Landrover otherwise it would have been disturbed and possibly not seen at all? So without disturbing it from its day-time snooze I made a hasty retreat and for the rest of the morning I was hatching a plan for my return later on that evening.

I knew that when I returned in the Landrover there was every chance he wouldn't show and the better views and a chance of an image would be totally scuppered, but it was a risk I had to take. The sun was not far off setting so I positioned myself with it coming off my back and I faced towards the small spinney where I saw the owl earlier in the day. Once parked up I dare not move or make another sound for around half an hour, once I was happy that I'd been quiet enough for long enough I peered through my camo scrim and the owl was still in the exact spot as this morning, only this time it was wide awake!


He sat and watched me from the tree for next 30 minutes, then just as the sun was setting he came to life, it proved to be an excellent experience as the owl re-located onto several different perches. I was fortunate that there was still enough light left that allowed for some decent shutter speeds without the need to pump up the ISO too much.


 



With hindsight I would say it was one of the best owl encounters I've every had (and I have had a few!), a very showy (normally nocturnal) owl in pretty decent light. Needless to say I will be returning to investigate further and hopefully next time I will have some positive news about partners and breeding??

Thanks for popping by, hope you like this last set of images.

See ya soon........................


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Birding & Beer

Saturday morning had me out in the Landie before dawn, my target species was Tawny Owl. This particular site is not conductive for good photography because of the direction of the sun (straight at you) apart from that is at first light, hence the reason why I was in situ very early. 

The other reason why I was out very early was the small matter of sport......... Both the teams I follow (Leicester City FC & Leicester Tigers RFC) were being televised back to back on the television starting at midday. They were both massively important games that could well decide their respective fortunes for the rest of the season and I just couldn't miss them!

Once I was positioned up near the Tawny tree it was then a matter of waiting for a "show". Sadly the period of good light came and went and no owl was seen. Even though I'd missed the best light I was being treated to quite a show by a number of other species. To my left there was a small flock of circa 10 Tree Sparrows, never seen them here before, straight on was a Green Woodpecker that was busily tapping out a new nest entrance, over to my right a pair of Little Owls were calling & mating and behind me two Buzzards were making repeated visits to a tall tree with twigs and small branches, spring was definately in the air.

Eventually I was rewarded with a brief showing from a single Tawny, great views and an image I am happy with but still the good light evades me!



The Tawny didn't show for long, so I moved on a tried for some Green Woodpecker shots. These are fantastic looking birds and a species that so far I haven't managed any images of. The Landie was positioned near to the tree, I gave it half an hour and during this period it didn't return, consequently no images. However  I am very confident that once it has chicks in the nest there will be plenty of opportunities, watch this space!!

All the time whilst waiting for the Woody to return to it's tree I was constantly being distracted by the very vocal Little Owls. This pair (my site No 214) have made home in a very unusual place? Their nest tree is a very old and large pollarded Willow in the middle of a pond! I was compelled to drive over and try for some images of them, this action obviously disturbed them as they soon disappeared out of sight once I was in position. 

As I have never managed any "decent" images of the owls at this site I was prepared to invest some time to see if they would re-emerge? The wait wasn't too long, around 30 minutes before the first owl (the male) came out of hiding. Initially it kept hidden as it must have been suspicious of my presence, but in time it ventured further out and a few images were canned.


I was very lucky as the hen owl soon followed suit and came out of hiding, she seemed the most confident of the two as much better and closer views were had of her.


Whilst with them they didn't mate again, which was really the image I wanted, but I did get this image of both of them together.


My time with the owls was all too short, I needed to depart as the games I wanted to watch were soon to be on the TV.

Overall it was a great day, a good few hours birding followed by a gallon of larger. And to round off the complete day both of my teams win, oh it doesn't get much better than that!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Box maintenance.

Not much to report on from the last week or so, I have been dedicating what free time I've had to checking out my owl nest boxes. Col and have have decided that for the foreseeable future we are going to concentrate on box repairs and maintenance rather than putting up more new ones. Although the majority of boxes we already have up are in fair condition there are a number that are starting to rot on the roof. Luckily we recently acquired some old slate (from a derelict barn) and this is now being used as extra protection and should extend the life of the boxes considerably. Here below is the "team" including the two new recruits, Joe my son and Patch the Labrador doing the slate collection.


Here below is a typical example of what one of the boxes looks like once it has had its retrofit slate roof fitted. The two pieces of slate fit perfectly on top of one and other without the need to trim down the size. It is secured in position with silicon and should give the extra protection and longevity we are looking for.

   
Part of the box maintenance procedure is to check out the inside for any signs of owl activity or if any unwelcome squatters have moved in. It appears that other critters apart from owls have taken a liking to our boxes with Jackdaws and Squirrels being the main culprits. Here in this image below Col can be seen clearing out an old Jackdaw nest.  It is a very dirty task and precautions must be taken so as not to inhale the dust, I think that Col just likes being a gimp!!!

Hannibal Lecter????
During this particular weekend we had to clear out five separate boxes, two from Jackdaws and three from Squirrels. But on a positive note we came across pairs of Little Owls roosting in three separate boxes and the icing on the cake was a pair of Barn Owls roosting in another.

Whilst out one evening I managed to locate another Tawny Owl site, it was almost dark when this image was taken (which has effected the quality somewhat) but I was pleased to have captured a record shot of it. I don't know yet whether this is a roosting or breeding site, I do hope the latter.  I guess time will tell as I will be keeping an eye on it from now on.

New Tawny Owl site?

And of course no post would be complete without a couple of Little Owl images, would it? On our travels several birds were seen out and about. These two separate birds were encountered, both not too far from our nest boxes!




The next few weekends (and evenings where possible) will be spent checking out yet more boxes, we have well over a hundred up now! But time is definitely against us as the breeding season will soon be with us again. 

And finally, and as a reminder of the up and coming breeding season I will leave you with this last image of a juvenile Little Owl hiding behind a log. I have just found it on an old memory card and really like it as it's different. It was taken a couple of years ago and from memory I don't think it was ever posted on my blog so here it is.


Thanks for stopping by, see you all again soon..........

Saturday, 22 March 2014

More little un's.

The weather is starting to improve and the days are starting to draw out, spring is definitely in the air and the new breeding season is just around the corner. Getting out in the Landie at this time of year is very rewarding (almost a privileged although expensive!), especially early morning just as the day is dawning. 

Every thing is great, so what could improve matters?? I'll tell you what, a new Little Owl site (No 243) and with a very showy resident pair too! 

This latest site wasn't just accidentally stumbled upon, I have had my eye on this particular location for a while now but nothing was ever there, or at least I never saw them before. It compromises of a couple of isolated farm buildings/sheds that are only really accessible in the Landie, but unlike on previous fruitless visits this time I hit the jackpot! 

After staking the area out for an hour two birds showed in the gap at the end of the brick barn.


Initially they expressed caution and checked out the Landie from the relative security of their little hidey hole. After a while I think they realised there was no threat and they dropped down onto a lower wall. They were now very close and I had to stay as quiet as a mouse behind my camo scrim so as not to spook them. The only noise being made was from the camera shutter, they could  obviously hear it as they would occasionally turn and look right down the lens, it didn't scare them though, in fact I think they were inquisitive?


As the time passed they grew in confidence and started to use a variety of different perches. By now they almost totally ignored the Landie, just the occasional glance was made.


Although mild it was still very windy, this played into my hands as the grey clouds were soon blown away leaving an almost cloudless sky and brilliant light.


It was amazing just how blue the sky was at times, although I had to be aware of not blowing the whites in the now brilliant sunshine.



The good light also allowed me a few opportunities of capturing a few "flighty" shots, this particular aspect of photography is dammed difficult and I messed up a couple of chances but luckily I did nail a few in the end.

 
The "head on" shot of an owl in flight has to be the hardest particular image to attain, the camera and operator have to work in total synchronization,  oh and the setting have to be spot on!


The flight shot of an owl moving across (eg from left to right) is I suppose a bit easier than when one is coming straight at you, although still a tough one to capture. The light has to be really good allowing for a greater depth of field without the loss of the much needed high shutter speeds The final ingredient to capturing the perfect image is of course a lot of luck!! 


It is not often that when a new owl site is located some half decent images are captured in the same visit. Usually there has to be plenty of planning and re-visits but I guess on this occasion I just got lucky?

Thanks for visiting and catch you all again soon...............

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Still not satisfied!

I made yet another visit last night to see my latest found Tawny Owl site, sorry I know these posts are getting a bit repetitive but I still haven't as yet attained an image that I am entirely satisfied with. With the crevice facing northeast the sun sets behind the tree putting the owl into almost blackness.  So I made this latest visit later in the day than on previous occasions after the sun had set, which was good as I didn't suffer from horrid lens flair that reduces contrast and makes the image look all washed out, maybe I need a filter of some kind?? Anyhow, that then gave me other issues to deal with like lack of light! I know I don't have a very high quality lens but when the light levels are low it really comes into its own, I opened up the aperture to F3.2, (didn't go all the way to F2.8 because it goes too soft) dialed in a high ISO which still enabled a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second. The camera/lens was held rock solid on my beanbag and luckily the owl held a statue like pose, the result was definitely my best effort to date although still a bit noisy/grainy and washed out.


I WILL still be making another visit to see this owl(s) at this site as I think an early morning visit could pay dividends? I have calculated that if I was in situ at dawn there may be just a slither of sunlight on the crevice for 5-10 minutes when the sun rises. If this is the case it will make the whole task of getting an improved image much easier. All I want then is for both the owls to show together, mmmmm I don't want much then do I?

Whilst driving over the fields to see the Tawnies I passed my Little Owl site No 214. I have not seen a bird here for nearly a year. So you can imagine I was chuffed when a pair flew from low down in the Willow Tree and perched up at eye level not far from the Landie. So just to give this post a bit of variety here below is a heavily cropped image of one of the Little Owls in the setting sun.


Thanks for visiting, see you all soon!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Sitting Pretty!

The lure to go back and visit my latest found owl sight was just too much, even though I was suffering with a hangover (a heavy stag do the night before) I battled through feeling lethargic and ignored the pounding head and went out. As it happens the fresh air did me wonders and once the owls showed all evidence of my self inflicted aliments were soon forgotten. 

Although it was late in the day and time was of the essence it proved to be a short but successful trip. Unlike on the previous occasion where I had to wait nearly three hours for the owls to show this time I waited only 30 minutes and then I was blessed as both owls showed side by side in the crevice.  


Getting the correct exposure proved very tricky indeed, the sun was setting low behind the tree which put the birds in almost complete blackness, but a bit of over exposure, high ISO and some post editing made the final image a bit grainy but one that I am more than happy with, oh happy days!!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Two for the price of one!

On more occasions than I care to remember I have come away from a particular location (usually an owl site) after investing many hours without even a sighting let alone any images. I thought that was going to be the case again on my most recent excursion out, I went and set up near to a new Tawny Owl site that was first located only last week. My time in wait was exactly 2 hours 57 minutes but I was well rewarded when the action finally happened, not one but two Tawny Owls showed in the crevice. 


I am well chuffed with this latest contribution to my Tawny Owl portfolio, not very often you get to see two together! It won't be long before these guys get down to the business of breeding, I do hope they use this particular location as it is very quiet and off the beat and track which will make the viewing superb.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Unleash the beast!

This particular post title makes reference to the "beast" being my Landrover! After 6 long months standing idle on my driveway (no tax!) it has now passed its MOT and is now legally back on the road, and raring to go. It is an exciting time for me because the landie allows me to go to places that otherwise would not be accessible and haven't been visited for well over six months! If they are accessible the intended quarry doesn't usually get to be seen because the element of disguise that the landie offers is just not there!

My very first outing in the landie was over to one of my favourite Little Owl sites near to the village of Enderby. This site has a proven track record of being very reliable for owl sightings but one has to be in the landie otherwise nothing is ever seen! And right bang on form, after being parked up for no more than five minutes the resident pair of Little Owls showed themselves. They didn't venture away from the nest entrance but good to see they made it through the winter, again! 

The hen owl, site No 88.


The male owl, site No 88

The male owl again, site No 88. Being quite vocal.




During my first venture out in the landie of 2014 I was not alone? Keeping me company was my new (and very excited) buddy. He is four years old and his name is Patch. He was acquired a few weeks ago from a couple who had just retired and were moving back to America. Patch is a very obedient and well trained  dog and has settled in very nicely. I think he and I are destined to spend many hours together out in the landie and no doubt he will be featuring on my blog again!

Patch, in his mobile kennel. What a handsome chap!
So Patch and I made our second site visit to an area near to South Wigston. I was eager to re-visit this area because during my last visit back in September 2013 disaster had struck? During high winds the nest site was destroyed rendering the Little Owl's at site No 105 homeless. This was my first visit since then and I was eager to see if the owls were still holding their old territory? 

Firstly we visited the old nest tree, my fears were confirmed when the damage was witnessed, even worse than I recalled. A huge limb had fallen from high above smashing the nest entrance wide open leaving nothing more than a gaping hole that a space hopper could fit into. Do you remember the space hopper? Amazing how much fun you could have with a big orange ball with antennas!. 

After further inspection of the carnage there was no evidence of any owl activity, had they survived the ordeal and if so where were they now? There were two other likely nearby trees that could be candidates for a re-location, so they were checked out. The landie was relocated adjacent to the first tree and with good light behind I checked it out through my binoculars. BINGO!!! After five seconds of scanning the tree a Little Owl was spotted. Now this owl didn't seem to be fazed out by the presence of the landie, it appeared to be quite relaxed. This was excellent news because the male owl from the decimated site was one of the most confiding owls that I know. He was use to the landie and at times would allow me to drive within just a few meters of him! I was confident that this was the same owl, so a quick manoeuvre to a nearer and more advantageous position for a photo was undertaken, the owl remained in the same spot, (presumably the new nest entrance) I am now very confident it was him!

Male owl - site No 105.
Although the male owl at this site is extremely confiding the hen owl is totally the opposite. She has always been shy and usually keeps hidden away. For this reason I pulled back and observed from a position further away, after a while she too showed herself (too far for an image). So both owls had survived the ordeal of the previous nest site being destroyed, excellent news.

After leaving the owls I decided to have a drive around this particular area, it seemed an age since I was last here and it's always nice to reacquaint yourself with a favoured area. During this drive about  I spotted a Green Sandpiper flitting along an old storm drain. Because I don't have any "decent" images of this species I decided to invest some time and give it a go. I positioned the landie paralell to the storm drain near to where it was being bathed in glorious morning sunshine. 

Whilst waiting for the Sandpiper to come close I was entertained by a trio of Grey Wagtails, a couple of images were captured, but the quality has been lost somewhat because of their relative small size and heavy crops.

Grey Wagtail
 
Balancing act - Grey Wagtail
 It was a long wait, but finally my two hour endurance paid off when the Sandpiper finally settled on the wall right in front of me!

Green Sandpiper - South Wigston
Green Sandpiper
Without doubt the best ever Green Sandpiper views I've ever had, well worth investing the time waiting for it to come close, using the landie as a hide paid off yet again!

Patch and I then moved on, he'd been a good boy and never made a murmur all the time we waited, he was well overdue a comfort break and a bit of a run. Here he is again enjoying having a splash about!

 
My next planned visit out in the landie is to start my monitoring all the owl nest boxes, some of them are now looking worse for wear and desperately in need of some maintenance, but Col and I have a plan, but that will be next time........

See you all soon!