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!!!

Friday, 29 August 2014

It's been a while......

Hi again all!!

As the blog title suggests it has been an age since my last post, in fact 7 whole weeks! I haven't checked back but would have thought this is my longest period of non-posting since I started all those years ago?

It has been such a hectic and demanding year with the Barn Owl box program, so when it was finally all over I was completely burnt out. I suppose it was too much of a good thing really and my appetite had waned somewhat. So rather than do nothing  I've had a refreshing change of direction and have been chilling out for the last few weeks with my main focus just being general birding and trying to get my year list up, oh of course there has also been a  little bit of owling mixed in too!

So this post is a quick catch up with the things I've been doing, places visited and species seen.

My last post was back on the 11th July where I spent some time at a monitored Little Owl site that had two fledged juveniles. I made a re-visit on the evening of the 12th in an attempt to capture an image of the two juveniles together, I failed miserably in my task with the only activity being the occasional opening of one eye from a snoozing owl, below.

  
The next evening Col and I met up with Mick Townsend (our ringing trainer) to visit and ring the Barn Owl chicks at a site in Willoughby Waterleys. As it turned out this was to be the last ringing of the year with the local Barn Owls as none of the other successful sites went on to have a second brood, or none that we know of?  

This site had two chicks in the box and Col and I can be seen with them before being safely returned.

Colin
Yours truly!
It was our most successful year with the breeding Barn Owls in the monitored area. In previous years there had only been a miserly one or two breeding pairs, but this year we had 7 pairs, at least! Six of these pairs used boxes that had been erected in the last few years resulting in 23 fledged juveniles. Sadly only 21 of these birds were rung due to one site having restricted access, the farmer changed his mind about allowing us on his land!!  There has also been regular sightings of Barn Owls at SEVEN other locations (all with boxes) but after frequent visits and extensive searches in each vicinity the breeding sites (if there was one) could not be located?

We are now keeping our fingers crossed for a mild winter and the existing adult birds and fledged juveniles survive and hang around to set up territories and breed next year, there's still enough spare boxes for them!

Mid July found me enjoying a family holiday up in Scarborough, I managed to sneak away on a few occasions where I was able to keep my year list ticking over nicely. On the first evening we walked along the cliff top near to our accommodation and came across this family of nesting Kittiwakes, a nice surprise!

Kittiwakes
I also spent some very relaxing time up on the North Yorks moors searching for Merlin and Ringed Ouzel (neither of which were seen). There wasn't many photo opportunities but plenty of other species were ticked off the year list including Curlew, Golden Plover and Red Grouse. 

Red Grouse - juvenile and adult
On the moors I came across many small flocks of Meadow Pipits, I spent quite a lot of time near these birds thinking it would be a good spot for an incoming hunting Merlin........I was wrong!

Meadow Pipit
On July 24th Col and I visited Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire for the day. Again there were plenty of year ticks to be had including; Little Stint, Spotted Red-shank, Curlew Sandpiper, Avocet, Glossy Ibis, Black-Tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot and Wimbrel. Although the viewing was good sadly the majority of the species were just too far away for images. 

Avocet

Black-Tailed Godwit
Ruff
On the 27th I got the Landrover out and visited one of my favoured local area's near to Wigston. A private piece of land that has a storm drain culvert running through the centre of it, the culvert runs into the river Sence and at this point I have had a few nice surprises over the years, Oyster Catcher, Common and Green Sandpipers, Wheatear, Stonechat, Yellow Wagtail, Kingfisher and of course Little Owl. 

I positioned myself adjacent to where the culvert and the river converge and waited. Initially there wasn't a lot happening with the only highlight being the shoal of large Chub feeding in the shallows of the river, I would estimate the larger two fish being the the 4lb bracket.  

Feeding Chub.

Eventually I had my first bird species, a young Grey Wagtail. It kept me company for 10 minutes or so whilst it flitted about feeding on gnats and fly's. 

Grey Wagtail
My second visitor was a Swallow, it landed on the barb wire fence right next to the Landrover.

Swallow

Then I joined by something considerably larger, a Grey Heron was stalking its way through the grass towards the river, maybe after the fish?

Grey Heron
Whilst I waited for the heron to make its way down to the water's edge another movement caught my eye. It was a Little Owl and it was perched upon a fence post just the other side of the culvert. It had what I think was a headless mouse/shrew in its talons. It gave me the "stare" for a few fleeting seconds before being flushed by the ever approaching Grey Heron.

Little Owl
In all the commotion the Heron also too took flight not to be seen again during this visit. Things then quietened down and I waited for the next visitor. 

Then something really got my attention, I could hear an unusual bird call coming from the vicinity of the line of Popular trees (18 in total) that  run along side the river. At first I thought I was hearing things and it was just a trick of the imagination?? I listened and again it called, the only bird call that I know of that sounded anything like what I was hearing was a Golden Oriel!!!!! This was very exciting so I opted to move the Landrover nearer to the row of trees (and away from the culvert and noise pollution as it  could have been distorting matters). After re-positioning myself all was initially quiet, but then I heard it again and again, I honestly can't think of any other species that would make such a call???  It would call every 10 minutes or so (sometimes louder than others) but I just couldn't see it! The call (when at its loudest or nearest) seemed to be coming from very up high in the trees, I knew that this would be a very good find for the county but I needed firstly to see it and then hopefully photograph it before I put any news out, I needed to be sure.  Then through frustration I moved further away from the trees so as to see if I could detect any movement up high in the canopy. The calling got less and less frequent until over two hours went by and I heard nothing! In total I spent 5 hours frantically trying to locate it and I never did, oh what a good find that would have been!

The next day I returned to the same site, again I put in some hours near to the Popular Trees but on this occasion I didn't hear the call again, I guess it will always be a nearly thing?

On August 4th I again visited the newly named  "Golden Oriel" site at Wigston, it was the same result as the last visit no Oriel heard and definitely nothing seen. Whilst there I drove further into the complex and parked up near to one of my Little Owl sites. At least here I got a bit of action, firstly one of the adult owls was located perched up on one of its favoured branches. But things then got interesting when a posse of Magpies came marauding along the hedgerow. They spotted the Little Owl and seemed intent on "having a go" until the continued harassment scared it off.

Little Owl being bullied by a Magpie

A show of aggression towards the Magpie
A juvenile was spotted from within the relative safety of a nearby Willow Tree, it wasn't bothered about me, it was hiding from the Magpies!

Hiding Juvenile Little Owl.
A second juvenile was also located in another nearby Willow tree. This guy allowed me to drive up quite close and posed nicely for an image.

2nd Juvenile Little Owl.
My most recent outing out was again to knock off a few year ticks and this time I was over at Rutland Water. Here Red-necked Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Osprey and Spotted Crake were added taking my year list to 159 different species.

Whilst in one of the hides a family of Spotted Flycatchers were seen feeding in a nearby bush, too good an opportunity to miss and a couple of images of one of the juveniles were captured.  

Spotted Flycatcher - Juvenile

Spotted Flycatcher - Juvenile
So that is it folks, we are now up to date.

Hopefully it won't be too long before I publish my next post.

Catch up soon and thanks for dropping by!

Friday, 11 July 2014

An hour with an owl......

I am currently very fortunate that a number of my monitored Little Owl sites now have fledged juveniles. At the majority of these sites I have to be satisfied with distant views, but still good to see. However, one particular site (No 42) not far from the village of Kirkby Mallory has offered some very close views indeed! 

The parent owls here have successfully bred in one of my boxes for the last four consecutive years, but due to where the nest tree is located (in the middle of a field) getting near for juvenile images has proved to be almost impossible. This year the fledged juveniles (I have seen 2 so far) have taken up temporary residence in a Rabbit burrow! This burrow is situated under a Gorse bush alongside the track leading up to the farm, they obviously feel safe here whilst they wait for the parents to come in and feed them.  Although owls have an inbred fear of humans in their DNA the same can't be said for a whacking great car parked up no further than 20 feet from them! 

This first image below was taken from out of the car window at a focal length of 120mm, hopefully it gives a feel for the general location and the owls bolt hole?


Normally on my blog I attempt to keeps thing varied by not reproducing similar looking images, it is difficult to keep offering something different but I do find loads of similar images repetitive and boring, however in this instance I am going to make an acceptance to my own rule.

During the hour I spent parked up adjacent to the "owl burrow" not a lot happened and it was quite boring really, or at least whilst there that is what I thought. But now I have had time to assess the images I now think they are a little different. Yes the owl spent nearly all the time sat on its little perch, but there was various expressions and poses so I have decided to share.

An alert owl watching the world go by.
A bit of wing stretching.
A bit more wing stretching and one legged balancing.

Inquisitive!
Having a scratch!
A quick snooze.

A bit of company
Going for a wander
Getting vocal
Hopefully a bit more variety in my next post, thanks for stopping by.

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

Monday, 7 July 2014

And they are off!

In my previous post I concluded with a snippet about how I was attempting to capture some video footage of the Barn Owls at one of my breeding box sites. My buddy Adey very kindly lent me his Bushnell Trophy Cam and it was very much trial and error to begin with. It took seven consecutive evenings of tweaking until I'd finally got the camera positioned in the correct place in order to capture what I was after. On two occasions the batteries went flat on me (sensitivity set too high and all I got was a piece of Ivy swaying in the wind!). On another occasion I forgot to turn the camera on, and another visit I even forgot to insert the memory card, what a plonker! Anyway god loves a trier and after trying several different camera positions and alternative methods of holding the camera I eventually captured some footage, and apparently it was just in time too!

Here below is an image of the final set up that worked, the camera was mounted on a pair of telescopic fishing poles that took it up the required 10 feet that made it level with the box .Yes it does look as though the camera is very close to the box and could cause an obstruction for the incoming adult birds as they fly in. But it is an optical illusion, the camera was set six feet away and caused no problems at all.


Once the camera is set up correctly it will detect any motion and then start to record for the pre-set duration, in this case 20 seconds. It can still record during the night via the use of infrared although the quality of the footage is not too good. In this first recording two of the juveniles can be seen out of the box practicing their wing flapping. 

video

If you look carefully in this second clip one of the birds can be seen with a vole in its beak, sadly the parent owl wasn't captured coming in and out, it must have been too quick!

video

Nothing too spectacular about this third piece of footage apart from it is good to compare the quality as it was taken in the middle of the day. 

video

As it turned out this was my last chance to capture these two particular juveniles on video as later on that evening when the camera was collected I took the opportunity to check the box and they had fledged! I had a quick look around in the nearby bushes and trees but they were not located, so it is now fingers crossed they manage to survive and in time they with help to populate the local Barn Owl population.

Catch up with you all soon..............

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A morning of Juveniles.

Getting out of late has proved difficult, too busy doing other day to day chores and other family commitments taking priority. However, I did manage to sneak a few hours to myself over the weekend and managed to latch onto some recently fledged individuals of the "hooked bill" variety! 

Firstly a bird that I have never really had any good close up views of, the Peregrine Falcon. I have seen plenty of them over the years but they have always had a knack of eluding me when it comes to attaining any usable images. So when I heard through the birding grapevine of four recently fledged juveniles that were quite "showy" I just had to investigate further, especially as they were only a few miles from home. 

My main aim was to see if I could get some flight shots, so armed with my trusty 300mm F2.8 lens and great light levels I was confident that with a bit of luck I could achieve my objective, so as long as the birds were still there? I know the site in question very well and if I was to get the shots I was after it was going to be an early morning visit because of the direction of the sun. 

I arrived at the "secret" location at about 6.30am and it took all of 10 seconds before I spotted the first bird, then another and another, the three of them were perched up in a distant dead tree. The next 30 minutes offered nothing different other than the 3 falcons sitting in a distant tree! Then the distinctive calls of adult birds was heard, I honed in on their calls and finally they were spotted up high circling around. And for the duration of my stay that was pretty much how it stayed, adults circling around and the three juveniles in the tree, all too far away, doough!! However, there was a fourth juvenile at this site and that bird proved to be my savior, it was spotted perched on the roof apex of a nearby building and there it too stayed all the while I was there. Initially I wasn't able to get that close so I had to be satisfied with distant shots (albeit my best ever of this species) that still had to be consequently cropped, below.

Peregrine Falcon - Juvenile
I was able to get nearer to the bird on the roof but the steep viewing angle only allowed for a head shot.  


In total I spent a good hour with the Peregrine family before I opted to move on. At the next location I was on the trail of Little Owls, the weather was just perfect, (IE no wind and very bright) to hopefully discover a fledged owlet or two perched up sun bathing. 

A couple of different sites did produce some owl sightings but too distant to capture an image. At the third site, I investigated an old dilapidated Ash Tree that in the past has proven to be a good breeding site for Little Owls. Before I got too close I scanned the tree through my binoculars and what came into view was a bit of a surprise, poking their heads out of the nest hole were not Little Owls but four Kestrels!!

I made my way closer to the tree trying to be as quiet and as inconspicuous as possible, not easy in the Landrover! Before I'd even got even halfway to the tree the young Kestrels took to the wing, obviously I wasn't inconspicuous enough! One of the Kestrels did return to the tree but it kept partially hidden behind the Ivy, below.

Recently fledged Kestrel.
For the duration of the morning I did see juvenile Little Owls "out of the nest" at another 7 different sites, but only the one site offered a "usable" image below.

Little Owl - Juvenile
As any regular visitors/readers of this blog will know I am currently in the midst of the best ever breeding year for the local Barn Owls. So I have set myself a task to capture some video footage at one of the nest boxes. My mate Adey has very kindly lent me his Bushnell Trophy Cam, this brilliant piece of equipment has the ability to "see in the dark" and once it detects movement it then records it! It will be strategically positioned at the selected site with the aim of capturing either the parents coming in with feed or the young owls leaving the box, watch this space...........

Thanks for dropping by, catch up soon!

Paul.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Evening Tawny Watching.......

For a couple of evenings in the last week or so I taken a break from checking on the development of the local breeding Barn Owls, instead I opted to go and see if I could find some Tawnies. 

The Tawny Owl is the earliest breeder of the British Owls and of the five sites I have been monitoring closely this spring the juveniles have all now fledged their relative nest sites. However, just because they have fledged the nest it doesn't necessarily mean they have moved away from the general breeding territory? Finding them is a tough task on its own as they tend to keep well hidden in the high dense branches of a nearby tree, but I had a plan! Like most fledged owls, Tawny Owl youngsters can give away their presence by way of their begging call when hungry. So it was just a case of parking up in the general vicinity of a breeding site and waiting until they started to beg.

At the first site I visited it was possibly at little early in the day at 8.00pm for the young owls to be making their begging calls, I failed in seeing or even hearing a young bird, maybe they had already moved on to pastures new? As consolation one of the adult owls did put in a brief appearance, it appeared out of the dense undergrowth and landed on a steel fence post. 


It sat on the post for a few fleeting seconds before moving up higher into an exposed branch in a nearby tree and then that was that, it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared!


At another site I was again in situ in the Landrover around 8.30pm, it didn't take too long before I heard the tell-tail begging call of a young owl. It sounded like it was coming from a small spinney on the opposite side to where I was viewing. I clambered across onto the passenger seat and opened the window, the begging call was now very loud. I then had 30 minutes of frustration as the begging calls transformed into hallowing screeches, I think the young bird was demanding to be fed! I'd had enough of this as I still hadn't made a sighting, so I decided to get out and have a look.  I crept around the back of the small spinney and entered via a small track. As the wooded area was only about the size of half a tennis court surely I'd see something?

Adult Tawny Owl
I gingerly made my way into the now darkening wooded area trying desperately not to stand on any twigs, on my first glance up I spotted an adult owl straight away. It was staring back down at me as it held it's "you can't see me" posture. It held its nerve and didn't move, this gave me a great opportunity to grab an image through the leaves and branches. 

Then the silence was broken as a juvenile started to beg again, it wasn't easy to see at first but after a re-position I could see up into the canopy and make it out perched above the adult bird. This was probably it's first ever encounter with a human being and constantly moved its head around in an inquisitive motion. I managed an image and then moved away leaving them both where I'd found them.

Juvenile Tawny Owl
At the third site I had some more success, here two juveniles were heard and then seen in and around a small group of Willow Trees. Frustratingly I never managed an image of either of them but I did however grab an image of one of the adult owls as it appeared in the Willows with some prey in its beak. 

Adult Tawny and dinner.
As you can image once the adult owl came in with this prey (not sure what it is, a rat possibly?) all hell was let loose with both of the juvenile owls scrapping and squabbling for their dinner. Sadly because of the low light and slow shutter speed none of the resultant images were any good!  

A great few evenings with some smashing views, really good that the local Tawnies seem to have had a really good breeding season.

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

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Barn Owls are..........BOOMING!!!

A couple of nights ago was the evening that would tell if all the hard work Col & I have put into our local Barn Owl project had been worth it? We were joined by Mike Townsend, our local ringing guru and trainer and off we went to visit four different box locations.

Our first stop was a private site near to the village of Blaby, the nest box here is the only active one we have where it is not situated in a building of some type, in this instance it is mounted north facing on an Ash tree. We knew that a few weeks ago the hen owl was sitting tight on six eggs so expectations were very high indeed! Over the previous few years we have become accustomed to a bit of cannibalism with Barn Owls where the elder chicks eat the younger ones, well that's nature I suppose. So when we opened the box and discovered there were four very healthy chicks inside we were more than happy, a really great result!

Blaby Area - Barn Owls
As can be seen from the image above, three of the chicks are almost the same size, almost peas in a pod but the youngest (on the left) seems to be a few days behind its elder siblings. Its facial disc isn't as well developed nor did it have the same advancement with its pin feathers showing. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the youngest is now large enough not to end us as a meal for one of it's brothers! All four chicks were soon rung and returned safely to the box, but not before we had a quick family portrait that nicely shows off their punk hair styles.

Col ringing
The second site we visited was not far from the village of Gilmorton, the box here is again on a private site and located in a brick barn. Again we had a super result with another four healthy chicks (3 large & 1 smaller) from the original six eggs laid, strangely the statistics of eggs laid, chicks reared and their apparent age's seems to have mirror the owls from the Blaby site. These owlets can be seen here nestled in the grass after being rung and before being safely return to the box.

Gilmorton Area - Barn Owls
The third site of the evening was not far from the village of Fleckney, we knew we were not going to make it a hat trick of consecutive sites with four chicks because they only had three eggs on our last visit. But when it comes to a ratio of eggs laid and chicks reared this site has done the best. The three chicks here are not quite as developed as the previous sites they were coming on nicely. The three of them can be seen here in this next image sitting in the back of my Landrover awaiting their turn to be rung.

Fleckney Area - Barn Owls
The last Barn Owl site we visited was not far from the village of Arnesby, again a private site with the box in an old building. Again the statistics were almost identical to the first two sites, initially six eggs were laid and now the box is brimming with four very healthy looking chicks. The one main difference though compared to the first two sites is there didn't seem to be any great difference in the development/size of these chicks

Mike and the owls.
As can be seen in this next image the four birds are almost at the same development stage. They really were very well behaved and posed nicely for the camera.

Arnesby Area - Barn Owls
Before we safely returned the owls to the box Col wanted to take an image of me with one of the owlets, whilst I posed waiting for the camera to click the owlet decided it was going to have a wing flapping session and consequently I got a good whack in the face!!

WHACK!!!!!

What a beauty!!!
We wouldn't have dared predict these very positive results this time last year when all we were doing was either finding dead owls or having reports of others finding them. The terrible weather was the main culprit and we thought that the development of our Barn Owl project had been wound back four years to when there was only one known breeding pair in our study area. 2014 is fast turning into our best year yet for Barn Owl returns and to already have four successful breeding pairs with 15 chicks is brilliant and very rewarding. But it may not finish there as there could well be more to come?? We know of one more site that has a least five eggs and two other sites, possibly three that I continue to monitor where things are starting to develop and occupancy and breeding may well be proven in the near future?

Many thanks again to Mike for taking the time out to come and ring our owls and a massive thanks to all the land owners/farmers who very gracefully allow me access to their land whilst monitoring the owls.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing with me this very satisfying Barn Owl period...........

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Poser.....

I made another visit last night to the local Barn Owl site to see if it would show as well as it did the night before. I wasn't disappointed either, at 7.10pm it emerged and hunted the field for a good hour or two. It only really came close just the once but I did have brilliant views as it posed for me on a post near to where I'd parked the Landrover.


Only a short post this one, catch up with you all soon.........


Thursday, 5 June 2014

A hunting master class......

It has been absolutely ages since I had the pleasure of having a good session watching a Barn Owl, in fact I think the last one was in Norfolk at the end of 2012. So to have witnessed one this evening out hunting in Leicestershire and in good light too was a real bonus!

Most of the time it stayed distant, circa a 100 yards or so but on the odd occasion it did fly a little nearer and on two occasions it actually landed on a post that was quite close by.


Myself and the local landowner watched from a crouched position next to my car as it hunted his field for a good 30 minutes. In this time we saw it make five dives into the long grass and on three occasions it came up successfully with a vole, not a bad ratio at all!


In between each successful catch it would disappear out of sight, no doubt to take its bounty back to the brood of chicks that were waiting in its nearby nest box.


At times the setting sun broke through the clouds which then threw a beautiful golden hue onto the owl and surrounding area.


Who needs to go all the way to Norfolk to witness such a marvelous display of hunting agility, all this and only a 5 minute drive from home!!

Catch up soon, thanks for stopping by!!!