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!!!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

An owl for a change......

I have been very neglectful lately with my owls, I have put some effort in to finding some but to be quite honest it is all too easy to give up and get drawn back to the Kingfishers, ooooo I love em!! Anyway, my good friend and fellow owling buddy Richard Pegler has been dropping a few subtle hints in the comments he leaves on my blog asking when will I be getting back to my owls?

So just for you Richard this post features an owl!! 

Earlier today I was in-between customer visits in the south of the county, I was travelling through a semi-wooded area along a country lane when a Tawny Owl flew across in front of the car. It was nice to see but I wasn't really that bothered about pursuing its whereabouts. I then had a flash back to Richards recent comments so I pulled up as soon as it was safe and reversed up into a nearby gateway. The binoculars and camera were soon out of the boot and it wasn't long before I was onto the owl. 

The bird was around 20 yards away and partially hidden by undergrowth and over hanging branches. However, I did managed a few record shots out of the car window of this new Tawny Owl site. 

I tried to "squeak" the owl out into the open for a chance of a better image but it was having none of it and stayed put. After 20 minutes I gave up waiting and continued on with my journey. 

Later after work I made a detour on my way home and re-visited the same location again, the light wasn't very good as it was getting late, but I'd got nothing to lose and surely it was worth a try? (a bit more effort on my behalf Richard ;-) !!). I parked up in the same gateway and "squeaked" again. This time I had a bit more success when the owl showed again, it started to call which confirmed to me it was a male bird. Remarkably it only took a few minutes before the owl flew closer and landed in a tree right next to the car. 

The photographic conditions were dire, 6:02pm and almost dark meant I had to adjust the settings to ISO 2000, F2.8 and only then I was able to achieve a miserly 1/20 of a second shutter speed. I only managed a handful of images before the bird was spooked by the noise of the camera shutter but at least I'd bagged a couple of usable images from this new site.

Yes it was good to get back in the company of an owl again, very refreshing in fact! So thanks must go to Richard for reminding me that putting in a little effort does sometimes reap the rewards.

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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

What the camera saw.......

Since the finding of my second Kingfisher site just down the road from where I live my first site has almost been ignored. It wasn't a difficult decision really when you compare the amount of time invested (sitting waiting in the Landie) verses the rewards (Kingfisher sightings). In addition to the more frequent sightings the fact that the light direction at the second site is far more favorable for photography and also the distance involved in driving is half a mile compared to five miles, yes a major consideration when the Landie only does 12 miles to the gallon!

At my second site I was around 90% sure that I was seeing two different Kingfishers, both juvenile hen birds? After reviewing loads of images I noticed that one bird had a very pale lower breast feathers, a smaller orange patch on the lower mandible and slightly different light blue markings on its back. There was obviously always an element of doubt in my mind but these thoughts were finally confirmed when this next sequence of images were obtained. 

I was busily taking images of a Kingfisher on a nearby perch, as I was watching it through the camera viewfinder it started acting very strange indeed. It crouched low on the branch, opened its wings and beak and gestured aggressively up stream whilst calling. 

Needless to say I hadn't witnessed this kind of behavior before so I just kept rattling off the images. Within fractions of a second the Kingfisher disappeared out of my view finer and off down the river. It was this lapse in the action that gave me an opportunity to review the images I'd just captured. What greeted me in one single frame was a total shock........two birds!! 

Sadly I wasn't prepared for this incredibly fast piece of action and my camera settings at the time were not able to freeze the action without the motion blur and nor was I able to have them both properly in focus, dooough!! 

But I do think the image is just about usable so I thought I'd share.......

However, what it has done for me is to be able to confirm 100% that indeed there are two birds present along this stretch of the river and yes they are both hen birds. It has also enabled me to achieve another one of my goals of an image of two birds together and in flight, well sort of?

Just a quick post

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

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kingfishers on the doorstep.....

Yes yes I know, the Kingfishers are getting a bit repetitive now and this blog is suppose to be mainly about owls, but currently I can't find any? At the moment here in Leicestershire we are experiencing a very wet and windy period, all I can say is the owls don't like it and have gone to ground! Therefore, rather than pursue a species (owls) that don't want to be seen at the moment I thought I'd go and watch one that does......the Kingfishers.

In my previous post I introduce you to my new and second Kingfisher site, it was accidentally found when I had a wander down to the local river in my Landrover. I have now made my second visit and it was with a bit of purpose. After making the tiresome 2 minute drive I set about rummaging through the undergrowth looking for some suitable branches to erect as hunting perches for the Kingfishers. The branches I sought needed to be, A) long enough to hang out over the water, B) not too heavy otherwise securing them to the bank is a problem and, C) they had to look nice! 

I went about my task and after half an hour I'd scavenged a couple of branches that fitted the bill. Now all I had to do was decide where to erect them? This stretch of the river where I can access it in my Landrover is around 500 yards, but only on one bank. Initially there is a confluence of the main river and a small brook, after they merge they meander through a small copse and then off along the side of a crop field. There are five overgrown Willow Trees that offer good cover and natural hunting locations for the Kingfishers but for photographic reasons they are far too snaggy. In between two of the Willows is a straight section of around fifty yards, it was between these two trees that I selected. My reasoning was that the birds would have plenty of time to see my branches hanging out over the water no matter which direction they were flying. The o in and the major influencing factor was the light levels were pretty good here too. 

I am not going to apologies for posting yet more Kingfisher images, I am having a whale of a time (if sometimes frustrating) with this very challenging species.

A very short post as my time is better employed camped out on the riverbank waiting for the Kingfishers to put in an appearance, catch up with ya all later! 

Monday, 13 October 2014

More Kingfishers......

Hi all,

Sadly nothing to report on the local owling front, I've visited some local sites where breeding took place in the spring that held Tawnies, Barnies and Little Owls but no sightings have been made at all?

So rather than spend time seeing nothing I was drawn back to my Kingfisher site at South Wigston. Four separate three hour sessions resulted in plenty of fly by birds but hardly a stop off where I'd parked up. The only time I had any quality views was when one of the males obliged and used my perch as a fishing post. It initially landed and spent the next few minutes preening itself, then without notice it dived into the water below and returned back to the same perch with its catch, a small Stickleback.

Kingfisher (male) with Stickleback.
Watching it use my perch was very rewarding in itself, and I was well chuffed with the Stickleback capture and image, but then things improved somewhat, it dived again into the river only this time it emerged with a different fish species altogether, a Bullhead I think?

Although I didn't realise at the time the Kingfisher had actually speared the Bullhead with its mandible, the lower in the fish's side and the upper right between the eyes, ouch!!

As you can probably make out from the last image above it was raining at the time which meant lower light and slower shutter speeds. A real shame as I'd captured loads of images of the Kingfisher slapping the fish against the perch (to kill it before being consumed) but at only 1/500 of a second it wasn't enough to freeze the action and consequently they were at different levels of being blurred, examples below.......

It was inevitable that the "action" wasn't going to last for long and as anticipated the Kingfisher soon departed. The next few hours were spent again watching a lifeless river......

On my way back home I took a quick detour down a track that leads to the local river, just to have a look really. Whilst down there I had a flash of blue whiz past the Landrover, I couldn't believe it there were Kingfishers here on my doorstep!! The bird in question landed in a riverside Willow Tree, I watch it through my binoculars as it dived into the water on a couple of occasions coming up with a catch both times, could it be a favoured fishing perch? I waited until it flew off and then positioned the Landrover parallel to the river and adjacent to the Willow Tree. I didn't have to wait long either before the bird returned, this time it landed on a small branch on the other side of the river, here it held a very erect posture, maybe it was checking me out? 

So this image below is my very first of a Kingfisher from my No 2 site, it's quite a heavy crop but what can be clearly seen is the orange the the lower mandible meaning it to be a female bird. It also has quite "dirty brown" feet rather than bright pink which suggests it is a juvenile. 

Female - Kingfisher site No 2
For the next hour I was captivated watching this young bird as it flitted around in front of me, occasionally it would stop for a few seconds to fish.  It came quite close to me at times and with the much improved light a few more images were captured.

To say I am over the moon that I have discovered this Kingfisher territory so local to home is a gross understatement!! It only takes me 2 minutes to drive there rather than the 15 minutes to my initial No 1 Kingfisher site and the bird here seems to tolerate the close presence of the Landrover. 

Obviously I am now going to dedicate some time to this "on my doorstep" new site, I think that the overall layout of the river and the lower height of the banks lends itself better for maybe attaining a decent flight shot and two birds together than my No 1 site does, time will tell?

Thanks for stopping off

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

Thursday, 2 October 2014

My Blue Phase....

I am addicted, just like the time when I was out watching and taking photo's of my first Little Owls, I am referring to my latest mini project with the Kingfishers. Spending time down by the river watching these engaging creatures has captivated me in a way I never thought possible. 

Its a very tough task though, sometimes I can lie in wait for as long as five hours without even a sighting, but on other times they show within minutes of arriving. Either way when you get a one settle on a nearby perch and start fishing is great reward in itself.  However, to get one come so close and in good light too was just brilliant, all the time waiting is soon forgotten. 

I have selected this one image (above) from dozens I have so far captured, it was one of those times when everything was perfect. The light was brilliant, the defused background with subtle autumnal shades being very complementary and the bird held the perfect pose on a natural perch only a few meters away. 

Still haven't managed a flight shot yet (well not one I am happy with) and I have seen two birds together on several different occasions now so that image may not be too far away either?

Just a quick post, catch up again soon........

Sunday, 21 September 2014


It has taken what seems to have been hundreds of hours down at the riverside, but eventually I have succeeded in achieving my second objective, an image of the Kingfisher with its catch! I was onsite again at first light on Saturday morning, I set up at my "new location" on the bend but after two hours it was a fruitless exercise with only one fly past. 

I reluctantly decided to re-locate back to the original area where I'd had some relative success. After my re-position the bird showed after a wait of 1 minute and sixteen seconds, I know the exact time because "saddo" here set his stopwatch to see how long the wait would be? What made matters even more rewarding was it landed on one of the perches that I'd erected during an earlier visit. 

Initially the Kingfisher just sat there on my perch watching the world go by, but then it was flushed as a Sparrowhawk sped by in pursuit of one of the Green Sandpipers (there's three of them here now). The Sandpiper displayed far too much agility as it evaded the pursuing Sparrowhawk with ease.

I took the opportunity when the Sparrowhawk flew through to move the Landrover slightly, I wanted to get into a position where I was looking along the Kingfisher perch rather than across it. It wasn't long before the Kingfisher was spotted again just down the river, it was perched up on a bank side bush and from here it made a successful dive into the water and emerged with a catch. Then rather than fly back to bush where it had come from it opted to land on my perch, yeeeessssss!!!

Needless to say my camera went into overdrive as I rattled off a sequence of  40 images whilst the Kingfisher bashed the poor little fish (a Minnow I think?) against the branch. But because of the low light my shutter speeds of 1/400th were too low to capture the action shots. Sadly the majority of these images had too much motion blur and are not usable, example below.

However, I'd thankfully got my exposure levels just about when the bird remained still and a few images turned out to be OK, thank goodness!

Only two more objectives to go before this "mini project" will come to a conclusion, a flight shot and a pair of Kingfishers together, mmmmm there could still be a long while to go?

Thanks for stopping by,

catch up soon.........

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A change of attack.

My Kingfisher project was starting to drive me potty, after many hours spent at what I thought was the perfect location it has now proven not to be! Yes the bird occasionally stops off, and quite close at times with the resultant images being almost exactly what I set out to achieve, but having it settled on a more natural perch would be the icing on the cake. But frustratingly it won't settle on the perches I'd like it to, so I've had to review the amount of time invested verses the rewards and with reluctance I went back to the drawing board and started again.

This meant I had to survey the river again and find a more suitable spot, the biggest problem with that was finding an area where I could get the Landrover down to the waters edge, the banks are so high. The area also needed to have the light coming from the right direction, the backgrounds needed to be considered too, and most importantly it had to be an area that I knew the bird already used. I am very fortunate because I have access to both sides of the river over about a half a mile stretch, so there should be a few spots that would fit my criteria?

After much driving up and down the river (on both banks) and plenty of deliberating I eventually chose a spot that seemed to fit the bill. It was on a bend and very close to a tree which meant it was a bit awkward getting the Landrover down to the waters edge, but doable. The light was only good at sunrise because the branches put the area into shade by mid morning, so more early starts were on the cards. The other most important factor with this chosen location was I'd previously seen the bird perched up here, but not very often. It would use some of the fallen branches from the nearby tree as perches.

A few days before my first early morning attack I went down to the waters edge and moved some of the fallen branches into more photographic positions. I was of the opinion that it would give the bird a bit of time to get use to the new set up before my re-visit.

On Sunday morning I was at the waters edge at 6.00am, it was still dark and I made a right racket negotiating a 25 point turn getting the Landrover into position, maybe I'd already ruined my chances before I'd even started? Sunrise came and it was disappointingly overcast, that was not what the weatherman had forecast. Anyhow, at 8.00am things started to improve as the clouds broke and a low slither of sunshine saturated the whole area in really nice, but not too harsh light.

At 8.30am I could hear the distinctive "peep peep" call of the Kingfisher, I wasn't able to see it though as it was around the bend. Seconds later there was a flash of blue and orange and there it was perched in the bush on the opposing bank.

Then it then dropped down and settled on one of the posts that I'd rearranged a few day early, at last I'd got an image of it on a natural perch! It only remained for a few seconds before it was off again.

The bird returned only a few minutes later and landed on the same perch again only a little lower down, this offered a totally different background (the shade underneath the far bank bush).The resultant image (below) is exactly what I'd been after right from the start, easily my favorite capture of the Kingfisher so far. The light levels were excellent, the background was perfect (I have a thing for dark backgrounds?) and the bird posed beautifully on a natural perch. It was shot at 230mm focal length and only cropped on the horizontal, a real frame filler!

As you will have probably deduced by now I am over the moon with my results so far, flipping brilliant when a plan eventually comes to fruition. I will without doubt be visiting the Kingfisher site again soon in the near future, my next objective is hopefully to get the bird on this same perch with a fish!

Thanks for stopping by,

Catch up soon........ 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

An unexpected visitor.......

I've had some more time down by the river, on Sunday I was at the riverside at first light watching over a slightly different area, sadly it didn't result in any Kingfisher images. I did see two birds fly past but neither of them stopped and posed for me. I'm quite confident that I will get some images of the Kingfishers at this alternative spot, it has some "nicer" and more natural perches that I have seen the birds use in the past, I guess it is just going to be a case of more visits.

Anyway, all was not lost as whilst I was waiting and enjoying the dawn of a new day I did have a photo opportunity that was quite unexpected. Initially my attention was drawn to a group of Corvids (Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies) that were acting very strange in the field on the far side of the river. They had collectively assembled in a small flock and were circling around in a tight group. They were being very vocal and swooping down towards the field, because of the angle (the far bank and field being considerably higher than me) I couldn't see what all the fuss was about? 

Then all was revealed, a Fox poked its head through the hedgerow and clambered down to the waters edge, it pounced onto a rock and then onto the lower limbs of a Willow tree and onto my side of the river.......right in front of me!  

The Fox seemed to be so focused on avoiding the attention of the Corvids it didn't notice me at all. However, once it was near the Landrover the Corvids didn't come any closer, they are clever so and so's and I am sure they knew I was there!

Viewing the Fox's antics in the time that followed was amazing, it initially sat in the field looking around and sniffing the air. 

Without warning it scampered towards the hedgerow and pounced up into the air and crashed down into the tussocky grass. Yes I know the next image is blurred (but I only had 1/200th second shutter speed)  but it hopefully gives a sense of the action.

It had caught a field vole! For the next few minutes it laid right in front of me and chomped on its catch.  

A most unexpected but very welcome visitor, easily the best views I have ever had of this species.

Thanks for stopping by.

Catch up soon!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

In the presence of the "KING".

For me to have any success with my long awaited Kingfisher project it was important to firstly find a local area that the bird(s) were using on a regular basis, it needed to be as quiet as possible and away from any disturbance. Now after many years of searching I think I have found the perfect location. It meets my initial criteria and what is even better it is private land that I have access to. 

My last trip out to the new Kingfisher site was a marathon of a visit, six hours to be precise. However, with reflection it was time well spent and this very steep learning curve I've been putting myself through is definitely starting to pay dividends.

I knew that once some birds had been found that was just going to be the start and the easy bit. Next it was going to be a matter of putting in the hours, I needed to understand the river, which areas the birds favoured and at which time of day etc etc. I've been studying the site on and off for a few years now and I'd always made mental notes on where I'd seen the Kingfishers. Armed with this information obviously it made things easier when I decided to get down to putting in a bit more effort.

Its not easy sitting and watching an area of the river when for most of the time (like 90%) nothing happens, you do begin to doubt your research but when a bird appears and you suddenly get an explosive few minutes all the hanging around and waiting is soon forgotten.  

Last weekend when I visited (see last post) I did learn a few tricks that would hopefully benefit all future visits. I'd manage to pinpoint one particular area (at the confluence of the two rivers) that the Kingfisher seemed to like. Then within the confines of this area I also noted several favoured hunting perches and posts. I'd also learnt that the birds are very easily spooked, just the slightest sound or movement of my lens was enough to have them flying off. 

So armed with all this latest intel I made another visit, I knew the morning was going to be the best time photographically as on my last visit I'd also made notes on light direction and potential image backgrounds. My selected "ambush" tactics were to set up near the cow drink, it is at this point where I could get the Landrover (my hide) at its lowest point and down and as near to the river as possible. From there it put me almost at eye level with one of the barbed wire fences that are regularly used by the bird as a perch.

During my two hour stint a single Kingfisher made several visits to the location to feed, three times he landed on the barbed wire and the images below are my selection from that session that I'd like to share.

As you will have possibly deduced from the above images the bird landed very close to me. I was very fortunate as if he had been any nearer I wouldn't have been able to get the whole of him in the frame at 300mm. None of the images have been cropped vertically and only slightly horizontally. I am hoping that you will agree that these are my best Kingfisher images so far, and I am so glad I put in the groundwork so as to achieve these results. 

Moving forward, on my next visit I am going try a slightly different location as there are some nice natural looking perches/posts that I have seen the bird use occasionally. I am pretty sure it is going to be a longer wait but it would be a massive improvement over the barbed wire as a perch. Also on my wish list is to capture a close up image of the bird with a fish, and a flight shot would go down nicely too and the ultimate would be a pair of Kingfishers together in the same image.

I am sure that to achieve my "wish list" of Kingfisher images it is going to take a long long time and a whole lot more research needs to be done, but god loves a trier!

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Bombay Bum Birding........

Saturday morning had me waking up very early indeed, initially it was 2.00am, then 3.15am and then again at 4.20am. No I didn't go to bed too early, around 11.00pm so nothing too out of the ordinary there? But the constant visits to the toilet with a stinging hotter than larva soon had me wide awake up and dressed. I knew what the problem was, although I didn't realise at the time it was going to make me so uncomfortable and for the whole weekend too!! 

On Friday night we were invited out for a meal (by Col & Sue), they wanted to take us to a new Indian Restaurant that they had recently discovered to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I wasn't sure as what to order so I asked the waitress what she would recommend? "Oh without a doubt sir, the chef's special is a meal you will never forget" and she was right! Now I must admit the meal was delicious, I had it my normal Madras hot, it was bursting full of flavor and much more spicier than I am use to but not too hot. It was a fantastic meal and at the time I enjoyed it very much.

The enforced early rise had me wondering as to what I was going to do now? It was still dark outside but as I'd had the Landrover serviced and a new exhaust fitted on Friday I thought what the hell lets grab my "birding kit" and get out.

Initially it was a waste of time as it was too dark to see anything, however at one location where I was parked up I heard a Tawny Owl call. I have known of this particular pair for a good few months now but due to the crops in the field I could never get near to the nest tree for a closer look and possibly a few images. As the farmer had now harvested the crops I took the opportunity to drive over the lumpy ground and positioned the Landrover parallel to the nest tree.

It didn't take long for the owl to call again, the light levels were very low but I could just about make it out sitting at the nest entrance. It wasn't until 6.50am that I was able to grab a couple of images of it. The light still wasn't good so with my camera settings at ISO 1600 I was able to manage a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. I didn't have a chance to improve on these two images (below) because as the light improved the owl backed off into the hole not to be seen again on this visit.

This had now whet my whistle for Tawny Owls and I wanted more. Therefore I opted to visit another location where I know a pair reside. Sadly no other Tawnies were seen at this second location but as compensation a Little Owl put in an appearance.

It was a misty morning and the light levels were still poor, although they were better than when I was with the Tawny Owl I could only muster 1/80th of a second shutter speed. Thankfully the Little Owl would hold a "statue like pose" which assisted in the reduction of any motion blur. 

It wasn't long before I started to have some more reoccurring belly rumbles and the morning was prematurely cut short. After a dash home to damper things down with a cooling cream (may as well been mustard for what good it did) I was out again in the afternoon at a different location in pursuit of a different species altogether, but that will be in my next post.

At the time of writing up this post (Sunday night) I am still suffering and it feels like someone has inserted a red hot poker into a certain part of my anatomy! But guess what? It was one of the best curry's I've ever had and I WILL be going back!! Many thanks Col & Sue for a most memorable evening, in more than one way!!

Thanks for stopping by

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

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Two birds with one stone!

Apparently it was my turn to take the dog (Patch) for a walk, I tried to pass the buck and get one of the kids to do it but the Mrs was having none of it! I reluctantly agreed as I could kill two birds with one stone and get in a couple of hours birding/owling in at the same time! 

So the dog and were loaded up and off we went over to my newly named Oriel patch. The reason for re-visiting this particular area was I could kill another two birds with one stone? En-route I would be passing by the local tyre fitters and I could drop off the Landrover tyre that needed repairing (but that's another story).

Patch and I finally got out into the fields around 7.00pm, I had a drive around looking for what birds may have dropped in whilst he ran alongside, as we approached the river Patch did his usual suicidal dive straight in. An explosion of water erupted up into the air followed closely by a mass of white feathers and a loud croak?? The dog had nearly jumped on top of a Little Egret, I hadn't seen it as must have been obscured by the rushes and vegetation. This was my very first sighting of this species at this location after seven years of visiting, a sure sign that their population dispersal to pastures new continues. 

The next hour was spent driving around and stopping at different locations, not a lot was seen really apart from the Egret again (it looked shocked and ruffled) and a flying away Green Sandpiper. Whilst I was parked up adjacent to the river a huge mixed tit flock passed by, this Chiffchaff and Long Tailed Tit both stopped long enough allowing me to capture an image of them. 

Long Tailed Tit

On the way home I called in to see a farmer friend at Blaby, in the spring he had passage Wheatears in one of his "rough" fields. I was hoping to maybe see them again on their return journey and hopefully a Whinchat as I need this species for my year list.

The farmer and I chewed the fat (chatted away) for a while and it was OK for me to go and park up near the rough tussocky area to see what was about. Unfortunately there were no Wheatears or Whinchats but what did show was more than compensation.........a pair of Barn Owls!! They were sat together in a leafless tree about 100 yards away. 

By now the light had almost gone (8.20pm) so in order to grab a record shot the ISO had to be pumped up to 2500 and even with the combined aperture of F2.8 only 1/25 of a second shutter speed could be obtained.

I managed both of the above images whilst standing in the middle of the "scrub field", I was amazed the birds didn't see me. I quickly retreated back to the Landrover and waited to see what happened next? 

I did my "mouse impersonation" (sort of a squeak) out of the window and one of the birds re-acted to it and flew straight towards me. It landed on a nearby post and gave me "the stare". Luckily it remained as still as a statue for a few seconds which allowed me to attain the image below.  

The conditions were very difficult for photography especially when there was so little light and my lens doesn't have image stabilization. Putting the quality of the images aside it was still great to watch them both and with a bit of luck they will hang around and breed next year in one of the nearby boxes I've erected.

Only a brief post but thanks for stopping by.

Catch up soon!

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.

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!

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. 


Black-Tailed Godwit
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.


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!