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, 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!!!


Monday, 2 June 2014

Owl 'n' about - Sunday June 1st

Hi all, I managed to get "owl n about" for a few hours yesterday and had a couple of nice surprises!

In an attempt to get the afternoon/evening owling session off to a good start I called in to one of my more reliable Little Owl sites. It is quite a rare occurrence not to see an owl or two here and today was no exception with the resident pair showing very well indeed!

After many years of using the apex in an old barn for their nest site this year they were tempted to re-locate into a nest box we put up for them last winter. Only last week Col and I checked out the box and the hen bird was inside brooding her two tiny chicks. The location of the box makes it much more accessible for me to get close in the Landrover with the minimal of disruption and as planned the viewing and closeness of the owls is much improved.

I hadn't been parked up for long when the pair appeared on the barn roof,  it's a busy farm yard with vehicles coming and going all day so they soon ignored me and got on with what owls get on with.  


The Landrover was positioned parallel to where the birds gain entry into the open-sided barn which is near to where the nest box is sited. Because there are chicks in the box I knew the hen owl wouldn't venture too far away and as it proved she didn't! Great views were had of her as she grubbed around on the floor looking for tit bits and morsels.     



My second task of the day was to follow up a message that I received from Dave & Liz (local land owners in a nearby village), they think they may have seen a Barn Owl at the entrance to a nest box they have only recently erected. Now this snippet of information did make some sense because only a few hundred yards from where they live I had an "active" box with a pair of Barn Owls in residence. Unfortunately on my last visit to this particular box (a few weeks ago now) the Barn Owls had been evicted by a pair of Stock Doves who were by then tightly incubating their own eggs.

I had no idea as to where the Barn Owls had gone but armed with this latest information maybe not too far? Well my investigations proved to be very positive, initially a couple of very wet, heavy and jet black pellets were discovered on the ground below the box, certainly no more than a day or two old. Then after getting into the right position two Barn Owls could be made out roosting in the box. I will be making another visit one evening this week to investigate further, hopefully this is not just a roost site and breeding has commenced, time will tell............?

Not too far from where Dave & Liz's house is located I have a Tawny Owl site that I've been monitoring on and off for the last couple of months. I have seen a pair "day roosting" in a natural tree cavity on a few occasions but not recently so I suspected their chosen nest site was elsewhere. Last night I went and parked up near to this tree and waited, for the first 30 minutes nothing was either seen or heard. Then to my total surprise a Tawny Owl chick emerged at the cavity entrance, it was brilliant to watch and I filled my boots with dozens of images.


I even managed to capture some video footage of the Chick as it inquisitively looked at its new world, click on image below to view.


So not a bad few hours owling, sightings were made of three different species all within just a few hundred yards of each other!

Thanks for stopping by, see ya all soon.........

Thursday, 15 May 2014

All worth while...........

Just lately any spare time has been taken up with box checking, more box checking and a bit more box checking. Occasionally a bit of ringing has taken place in between the box checking!  Completing these tasks is a labour of live really but it is so time consuming it doesn't leave time for any general birding or owling. 

Well I needed a freshener and a change of scene so I made time to go and check a few Little Owl sites out where I know there has been proven breeding in previous years. None of these sites have a box, they are all in either natural cavities in trees or holes buildings but never the less I went and sussed them out to see if there was any early emerging chicks, sadly there wasn't. However, at one site both the adult owls were out so this suggests they may well have young in the nest?  

After a lengthy wait a single adult owl popped through the small gap in between the wall and an old wooden door to have a look at me!


Although the perspective of the image (above) possibly gives the impression I was relative close to this bird I wasn't! I'd parked the Land-rover up in a gateway and because of the height I was able to photograph over the field gate which I was parallel to. The building where the owl sat was a good 20 meters away, hence a heavy crop.

The owl was soon joined by presumably its partner, no sooner had it popped out of the same hole they both took flight and perched up on the corner of the building.


Here they stayed for a good five minutes battling to keep a grip in the high winds, they seem quite content sheltering out of the elements until their piece was shattered by a mobbing family of Swallows. The Swallows are nesting very close by in the building and I don't think they were comfortable with where the owls were settled so I assume the best method of defense is attack!


Because the light had improved somewhat it allowed for quite high shutter speeds so I gave it a go at trying to capture a Swallow as it attacked. I messed up the majority of my attempts (they fly so fast!) but one reasonable image was captured that gives a sense of the action. 

The luxury of chilling out and doing a bit of owl watching and photography soon came to an end though, more box checking was needed! I wasn't too far from one of my potential Barn Owl sites so over to there I went. 

As I entered the barn two adult Barn Owls flew past my head in the opposite direction, things looked promising. After carefully removing the observation cover I was greeted by the stink from hell! The ammonia nearly knocked me off my ladder! There was a chick right at the front of the box, it was tiny and I'd hazard a guess and say was no more that 1-2 days old. It lay right next to it's next dinner, not sure what type of rodent it is, a mouse I think?


I used my torch to see further into the box and I managed to make out at least three further chicks and six or seven rodent corpses. The adults are obviously having an easier time of it than of late with catching their prey, it appears that they are in abundance this year. The cover was soon replaced on the box and I made a hasty retreat.

The next lot of ringing has also taken place, Neil, Col and I visited one of my Tawny Owl sites that has taken up residence in a Barn Owl box. Luckily neither of the adults were home when we visited which gave us the opportunity to ring the two owlets. 

Yours truly went up to the box first, once I'd made sure there were no adults in residence Neil went up to extract our bounty.


I've no experience on aging Tawnies, but I'd take an educated guess and say they were a couple of weeks old? Below Neil and Col can be seen completing the ringing task.


I had a quick cuddle with the owlets before they were safely returned to the box.


And finally here is a close up of one of the chicks, beautiful or ugly..........you decide? 


So far of the boxes we have checked we have Tawnies in four boxes all with chicks, Little Owls are also in four boxes but only one has chicks so far with the rest still on eggs. And finally there are also four pairs of Barn Owls in boxes with a mixture of eggs and chicks.

It is dam hard work but when you reap the rewards as we are doing now it is all well worth it!

Thanks for stopping by................

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Little Owl Count.......

Back in the early days of this great owling roller coaster that I am now on I made acquaintance with a charming young lady called Emily Joachim. At the time Emily was working towards her PHD with the main subject matter being the demise of the Little Owl. Obviously we had a common interest and when I saw her appear on the BBC's "The One Show" I was compelled to make contact. 

Now that was a few years ago and ever since Emily and I have become good friends and have stayed in contact. She has made several visits to see me here in Leicestershire where we have gone out owling together. Some of the advice she gave me when I was a bit green was invaluable and still bares well today.

Anyway, I have recently been contacted again by my owl extraordinaire as she wanted to inform me of a new website that she was championing that is dedicated to the Little Owl and their sightings. Because the Little Owl is now majorly in decline in the UK Emily is attempting to create a database where she is actively encouraging the British public to participate by logging their encounters of this brilliant species. 

Please click on the image below and it will take you to the site.


I am sure you will all agree that it is a beautifully presented site with loads of information. All I ask now is that can you guys out there help Emily by uploading your encounters/sightings and images, I will be!!

Finally I must congratulate Emily on passing her PHD and the next time I see her I must remember to call her Doctor, mmmm I wonder if she will expect me to curtsy too??

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Tawny Owl ringing.......

In my previous post I highlighted the recent surprise of discovering a Tawny Owl chick perched at the entrance at one of my nest boxes, and that I was going to return as soon as possible to investigate what has been occurring inside the said box. Well last night I made the return trip accompanied by a birding and ringing buddy, Neil Hagley. I was really looking forward to it as although I have had plenty of experience with Little Owls & Barn Owls this was going to be my first real up close and personnel encounter with a Tawny.  

Neil has had previous experience of ringing Tawny Owls and he expressed that when we open up the box we should do so with caution. Unlike Barn Owls that when disturbed do all they can to just flee the nest and return when all is quiet and Little Owls that just stay motionless Tawny Owls can be a problem? They have a bit of a reputation of being fearless when it comes to defending their young and can get quite aggressive. There have even been reports that Tawny Owls will attack a human and inflict actual harm if they intrude too close to a nest site, famous bird photographer Eric Hoskins even lost and eye after being attacked by a Tawny Owl!!   

Neil advised that wearing glasses should be mandatory as we didn't want another similar instance to what happened to poor old Eric Hoskins! I volunteered to go up the ladder first and risk life and limb by opening the door, I was pretty nervous at first but once I'd opened up the door and realized there were no adult owls in residence the tension reduced some what. It was then Neils turn to go up to the box and extract the chicks.

   
Sadly there was only the one chick in the box, but what a beauty it turned out to be!

Tawny Owl - site No 7
The next box we checked out had a two, possible three Tawny Owl chicks in it, but we decided to leave ringings these individuals until another time as an adult bird was in there too!

At the third box things started to turn sour, only last week there was an adult Tawny Owl, and unhatched egg and two tiny chicks but on this visit they had all vanished being replaced by a Stock Dove on two eggs?? Blimey if these Stock Doves can evict Tawnies they must be the Mike Tyson's of the birding world!

At the last box we checked things took a turn for the more positive, no adult owl was in residence but three very healthy chicks were. Neil very carefully and quickly extracted them all one by one from the box and were all rung in no time at all.


Neil worked so speedily it even gave us time to have a quick family portrait. 


I made the most of my first close up encounter with these majestic creatures and managed a few close ups.


It was a great experience going out ringing my first Tawny chicks, I learnt a lot, especially the respect that these birds must be given! And finally I must give Neil a massive thank you for giving up his spare time to come and ring my owls, cheers buddy.

Neil & the 3 chicks from the last site.
Thanks for stopping by and hopefully there will be some Little Owls and Barns Owls to ring soon?
Watch this space...................