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!!!

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!

Friday, 12 September 2014

A little gem.....

As I mentioned briefly in my previous post, my latest "mini project" has been in pursuit of of another bird species altogether, the Kingfisher. At one of my regally visited owl sites I do occasionally see or hear a Kingfisher as it whizzes past me at breakneck speed with its familiar high pitched "peep peep" call as it disappears along the river.

On Saturday afternoon whilst doing at bit of owling at one of my more regular visited sites I saw the Kingfisher again as it was perched upon a low riverside post. Only this time it didn't fly off into the opposite direction as it usually does. It seemed quite content with my presence (albeit distant) whilst using a it's "ambush post". I watched it for a good 30 minutes and during this time I witnessed it dive into the water and then back to the same post five or six times. It successfully caught a small fish (presumably a Minnow or a Stickleback) on two occasions!

This image below was my best attempt of him with a fish, a very heavy crop as he was too far away for my 300mm lens.


Not being content with trying to capture images from distance the Landy was started up and I inched myself ever closer. Yes you have guessed it, just as I got within a photographable distance he took flight, but this time he settled back down on a concrete wall just just a little way down the river. 


(NOTE: This image above is another victim of Goggle's auto-enhancer, it applies too much saturation and lighting up of the darker areas. It can't be turned off, unless of course you subscribe to Goggle+, and I'm not doing that! Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated).

I didn't follow in pursuit as I knew it would result in spooking him again, instead I just sat and observed. During this next hour I was transfixed, I watch him move about from one ambush point to another where he successfully caught prey from them all. This was obviously a favoured haunt and hunting area and at times he would venture quite close to me. Although the watching was excellent the photographic opportunities were not, the riverbank was too high and the posts he was using were all too low! However, at times he did settle on a slightly higher single post and the barbed wire fence that ran alongside the cattle feeding area, this was where I needed to be.

There was only one thing for it, I risked spooking him for good by re-positioning the Landie again. Once I'd settled back down it was not surprisingly he was nowhere to be seen. But as I had previously suspected  this was a favoured area for him and after 20 minutes he was back!

By now I was experiencing a proper royal show from the "king" he'd obviously become accustomed to the Landie and carried on totally disregarding me! It got very frustrating at times, although I had a good all round view of the action I was limited to photographing out of the window in just the one direction. Right in front of me was a single post, a barbed wire fence and a bush, it was a guessing game as to which would be used next, if any at all? I learnt very quickly that if he did settled down within view of my lens (which indecently was poking out through my camo scrim) I couldn't move it an inch as it would spook him, therefore the lens needed to be pointing at the correct perch before he landed on it! 

It didn't take long before he obliged and landed on "the right post" albeit only for a split second!  
I think the sound of the camera shutter spooked him and all I got was this "take off" shot. Yes it is slightly out of focus but nevertheless I was pleased as the viewing and in particular the image opportunities were slowly improving.


Once I'd sussed out what I needed to do it was then all down to the bird doing the rest, in the resultant six hours that followed I did guess right, but not very often!

Fifteen minutes after he had fled the post he was back again! Only this time he stayed perched up long enough for me to capture a nice pose. I was chuffed to bits as this was without doubt my best ever "close encounter" with a Kingfisher and an image I could only previously dream of capturing.


Then I had an even closer encounter as he landed on the barbed wire, a real shame that the post in the background distracts away from the bird.


On a couple of occasions he would land in the bush to my right, the grey skies behind made for some quick changes of the camera settings.


These next two images were of the time when he came the closest of all, not a typical Kingfisher perch but images I am very pleased with.



I loved every minute of this latest adventure, a most memorable few hours were spent in the company of this beautiful bird. I just hope that on my next visit (which won't be too long away) that the sun shines a bit more than it did on this visit.

Thanks for stopping by

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

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. 

Chiffchaff
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.

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.............