Hi and welcome to my Blog, my name is Paul Riddle and I live in south Leicestershire, UK. Back in August 2007 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 7 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, 26 February 2010

Two to go!!!!!

Little owl site No 98 was found in Enderby around an hour ago, (6.30pm) it was pitch black so no photos! Haven't got time to go into any further details now as I'm already late for my boozing session (well it is friday night you know!!!).
............More details tomorrow!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Box To Let

I have now finished assembling all my nest boxes (21 in total) only 4 of these have yet to be treated with a preservative and put up in there final position. Every box has been made the same as the image below, this type of box design incorporates some unique features that are intended to attract the attention of the little owl.

• Entrance hole of 70mm in diameter, just right for the little owl but hopefully too small for jackdaws and stock doves but too large for tits and other smaller species.
• An entrance tunnel which goes from the front of the box to the rear ledge, again this is to deter other birds whilst being very suitable for the crawling little owl.
• The rear ledge is intended to keep the juvenile birds in the nest box longer, it is not until they get to a certain age that they are able to scramble/flutter from the nest chamber up onto the ledge, up through the tunnel and out.
• A sloping roof and front overhang was used because this would obviously enable rain to run off the roof easier rather than pool on the top and drain in to the box.
• An access door and latch has been fitted to every box, this will allow quick and simple entry for purposes of observation and ringing tasks.
• Every box was lined with about 2" of fine wood chippings and sawdust, this will help to absorb any moisture and offer an idea substrate for the hen bird to create a depression for the secure location of her eggs.
• Finally every box was treated with a safe timber preserve.

Position of Box

All the selected locations currently hold pairs of little owls; in the majority of cases the actual nest location/entrance was known. Therefore the box was positioned as close as possible without trying to disturb them too much. Where feasible a limb or branch of the nest tree was close or slightly below that of the entrance hole, this would allow for easier juvenile movements to and fro from the box. Where this was not possible a perch of artificial branch was put in place to create the same effect. The secured height of the box from the ground was governed by the height of the existing natural nest entrance, this could have been as low as 4 ft and as high as 25 ft. The direction of the entrance hole was again the same as the existing natural entrance, there didn't seem to be any trends to this, some east some south etc.
The two biggest questions yet to answered and only time will tell are, how do I discourage squirrels from taking up residence in the boxes and can anything else be done to encourage the owls to leave their natural nest sites and take up our offered artificial ones???????

Boring info for anyone who may be interested...........

Box Dimensions
• Made from 3/4" ply wood
• Height (front) - 14", (rear) - 16"
• Width - 13"
• Depth (front to back) - 13 1/2"
• Weight - 15 lbs

Box Statistics
9 different sized pieces of timber (pre-cut to size)
• 21 x 2" zinc plated screws
• 8 x 3/4" brass screws
• 2 x brass hinges
• 1 x door clasp and eye
• 2 thunder bolts

Box Miss
Pre drilling and assembly - 45 to 60 mins
• Wood preserve treatment - 15 mins
• Driving to location and position on tree - 1 to 2 hrs (1 to 4 hrs if a pub visit is to be included!)

All this of course was x 21 TIMES!!!!!!!

• Total cost??????????......inclusive of all materials, fixtures and fittings, treatments, nest materials, erection etc £17.50 each (many thanks to LROS for supplying the timber)
So if you would like to donate a box or two please contact me!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Boxing Clever!

Out again today putting up more owl boxes with assistance from my old mate Ronny Hawkins, we managed a very healthy 6 taking the overall tally to 17. Its the 2nd time Ron has been out helping me and we learnt from last time and worked a lot smarter today. If I can keep this rate up it looks promising that I will meet my target date for all the boxes to be up by the end of Feb, I think I have still have enough timber to make another 5 boxes taking the total to 22.

Both these images were taken at one of my new sites and are the best images I have managed so far of these particular birds. The new hide (land rover) assisted as it enabled us to slowly drive right upto the tree they were in without spooking them, for some reason at this site (and others for that matter) I have found little owls really don't seem to be bothered by the close presence of vehicles??? We were then treated to some reasonable close views for a good 5 minutes or so before they were off.

During the day we saw a total of 6 different owls and heard 1 other to make a day total of 7. 

Site 96, South Wigston - Port Hill

Friday, 19 February 2010

Better 97!

Made a detour today so I could go past my newest little owl site that I located earlier in the week, deffo an improved image........for now anyway! Too many branches in the way for a really clear shot, the owl was tucked right into the trunk of the tree sheltering from the driving snow.

Site 97, Wistow - Wain Bridge

Another owl from another site just down the road at Wistow, this owl was also trying to take shelter from the driving snow, again too many branches!!.

Site 91, Kilby Bridge - Wayside Farm

Thursday, 18 February 2010

2nd in 12!

Whilst working in my home office this morning I noticed out of the window a mouse like bird fluttering in and around the planted xmas tree (no not a miniature little owl!!!) I quickly grabbed the camera and managed a couple of snaps before it disappeared. A Goldcrest was the culprit, Britain’s smallest bird and only the 2nd sighting I've had in 12 years of living here!!
...............A nice start to the day.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

GET IN THERE...Number 97!

Today I've been out working in Cambridgeshire and as that part of the world is renowned for Barn Owls the camera was on board........just in case???? Anyway no Barn Owls were seen but whilst driving back home I took the route through Wistow Park in Leicestershire. It was almost dark (5.15pm) when I had to slow down to allow an on-coming car to pass and as I accelerated away I glanced upwards into an adjacent tree and spotted two dark silhouettes sitting next to one and other. At the earliest opportunity I turned the car around and went back to investigate, oh yes oh yes I was right............LITTLE OWLS!!!

Site 97, Wistow - Wain Bridge.

Yes I know a really poor image but the light had almost but gone but a bit of post processing on the PC has just about made a really poor image into just a poor one!? I will return at the weekend when hopefully I will manage a much improved image!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Oh yes, get in there........No 96!

Went out early today for an hour or so before work, I had been given a firsthand report of a little owl sighting by a very nice lady I met (Eileen Carter) at a recent LROS meeting. I previously knew nothing of the owls at this site although I knew of two others very close by! I much prefer to find new sites myself without any help but beings I am so near to the BIG 100 SITES I had to follow it up. Today was my third visit to see if I too could locate them, I arrived before first light, parked up near to the suggested tree and waited, nothing doing after 20 minutes so I decided to try the call-back system (to play a recording of a little owl call to see if a reaction reply call could be prompted) nothing doing on that score either. This was prooving to be another wasted journey and was about to leave when a fluttering silhouette caught my eye in another tree a good 50 yards or so further into the field, I locked my binoculars onto the small black shape and BINGO!!!!! Come on in Little owl No 96......get in there!!!! The single bird then flew further away from me into another tree..........Hold on...........he had joined his mate, there was now two birds...........RESULT!!!!

First sighting & first image of the single owl in the nearer tree.
Site 96, South Wigston - Port Hill.

Image of the pair in the further tree, I assure the sceptics out there (if there are any?) that the two little black shapes in the centre of the image are deffo little owls............honestly! I will of course be returning to try and get a little closer in some better light for some much improved images.......watch this space! 

Half Way There.

Another 3 boxes went up at selected locations today (sunday) couldn't put any more up because that was all I had made, not because half way through the day I was distracted by the call of pub.............again!!! Although I did managed a few pints once we were finished. 
Today was the first time I have taken the double ladders, the 3 locations today all required the boxes to be secured a little higher up the tree than those previous, I have tried to show the height perspective in these two images.
Thats now 10 boxes up and 10 to go, I've now got to pull my finger out otherwise my target date of the end of Feb for all boxes to be up is not going to be met, I must focus and ban myself from the pub for a week or so.......is that possible????
Mant thanks to John Swift who was my victim helper for the morning.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Hide Upgrade.

About 50% of my close up owl images were only possible because I employed the use of a mobile hide, pictured below. It was a fantastic purchase that really comes in its own when you are after that elusive image of a shy species. It doesn't seem to scare off the owls although they do seem to be a little wary of it at times. I have spent upto 5 hours at a time in the hide waiting for the owls to either show or to come close enough for that required image. However, as good as it is it does have its limitations in that it has absolutely no room and it can become quite uncomfortable (especially on the backside) after a couple of hours.

Excellent camouflage....can you see me in there?

So after much consideration I decided a larger model was required, one that would offer a little bit more room inside and maybe a more comfortable chair that would sort out my numb bum problem! After much browsing of the internet I couldn't really find a model that met all my requirements so it was on to plan B?

And here it is, my new hide and this model not only meets all my requirements it has an engine as well!!!!

Owling in comfort....that's what it's all about!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Playback Success!!

Went out at dusk tonight to try out for the first time a call back procedure that Emily Joachim had recommended to me. Basically it consists of playing a specific little owl call (on my mobile phone) for a set period of time and then waiting to see if any local owls respond to you by calling back. To be honest I was a little sceptical but never the less I thought I'd try it out. After parking up I played the owl call out of the open window for 20 seconds, it then fell deafly silent whilst I waited for a response...................bloody hell a return call in an instant, my god it does work!!!! During previous visits to this site I had only ever seen 1 bird and I could now make him out up above me peering down out of a tiny crevice, I played the recording again. Oh my god there wasn't just the one owl calling back but TWO!!!! It appears he had been hiding his soul mate and it was good to finally make contact with her after all this time!

Site 32, Sambury Farm - Peatling Magna

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Up Close And Very Personal.

As soon as I got home from work on Wednesday I quickly got changed, grabbed my camera and in no time was off out again ..........although very cold the light levels were fantastic, best it had been at this time of day for sometime. Hopefully I could locate an obliging owl or two squeezing what little warmth they could muster from the sun before it set.

Lydon Lodge, location No 19 a private site over at Fleckney was my chosen destination, one of my favourite little owl locations and I hadn't been there for sometime.

On occasions this site can produce some really close views.........and as it proved this was one of those days!  

After a ten minute wait both birds appeared at the nest entrance.

Enjoying the last remaining rays before sunset.

It wasn't long before the 1st bird was out on its favourite vantage point.

Closely followed by the second onto it's favourite perch.

After a good ten minutes of really close up views and plenty of territorial calling they both moved off along the hedgerow in search of an evening meal. I was really chuffed with the images I managed, the 1st ones of the birds from this site on my blog.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Propowlty Portfolio Expands.

Same again Sunday, a whole day erecting nest boxes, 4 more today taking the weekend tally to 7 in total. Only another 13 to go, at this rate I should be done by middle of April!!!!!!!! On first impressions you would think 7-8 boxes could easily be put up in a single day.........oh how wrong I was, good job I'm not on piece work otherwise I’d be bloody skint! I must admit though, a quality hour or so was wasted taken up in the local country inn sampling a couple of pints of Guinness. This went down really quite well whilst reflecting on what a fantastic job was being done.......NOT!!!

Yours truly up another tree!!! This was obviously before the beer as there is no way I could possible pose like that on a ladder after a couple of pints!!!

Sunday - Box No 1, in an apple tree.

Sunday - Box No 2, on a an old fallen down willow tree, carried the ladder across 2 very large fields to this site and ended up putting the box up 4ft from the ground........what a plonker!

Production has really slowed now......"hic".....post beer!!!!!

Sunday - Box No 3, on the side of an old ash tree, this site produced 2 young in 2009

Sunday - Box No 4, again on an old ash tree, it will be a minor miracle if this box is still up!

Obviously the exact site locations will not be divulged but needless to say they are not far from the pub!!!!!
Many thanks to Daz Sibley, my drinking and box putting up partner for the day. 

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Location Location Location!

A few weeks ago it was decided a nestbox scheme for my little owls would be a good idea, if the birds could be persuaded to relocate from their existing "natural" nest sites to artificial ones it would give greater access to the nest chamber and excellent opportunities to ring the birds. At the moment I don't have the required qualification to ring the owls so Andy Smith of Charnwood Ringers was contacted and he has very kindly offered his services as and when they are requested...........should there be any relocation and breeding success????

Ken Goodrich was very influential in getting some funding from LROS that would enable the purchase of enough timber to make 20 boxes to the same specifications of the box featured in the January issue of the BTO News, further details can be seen/downloaded from this link. Barn Owl Trust.

The timber arrived last Thursday and after many many hours assembling and treating them the first 3 boxes were finally erected today, many thanks to my old mate Ron (let me hold ya ladder) Hawkins for his help. 
This above box was situated on an Ash tree very close to a pair which raised 2 young in 2009.
The below box was put up in an old Willow which is home to a pair which have also had breeding success .
The 3rd box was erected in an old barn (too dark for an image!) which also holds a pair although no previous breeding successess are known
Whilst out putting up the boxes some close owl's views were possible.
Obviously the exact site locations will not be divulged but needless to say they have all been very carefully selected and are on quiet, private land.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Anything for the weekend sir?

On the way home  from work tonight I stopped off at two sites on the A5199, luckily enough both sites produce good views of little owls, and luckily enough I had the camera with me for a couple of record shots. Hopefully if this slightly warmer weather hangs around for the weekend some better opportunities for improved images will be possible, especially as I'm planning to try out my new hide (more on that later!).

Site 91, Kilby - Wayside Farm

Site 16, Kilby - Newstead Farm