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, 30 April 2010

No Cuckoo!

This evening the chosen location for walk was over at Rids Patch, as I have recently heard Cuckoo calling at other locations in Leicestershire I thought my patch just might produce one tonight? I decided to take my smaller lens with me this evening so I could capture a few images of this location (but not birds) that would hopefully give a feel for the area.

I'd only walked a 100 yards or so from where I parked the car into East meadow when I came across this barn owl pellet on a fence post, the white area at the front is a skull from some kind of small rodent.

After east meadow you come to the shallow water scrape, here all the usual suspects could be seen along with a very nice pair of common sandpipers, a first for this location and a patch tick for me.

Shallow water scrape

Next I moved onto the south reedbed area, here I notched another patch tick in the form of a superbly marked male reed bunting. You never know, maybe a wintering bittern here one day?

South reedbed

I have named the next area wet marsh, as opposed to dry marsh which is next to it. Here there was a few lapwings and a solitary little ringed plover.

Wet marsh

At the side of wet mash is this rotten tree stump, this is where a pair of willow tits have excavated their nesting chamber. The work of these industrial little birds can be clearly seen in the below image.

Willow tit nest hole.

The next spot that I spent some time at was Q pool, here the resident pair of oyster catchers were located but nothing much else apart from some tufted ducks and coots.

Q pool

I'd now reached the furthest point from the car so I turned and started my way back, I walked down snipe meadow, aptly named as this is a good site for seeing common snipe, you never know a jack snipe will be found here one day!

Snipe ditch.

Not far from the car a fluttering from a hedgerow caught my eye, after a while of waiting and watching an incredible seven passage wheatears were located (4 males & 3 females). This was was a totally unexpected patch tick, poor images due to me having the wrong lens....doooohhhh!!!!

Wheatear  x 4 on the hedgerow.

As it happens it was a very productive couple of hours birding and again some unexpected quality sightings and patch ticks, but sadly no cuckoo!!

See Snake!

Emily Joachim from the Hawk & Owl trust is here again in Leicestershire and this weekend I am taking her around my little owl sites, she has some kind of electronic device that enables her to record the exact locations onto some mapping software.

While we are out we will also be checking any breeding activity and the amount of eggs the hen birds have laid. Now this might be a difficult task at the natural nest holes as some have very small entrances and can also be very deep! However, Emily has got a fantastic piece of equipment, a Ridgid "See Snake" this is a camera on a long flexi lead with a light on the front end and a viewing screen on the other (see image below).

The lead is carefully pushed into the nest entrance and if there is an incubating bird all will be revealed on the screen! Apparently Emily is an expert at this and she has assured me it will cause minimal disturbance to the owls.

 The See Snake, yours truly can be just made out on the screen!

Yesterday evening I took Emily to one of my local sites where I  had suspicions the owls maybe using one of my nest boxes. Soon after arriving we located the male bird in the suspect nest tree, he was perched on one of the outer limbs, he then dropped from the tree onto the ground and then back again, but on his return he had with him a mouse!  Then without hesitation he took it straight into the nest box! Emily is convinced he was feeding the hen bird who will be by now sitting tight on her clutch of eggs, lets hope she is right and all will be confirmed over this coming weekend.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Away From Owls

Due to the fact that the little owl activity is some what non existent at the moment I decided to make the most of the time I had this afternoon and spend it at a local area that has really caught my attention recently. I first stumbled upon the area whilst out looking for owls but after a few visits it is now starting to throw up some nice birds. One of the main attractions to me though is, it is a blissful mini wilderness with a tapestry of different habitats with the added bonus of it always seems to be devoid of human disturbance.

I have decided this will be my new patch for general birding when I am not out owling and I'm going to call it  "Rids Patch". But having said that this site does also have owls, I have seen Little owl here before and Barn owl only last week.  So starting from last week (my last visit) I'm going to see if I can achieve an initial target of 75 different species sighting (and photographs) during the next 12 months!

Today's visit and patch ticking got of to a flying start, as I approached the pools I had an initial shock as I unintentionally flushed a pair of curlew and and an oyster catcher. Dam and blast I hadn't got my camera prepared and unfortunately the curlew were not to show again, but the oyster catcher did keep on circling around long enough for this flight image.

Soon after I'd chosen a location to settle down in with an advantageous view across the shallow pools the third bird of the day fluttered in, a nice recent arrival from the continent in the form of a yellow wagtail!

After the yellow wag departed all went quiet for a while with no near birds to get images of so it was out with the binoculars to start notching up other more common species. Up above were five buzzards soaring on the thermals, a kestrel was looking out for voles perched on some power lines and a sparrowhawk flew low over the pools causing havoc with the lapwings. My good fortune was in as one of the lapwings landed in front of me and started to have a bath.

A distant crow was hanging around menacingly.

Then the birds I really came to see put in an appearance, the little ringed plovers.

The main area here has a large shallow pool with muddy scrapes and a shingle and stoney shoreline, further on from this a marshy area a couple of reed beds and a huge sand bank. Then you can add the surrounding deeper pools, meadows, hedgerows, small spinneys and a stream. Sounds good hey........you bet it is, you have obviously realised by now the area absolutely oozes potential !!

My bird tally for the 3 hours I was there was 33 and as follows;

Curlew, Oyster Catcher, Yellow Wagtail, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Linnet, Crow, Canadian Geese (nesting and on eggs), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Little Grebe, Lapwing, Great Tit, Blackcap (male), Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Moorhen, Coot, Little Ringed Plover, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Grey Partridge, Sand Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Snipe, Mallard, Jay (heard only), Tufted Duck, Barn Owl (last week) and a pair of Willow Tits that were pecking out their nest cavity in a rotten tree.

At this rate shouldn't be too long before my target of 75 is achieved!!!

Andy Rouse Visit!

Hi all, nothing much to report from the last couple of days in terms of owl sightings and photography as I have been busy owl 'n' about selecting a few suitable sites in readiness for a visit by Andy Rouse. Andy is a world renowned wildlife photographer who recently contacted me asking if any of my little owl sites would be suitable for a project he has in mind based on these fantastic birds.

Andy has briefed me on specific requirements that the selected site requires, so in order to save some of his time I thought I would narrow down any potentials to try and make his final selection a little easier.  So off I went in the landrover visiting site after site and it was a little concerning how many sites I was writing off along the way as just not being quite suitable! However, I am pretty confident that Andy will be pleased with my final selection that (fingers crossed) do meet the required specifications?

In order to make some of the sites fit the bill a little pruning/removal of awkward or obstructive twigs was required, this task was made much easier thanks to me being able to clamber on top of the landrover.

Another major issue I had, which actually turned out not to be an issue at all was gaining permission to access the private land that some of the nest sites were on. After some fact finding and assistance of some very amenable local residents I finally met with the right people who were very obliging and permission was granted in all cases. Although I don't want to name names or mention exact locations may I just say a big thank you to all  those very kind and hospitable people.

Please take a look at Andy's website and blog (click here  Andy Rouse) I'm sure you will be as impressed as I was!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Not an owl!

No owls today, just this little ringed plover at an undisclosed site not far from where I live.......a stunning bird but not an owl!!!!!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Guarding Dads

This evenings fabulous weather got me owl 'n' about checking over a few local sites. It would now appear that the breeding season is well and truly underway in owl world. Only single birds where seen at the 5 sites I visited and these were all presumably males as the hen birds should be well tucked away by now incubating their clutches. At his time of the year the male birds are staying out of the nest longer whilst keeping a vigil very close to the nest site, so locating them wasn't too difficult.

This first image is from the site that is just 400 metres or so from where I live. It is by far the best image I have managed so far from this site thanks to the great light levels, shame about the twig!

Site 103, Whetstone Golf Course

And again at the second site the male bird was easy to find, close to the nest hole and sitting in the sun!

Site 75, Peatling Parva - Preistlands

The third site is very exposed and what little breeze there was created this nice and unusual effect on the owls feathers.

Site 22, Blaby - Whetstone Gorse

By the time I got around to the fourth site the light was going but I still managed to locate the male owl and get my best image of this bird to date.

Site 103, Willoughby lodge Farm Site B

After a good couple of hours watching the little owls an owl of a different species was located on the drive back. Not the best quality as the conditions really were by now against me but a bit of post processing has made it passable........just?

Barn Owl, a nice late surprise!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Hungover Birding!

What a fantastic weekend weather wise, but surprise surprise not for owling!!! For the first weekend in ages I was preoccupied with other activities, namely following the famous Leicester City FC's push for promotion to the promised land of the premiership on Saturday, a 4-1 win and golfing Sunday morning, played rubbish but won nearest the pin!.

But..........in between all my other leisurely pursuits I did managed  to squeeze in a couple of hours owling

Very early Saturday morning  I decided to make a return visit to Willoughby Waterleys with my mate Daz  to check out site 103, a new site which was located last week. As both of us were suffering terrible hangovers from the alcohol abuse the night before any walking was totally out of the question, so today it was owling from the Land rover!!! 

A single bird was again located at site 103 , just too distant for good images but my first image of a bird from this site in the daylight.

Site 103, Willoughby - Lodge Farm

Next we drove a few hundred yards down the lane to see if the recently re-located owls were showing at site 45. After searching the trees we managed to located a bird high up in the suspect nest tree getting a bit of sun.

Site 45, Willoughby Waterleys - Willoughby Lodge Farm

Daz searching for the owls in a typical "morning after" pose!

 The lazy so and so.

We then drove around for a while checking out more of the local owls but not too much was seen due to our refusal to get out of the land rover and walk.........oooohh our throbbing heads, we vowed never  to drink again........yeah righto!! 

Late Sunday afternoon after the golf I again  popped out for a couple of hours, whilst driving through the lanes over near Peatling Magna I spotted an owl sitting in a roadside tree. Due to the fact that site 58 was only a couple of hundred yards down the road I presumed it was from there?

Site 58, Peatling Magna - Lower Brookhill Farm???????

However, when it re-located onto a more distant fence post I started to have second thoughts. This bird had quite a distinctive large white patch on its left shoulder, I had never noticed this on either of the birds at this site before, or for that matter on any other owls .

Mystery bird - White Shoulder

Could this unusually marked bird be one I hadn't seen before and a new site? Maybe one of the juveniles from last years success at site 58? Needless to say I will be spending some time at this location to try and unravel the mystery.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Excellent Night!

Had to get out this evening and make the most of the glorious evening sun, and boy what a memorable evening it turned out to be!

Firstly a trip over to Barwell to check out one of my boxes and although I didn't see an owl go into the box it was hanging around pretty close (image below) dare I suggest near enough is good enough??......no of course not!!

Site 42, Kirkby Mallory - Brockey Farm Site A

My second stop was at Sapcote, I wasn't holding out much hope to see anything at this site as my last sighting was back in the autumn of 2009! I feared the worst and that the bad winter had taken its toll, and then I saw him, looks like we have a survivor after all. Not the best of images but one I was really pleased to be able to take.

Site 49, Sapcote - Glebe Farm Site B

Next was site 75 over at Peatling Parva, this location has become a bit of a regularity just recently, only one bird showing again which now indicates the female is sitting tight on her eggs. In comparison with all the other hundreds of little owls I have encountered, it is quite incredible how confiding this male bird is. He really wasn't bothered about my presence as can be seen here he was more interested in finishing his beetle!

Site 75, Peatling Parva - Preistlands.

Not far from site 75 is site 58, here both birds were out, the first (image below) was sitting in the nest tree not too far from my box, the second bird was 50 mts or so along the hedgerow hunting. Obviously no egg laying yet otherwise the hen bird would be tucked away doing her incubation duties. 

Site 58, Peatling Magna - Lower Brookhill Farm.

It was now time to check out another box at site 45, this was another site where I hadn't made any sightings this year. Judging on how well the evening was going I was hopeful of an owl showing. My patience paid off as I spotted the bachelor bird and guess what? He had another bird with him!!! Can the night get any better?

Next the new pair put on a very fine mating show with plenty of squeaking, squawking and wing flapping. Maybe the nest box at this site will get some use after all?

Just as I was departing they came over towards me (maybe for a closer look) and sat staring from a trailer and fence that the farmer had left out.

Site 45, Willoughby - Willoughby Lodge Farm.

Being really pleased with the evenings events and the light was fading fast it was time to make tracks home. I was reflecting on the nights events when suddenly I spotted what I thought was a little owl, it was in a location where I hadn't seen one before and only a couple of hundred metres from the last site!! No it couldn't be.......could it? I pulled up, opened the window and waited. Oh my god it was then confirmed, sitting on top of a telegraph pole calling out was a little owl......RESULT.....get in there site 103!!!!.
Although nearly dark there was just enough light for a record shot (below).

What I thought was a great night suddenly turned into an excellent night! 

NEW Site 103,  Willoughby - Lodge Farm

Monday, 12 April 2010

More Back Enders & 102

Can you believe my luck, whilst out this evening exploring a new area the dam owl in flight syndrome struck again! I had gained permission from the local landowner to access his pastures and during my search I accidentally flushed out a beautiful barnie.  I don't know who was more shocked at the time him or me but I did managed to react quick enough (or so I thought) to grab a couple of shots. Well knowing what my track record has been like lately I wasn't at all surprised to see that both images were out of focus and.......you guessed it........more backendersl!!!!

I'm gunna surprise myself one day and get a flight shot with a face on it! 

After the flight shot farce I moved on searching the area, I then noticed in the distance (2 fields away) a very nice looking tree that just oozed little owl. I inspected it with my binoculars and there was a suspicious looking shape that needed further investigation. I got 50 yards closer and checked it out again.....RESULT......little owl!!!!.........no hang on a moment, lets get it right, little owls!!!!

Although very difficult to make out from the heavily cropped image (below) but both birds are just visible. Bird No 1 is right in the centre with a bit of black bark immediately to its right and No 2 bird is slightly above and right of bird No 1 but its almost the same colour as the bark. Hard to see???? You wanna bet they are!!

I then jumped a stream, climbed a gate, jumped another stream (wet left foot), got caught up on a barbed wire fence (ripped jeans) and finally forced my way through a hawthorn hedge to get a closer look. Dam and blast just as I was about to take an image both birds together they took off (nearly another backender!!). I followed them very cautiously along the hedgerow and finally managed just the one image before they disappeared.

Site 102, Leire - Valley View Farm Site B.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Rear Enders

As regular readers of this blog are aware I have been trying desperately to get some flight shots of little owls, today the light levels were perfect for the fast shutter speeds required to nail the required image. All I needed now was the owls to show and to play their part to help me achieve my desired results, sounds easy hey?

Well I had two opportunities toady where the owls in question were in a suitable pose and it was now all down to me to have my setting on the camera correct and to expose the image at just the right time, easy hey? Well easy if the owl played its part and flew either across me or towards me......not away from me!!! 

Opportunity No 1, wrong way Mr owl!!!

Site 101, Whetstone Golf Club

Excuse me Mr owl wrong way again!!!

Site 37, Countesthorpe - Rose Farm Site A

One day please god I'm gunna nail that dam image!!!!

Can't see the owls for the trees!

Saturday was going to be the nicest day of the year ....so far! I couldn't let this pass by without getting out there with one main aim in mind........images of owls in flight. But before that I wanted to see if the owl I located on Friday night (site 101) was still hanging around?

Beings as it was so close to home the kids joined me in the landrover so they could come and have a quick look. As we pulled in it was good news, the bird was still there and he was on the side of the main tree trunk making the most of the glorious sunshine. A surprisingly confident bird that didn't seem bothered by our presence, maybe due to the tree being right next to the road and near to a equestrian centre?

Site 101, Whetstone Golf Club.

I am still puzzled as to where this bird has come from, was this a nomad bird just passing through my patch looking for a new territory or partner? I had previously checked that tree so many times, how could I have missed him......NO them!!!! Yes that's right, the kids had located a second bird.......Fantastic!! Now I'm not going to let where these birds came from torment me any further, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed they hang around long enough to raise a family.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Yep it has happened, tonight another new site has been located,  it took me an absolute age to eventually cross the line and achieve the 100 mark and not 24hrs later site 101 has been located. I feel a little bit guilty really as it was found with even less effort than site 100!!!

I'd spent the early part of the evening over at site 22 where a single bird showed well in the low evening sun. I was quite pleased with the images I'd captured but it wasn't the time for hanging around as it was Friday night and the Guinness gods were calling me!! I was no further than 30 seconds drive from home (in the rejuvenated landrover) going  along a road that I must have travelled thousands of times and by a tree that I must have gave the once over hundreds of times and without even trying there it was..........owl site 101!

I couldn't believe my luck, I pulled over and although the light levels were really poor I managed this image before the little blighter disappeared behind the hedgerow. 

Site 101, Whetstone - Whetstone Golf Club

Going back to earlier in the evening when I was at site 22, these are a couple of images that I was particularly pleased with and the latter pair were very near misses of owls in flight, dooohhhh!!!

Site 22, Blaby - Whetstone Gorse Site B

Site 22 - Worming!

Near miss 1

Near miss 2

Friday, 9 April 2010

TON UP!!!!!!!!!!!

At last, after 617 days since my quest began late yesterday I located my 100th little owl territory, it was purely by accident as well! I decided to have an hour or so up at the Huncote Embankment to see if any of the local raptors and ravens where showing. I stopped to survey the fields way down below me and as I casually panned from left to right a suspiciously looking tree stump caught my eye. With it looking particular owly I gave it the usual once over and to my amazement sitting on top was a little owl taking in the late sun. And even more amazing was the distance involved, a good 250 mts away, I even surprised myself!!!!.

This is the only image I managed and i've had to blow it up some what but if you look right in the centre on top of the nearest small tree stump the owl can be seen. Needless to say with it being such a landmark bird I will be returning very soon to attempt to get closer and get some more creditable images.

Site 100, Huncote - Huncote Bridge

After the elation of my 100th site I made a quick trip down the road to check out one of my nest box sites at South Wigston. After a 10 minute wait I picked out both of the resident owls and boy o boy what a comotion they were making. Oh my word.......they were mating, altough I have seen little owls mating on numerous occasions I had never managed an image because it was always too dark or the birds were just too far away (like the 100th site). But this time the light was ok and although the birds were still a little distant I could deffo grab some of the action.

Site 96, South Wigston - Port Hill

When the action had died down they both flew over to the nest tree to sit quietly near the nest chamber.....ONE OF MY BOXES.....yeah yeah yeah!!!!

All in all not a bad couple of hours, my 100th site, my first mating image and new residents in one of my boxes..........bring on the weekend!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Intriguingly Gruesome!

Very early this morning (Tuesday) whilst returning home on foot from dropping my poorly landrover off at the garage I came across this site. It laid among the vegetation on the riverbank, well not really a river more a back water that is off the main river. It didn't take a lot of working out what it is, or rather what it was..... a jack pike.

I do not profess to be any great expert on half eaten carcasses but the only two culprits that come to mind that could perform a task like this is mink or otter. I know mink are present in the area because I have seen them but I have also heard some rumours that otter are too?

If anyone out there could shed any further light from the evidence provided as to whether they think it is mink or otter I would be very grateful. Please either post a reply on here or e-mail me at p.riddle@fluid-solutions.co.uk many thanks Paul.

UPDATE.............. I have had some good nature detectives contact me and they are coming up with similar reasoning as to what the culprit may be. The most feasible is it is more likely to be a mink as otters usually (but not always) eat the head of the fish. That's good enough for me, a shame really as I was really hoping for otter!