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!!!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

It's in the detail!

Met up with John again tonight down at "owl avenue" and true to form the newly found resident barn owls showed again at around 9.45pm. Didn't bother with any images as John says my images of the pair that I took on Tuesday night were pretty good anyway, they just need a bit of post processing (he's an expert at this you know) so here's the same image from Tuesday with John's finishing touches.

I was really pleased with the former images but now I'm just astounded with the detail that John has managed to bring out!!!! For a better appreciation of this please double click on the picture for a larger image and more detail.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Stay in and watch the footie or go and have an hour or two down at "owl avenue"?????

The following images should give you an idea of what I decided to do..........the right choice I think!

It had been a reasonable successful evening with the little owls showing well,  and I think some slight improvements with the flight images too?? But then the evening turned into a barnstormer when the recently located barn owl appeared, and then to make matters even better a pair!.......what a privilege!!!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Flighty Owls.

Went out reasonably early today to make the most of the sunlight being in the right location for some hopeful owls in flight shots at a private local site. Although the resident owls were out and mobile they were a fair way off. Having said that I still struggled to really nail that pin sharp image that I so desire, well one with a head that could be seen anyway, I am becoming quite an expert of "back end" flight shots!!!

Nice even light, nice background, nicely in focus........no head!!!

Great light, nice solid background, nice and sharp......no head!

Nice light, messy background, slightly out of focus but an owl with a head!

Still not what I am looking for but the best of a pretty average bunch.

I think I should stick to static owls for the time being? Here are a few that I was particularly pleased with.

 Having a good old scratch. 

Watching the overhead Buzzard.

A posing pair.

And finally something else from the day..........Brown Hare.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Nearly Out Foxed!

Today it was something a little different from owls, my mate Richard Pegler had recently discovered a foxes den that had a couple of cubs! He asked if I would be interested in coming over to have a look....... how could I refuse.

We arrived mid morning and I set up my hide about 40 yards away and waited for the cubs to show. In all I was in the hide for about 2 and a half hours and during this time only one cub emerged and that was for a maximum 30 seconds. For some reason the image stabilisation didn't work and most of the images were blurred, below are four of the better images that I managed to salvage, enjoy........

After the foxes we had a trip around some of Richards little owl sites, we saw 3 owls at 3 different sites, presumably all male birds. He like me is going to be very busy soon when all the owlets emerge from the nest holes........can't wait! Many thanks Richard, I really enjoyed myself.

Finally an unusual little owl images to finish with that I took yesterday and didn't get time to process.

Bombing Owl!

Made a return visit this evening to new site 106 that was located last night when I was out with Tony, it took a good half an hour chatting with the landowner before permission was granted for a quick venture into the potential nest tree field. I settled down a good 40 yards or so away and started a systematic scan of the tree. It didn't take long before the little owl was located and a couple of quick images were taken. It wasn't until I viewed the images that I realised there was actually a pair.......what a result!!!!

Site 106 - Church Spinney - Kirkby Mallory

The views weren't great as they remained quite high up in the tree and often behind the branches and twigs but I did managed this unusual image of one of the birds dropping to a lower limb.

Dive bomber!

Once my allotted time at this site had expired it was time to move on............but where to??? As I hadn't seen the owls over at site 88 and it was local it was an easy choice. The owls at this site are tough to see as the nest tree is "an island" and very difficult to approach without being spotted. I decided that once I got to the site a tactic of keeping my distance was to be employed......and it paid off!!! After a bit of patience the little blighter was located crouching down behind a broken off limb. He obviously thought I couldn't see him but the picture below tells a different story! 

It wasn't long before the sun started to set, now this could be an opportunity to get that image that I have been so desperate to capture, little owl in the late evening golden glow (yeah the one that I failed at so successfully a couple of nights ago!) Although the shadows didn't help and I didn't actually nail the golden glow I was after, never the less I was well pleased with my final result of a near miss!

 Site 88 - The Park - Enderby. Golden glow..........nearly!

Time was now pressing on so it was a quick drive over to Countesthorpe to pick up my mate John, we had arranged a late visit to "owl avenue". We were well rewarded with out wait into the near dark hours with some excellent views of a superb pair of barn owls..............oh and a single  little owl hunting.

Tomorrow fox cubs are on the agenda, watch this space............ 

Thursday, 20 May 2010

106 & 107!

Got invited over to Barwell tonight by my mate Tony to investigate a potential little owl site he thinks he has located. Unfortunately no owls were seen but I must admit the site looks very owly. We then moved on to another site I wanted to show Tony that i thought would be idea for his digi-scope set up. We had only been there 10 minutes when the male owl showed in the nest tree, although distant Tony managed some really good images with his scope set on 30 x magnification. 

Whilst Tony was busy taking more images I started to scan a row of willow trees in the opposite direction, I located a little owl sitting very low down on the right hand side of the main trunk. Was this a new site???? I couldn't be sure as it was quite close to the one we were already watching. But my suspicions were soon confirmed when a second owl appeared in the nest tree at the first site that Tony was still watching. BINGO come on in new site 106!!!!!

Site 106 - Church Spinney - Kirkby Mallory

Soon after I made my way back home to pick up the landrover as there was a couple of sites that I wanted to visit that I hadn't been to for a while. My first stop off was a site at Narborough, here the male bird show really well but the shadows under the trees didn't help with the photography.

Site 51 - Flash Farm - Narborough

Next stop was a site over at Gilmorton, again the male bird showed nicely but he would just not come down from his high perch for some better images.

Site 92 - Holt Farm - Gilmorton

The sun was just starting to set so it was time to quickly move on to "owl avenue" I was hoping the barn owls would show again as they did a couple of nights ago. Just as I pulled off there was this horrid rumbling noise! I was full of dread as I knew what it was...........A PUNCTURE!!!!!!! Bloody hell, it was nearly dark and I was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily all the necessary tools were on board (although I had not previously checked they were there!). Whilst I was busily sorting out the spare a guy came by and stopped. He was a mechanic from the local village and he very kindly helped with getting the wheel changed.....what a gent he was!

By now it was too dark to see the barn owls, so home was the only choice. Normally I would have turned right at the bottom of the lane but I turned left as it would be the quicker way home. And what a good gob I did, 400 yards down the lane guess what I chanced upon?.........yep you guessed it, a little owl!!!! He was in a roadside tree balancing on an outer branch overhanging the road, it would have been impossible to miss him!!. They say every cloud has a silver lining and tonight mine was in the form of little owl site No 107, obviously it was too dark for any images, guess where I will be going over the weekend......?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Owl Central

Went owl n about again tonight but a bit later than normal, it was the setting sun that got my juices flowing. It just lured me out with the possibility of some nice evening images with that late golden glow, something I hadn't managed before!

I was pretty pleased with the results but unfortunately by the time I got to my chosen site that lovely golden glow had faded.........thanks to a really inconsiderate bank of clouds that blocked the light!

 A bit of wing stretching, shame he wasn't looking my way!

Once it got too dark for any more images I headed back home along a particular back lane (now known as owl avenue) not too far from home and within a half mile stretch I either saw or heard no fewer than five different little owls, three tawny owls and a single barn owl. Now you wouldn't want to be a vole in this location would you!!!! 

Monday, 17 May 2010

All's well @ 77!

Managed to get owl 'n' about again tonight to try my luck at some more little owl photography, I elected to go and sit it out at site 77 near to South Wigston. I haven't seen a bird here since before xmas and I feared the worst, but after a good hour of waiting my fears were allayed when what I presume was the male bird showed himself.

Although it was late the light levels weren't too bad, I was really pleased with the sighting and the images I managed. The other good news was the nest box that I have erected here is now showing signs of occupancy, plenty of mute (a technical term for owl crap) could clearly be seen around the nest hole entrance. Fingers crossed that this may be the third of my boxes that plays host to some breeding activity this year.

This bird seemed restless and kept moving from branch to branch and looking down to the ground as though something there was disturbing him? I never did managed to determine what the agitation was all about, maybe a mink or other small predator? 

Just before departing I did managed an image of him as he took off from his perch, although distant and nearly dark I am really pleased to of attained this image of him in flight (although heavily cropped) and for once it wasn't of the rear end!!!

Shame about the wing clip, he was too fast for the camera
.............and me!!!!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Gotta Lens!

After a few weeks of frustration in having not had my "long lens" and consequently no owl images my good mate John from Countesthorpe lent me his, a Canon 600mm prime with all the associated goodies. Now this is a serious piece of kit, worth in the region of £8,000.00..........yes you read it right, EIGHT GRAND!!!!!!!! It oozes quality and god dam is it heavy, a couple of pit ponies wouldn't go amiss with the helping to carry it! Oh my god, what if I bust it, what if I drop it, what if an owl craps on it!!!!! If any of the aforementioned ever occurred I'd have to go and see my bank manager to get me out of a predicament that would give me pain in the wallet for years to come!

For that reason the lens has remained securely in its case and in my house for the last 3 days. I have been weighing up all the pros and con's on weather to take it out into the field or not. Anyway, yesterday (Saturday) I was out with the renowned wildlife photographer Andy Rouse (a really nice and very knowledgeable bloke), we spent all morning and part of the afternoon checking out some of my owl sites with a view to selecting a few for a couple of weeks time when we are going to put in some serious hours .

After Andy left I realised my appetite for some owl photography had really been whetted so I loaded up the Canon lens and headed off to my "7 egg site". Upon arrival at the site I bumped into "Skev" (his blog can be accessed on the column on the left), he had been out bush shaking (or some thing like that?) and he had a nice collection of caterpillars and larva in little plastic tubes. We chewed the fat for 20 minutes or so before he went on his way, I then set up my portable hide and out with the lens. Oh I forgot to mention that a few days ago I purchased a new camera body (Canon 40D) from my good mate Nigel Spencer (his blog is also accessible on the column on the left) . Now this was my first run out with the new body and boy o boy was I going to get some great images especially as I had the Canon lens attached to it!

I sat quietly in anticipation waiting for the owls to show, I waited and waited and waited.............Nothing!!!! What a bloody anti-climax, here I was, all the gear (but not much idea) waiting for the final piece of the jigsaw to fall into place..........so where were the bloody owls?????

After what seemed an age and no show owls I decided to call it a day and pack up. I'd just taken the lens off the tripod (with the help of a block and tackle!) and sods law kicked in......there was the little blighter right in front of me at the nest entrance! No time to mess around with tripods and the like, I quickly lifted the lens, biceps bulging and rattled off a few images. 

He then flew up into the tree giving me "the stare"

Not the best images I've ever taken but considering they were taken hand held I am very pleased. I'm sure it won't be too long before I'm owl n about again with the new kit...............can't wait!!!!!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

No More No Cuckoo!!!

After work this evening I decided I could just squeeze in a couple of hours over at "Rids Patch" before the footie starts, glad I did as well! Upon arrival all the usual suspects were on the scrap, including five little ringed plovers and the solitary greenshank that is still hanging around. During the coarse of my walk I managed to tick off another five species that I hadn't seen her before, swift, robin, starlin, long tailed tit and finally a cuckoo. A very handsome but quiet male bird was making his way from post to post along the stream in snipe marsh, on occasions he would disappear out of sight into the long grass in the ditch but it wasn't long before he re-emerged. I did managed some images but due to still not having my 500mm lens back yet from being repaired they were very poor (don't they bloody mess about at these dam repair shops!).

Monday, 10 May 2010

Back to Owling!

Went out tonight with my good friend John to check on a couple of little owl boxes that he helped me put up earlier in the year. Although he knew the good news that two of the boxes were occupied it was the first time he had been really up close and personal with a little owl.

As advised by Emily I am now working within the BTO's protocol set out for the nest site monitoring, I will be keeping records of all visits and and logging any developments, after the breeding season all my info will be collated and sent to the BTO via Emily.

The owls at both nest box sites are doing really well and the hen birds are sitting tight whilst performing their incubation duties. The male birds are working even harder and are busy out hunting most of the day as they have to keep the hen bird fed because she does not leave the nest until the eggs have hatched. 

Below is an image of the hen bird at the first site we visited, it is absolutely amazing how they don't move even when the inspection door has been opened. As this bird was sitting so tight I decided not to move her to do an egg count, it will just have to be a surprise on how many eggs she has when they hatch!

At the second site the hen bird was off her eggs and in the far corner of the box (no image possible) but this was only because she was busy devouring a mouse that the male bird had taken in to her. On the last visit with Emily these birds had three eggs and as that was over a week ago so we can assume no more will be laid.

Towards the end of the month all the eggs should have hatched, just after this time I will be returning with Andy Smith from The Charnwood Ringing Group to ring the juveniles, so fingers crossed all goes well until then?

4 G's and a Fox!

Sunday morning went up to "Rids Patch" for a couple of hours before the football. Although windy it was really quiet pleasant. I was hoping to get some more patch ticks of the more common species (dunnock, greenfinch, yellowhammer etc) that I really should of seen so far but haven't!

As I was walking along north meadow down towards the scrape a green woodpecker rose from the grass in front of me, excellent a patch tick and I'd only been here 5 minutes. Further along north meadow there were plenty of whitethroats singing in the gorse bushes, I hung around for a few minutes but the little blighters wouldn't really show themselves for a photo, mind you I was always going to struggle for any half decent images as I only got my 35mm lens with me, my 500mm has still not been repaired yet.

I settled down at the edge of the scrap and my second patch tick of the day came in the form of a fly over goldfinch, my running tally is moving on nicely now and upto 46 different species.

On the scrape the little ringed plovers were seen again but I could only locate two of the usual four, I can only assume the two I couldn't locate must have been out the way somewhere sitting on eggs? Then from absolutely nowhere a grey wagtail landed right in front of me, it was so preoccupied with feeding on the fresh hatch of flies it didn't even notice me, oh yes a third new species tick of the day! 

Then again from absolutely nowhere appeared a fox! Just as with the wagtail 5 minutes beforehand he didn't even notice me! He was walking along sniffing the ground as he went past, can only assume he was on the trial of some prey...........a rabbit maybe?
 Mr Fox

Once the fox had disappeared I again turned my attention to the scrap, still couldn't locate the little ringed plovers but what I did locate was a very handsome greenshank! I was really surprised, one of the last birds I would have thought to see here. It worked its way around the edge of the scrap getting nearer all the time, then unlike the wagtail and the fox it saw me! It bobbed characteristically a couple of times and then off it flew. I did managed this in flight image but again too far away for my smaller lens........doooohhhh!!!!

Greenshank in flight

All in all a very proactive couple of hours and plenty of birds about. Whilst on my walk I also saw 5 wheatears (all females) in snipe marsh but the 4 new patch ticks were the highlights......oh and not forgetting the fox!

And finally I must say hello to Maureen, apparently she is this blogs most avid reader..................... "HELLO MAUREEN"!!!!!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

7th Heaven!

Nothing much doing yesterday due to the poor weather conditions, I did however make the effort to go and check out the site with the incredible SEVEN eggs! I was secretly hoping that she hadn't finished laying and maybe an eighth or even ninth egg! After checking the site out the hen bird was found sitting tight and what a disappointment, she still only has 7 eggs...........some people are never satisfied!

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all the eggs are fertile and go on to hatch, there's going to be a need for a plentiful food supply as the parent owls are going to be very very busy keeping them all fed. If all goes well there is going to be some fantastic sights when they start to emerge from the nest hole, the  photo opportunities to come will be fantastic........I'll be in seventh heaven!

Monday, 3 May 2010

What do I know?


I forgot to mention that whilst out with Emily on Saturday we located a new little owl site (No 104) in a pollarded willow tree. Went back this morning with Gaynor (my wife) to investigate further. Once I'd located the potential nest cavity it was out with the "see snake" to see into the hole which was very long and dark. Even though I used it with the extension lead (taking it to over 2 metres in length) it still wasn't long enough to reach the nest chamber!!!! These little owls sure do burrow like rabbits at times.

Whilst in the roughly the same location my Mrs spotted a potential nest hole high up in a Popular tree, I told her it was a strange location and little owls just wouldn't nest there. She insisted we checked it out so to appease her I got the ladders off the landrover roof and clambered up. I offered the "see snake" into the hole and BINGO, 4 little owl eggs and site 105! 

Oh how smug she was..........and still is!!!!!

The Magnificent Seven

Over the last two days Emily (from the Hawk & Owl Trust) and I have been owl 'n' about checking to see if we could detect any signs of breeding activity at any of my little owl locations including the sites where I have erected the 21 nest boxes.

We found hen birds incubating their clutches of eggs at 8 different locations, six natural sites and can you believe it............also in two of my boxes!!!!!! To have little owls convert to my nest boxes so soon was just fabulous and especially rewarding considering all the hard work that has gone into making and erecting them.

Both the nest box sites have 3 eggs each........so far! The statistics for the natural locations was as follows; 4 different sites with 3 eggs each, 3 sites with 4 eggs each and a mighty 7 eggs at 1 site! We were both amazed at the 7 eggs and Emily said in all the hundreds and hundreds of little owl sites she had previously checked 6 was the maximum she had ever encountered and that was only on two previous occasions.

Emily can be seen here checking out the 7 egg site, and further below is an image from that site of the clutch of eggs, unfortunately not all 7 can be seen!

Emily can be seen in this image up a tree again (I think she must of had training from Tarzan!) checking out one of the natural sites with her "See Snake Camera" (endoscope). It proved to be an invaluable piece of equipment as it allowed us to look deep inside some of the cavities, the breeding activity would never have been confirmed at four of the sites without it!

A clutch of four eggs at one of the natural sites.

Just to point out that Emily is fully trained in gathering little owl data in this particular fashion and at no point did we knowingly cause any undue stress to the birds. We worked swiftly, quietly and at all times the birds welfare was of paramount importance.

Unfortunately we did have a triple whammy of bad fortune during the two days, firstly at one site we saw a stoat coming out of one of the natural nest sites, and yes you have guessed it........no owl or eggs!!!! Secondly, at another natural nest site we found two eggs, oh you would think that to be good news wouldn't you, but no not in this case as they were light brown in colouration with black speckles! Any ideas??? Jackdaws had evicted the little owls and taken over.......dam!!!!!! And thirdly whilst checking out some sites over at Enderby we were inundated with sight seers that caused total grid lock of the local roads!!!!! No it wasn't because they had heard Emily was visiting, they had come to watch the local re-cycling plant being raised to the ground as it went up like an inferno!