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!!!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snowy Owl

On Saturday morning Leicestershire was covered with an inch or so of overnight snow and the sun was shining, I'd been waiting for conditions like this for ages. It was now time to put my plan into action, Little Owl images in the snow, something I'd never previously managed and the excellent light levels should make for some great stuff.

I visited all the usual suspect sites where owls could be watched and photographed without the need to get out of the car, yep it was going to be a lazy day and I wanted to stay in the relative warmth! However things weren't going quite to plan, it was the same story at every site.....no owls!!! 

After exhausting all the known "easy" sites I'd resigned myself to the fact that in order to get the images I wanted I'd got to get my fat ass out of the Landrover and walk! This was bad on two counts, firstly it was bitter cold and the biting wind obviously made it feel even worse and  secondly, to get near to owls on foot for close up images is terribly difficult. 

It was only a short walk at site No 1 and it paid off when an owl was finally located, tight up to the main trunk sheltering owl of the wind. Considering it was a hand held shot the final results weren't too bad, very autumnal but no snow!  

The next site where an owl was located was site No 77, normally I can drive my landrover over the fields and up to the nest tree here but due to the fact the farmer had moved some cattle in I'd got to brave the elements and walk. I was rewarded for my efforts when the second owl of the morning was located, again some handheld shots but at least this time there was snow in the image, albeit a small amount! 

I pushed for a better image and got closer, the owl seemed reluctant to fly and just moved behind the snow covered main tree trunk, not really the snowy image I was after but the best I could managed before he got fed up with me and flew off!

An owl was also located at site No 97, this owl was a bit more alert than the previous and this was as close as I got before he disapeared!

During the search I checked out some potential new sites around the village of Hallaton, a fantastic area that I'd not been to before, a hugh area of remote open countryside with a scattering of mature "holey" trees that just oozes Little Owl! Luck would have it that eventually a new site was located, I was checking out a likely tree when this little chap appeared! I think the noise of the engine running disturbed him, I did managed this one "shaky" distant image from the car before it flew off.

New site No 136.

I checked the tree out and on the southern side I found the nest hole, it was bathed in full sun and I suspect that was where he was before my abrupt intervention disturbed him. I was going to stake it out and hope for his return and the chance of some better images but the wimp in me decided it was too cold and that could wait for another day!.......

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Owl Magnet!

Work found me up in Manchester today, when finished I decided rather than battle my way back on the motorways with all the bumper to bumper morons doing 90mph I'd take a more scenic route through the Peak District......And what a good decision it turned out to be!!! 

I was taking my time taking in the glorious views when I reached the Staffs/Derbyshire boarder, I was busting to go to the loo so I pulled off down a country lane to find somewhere nice and secluded so I could attend the call of nature!

Just before a village called Flash (incidentally the highest village in Britain)  I pulled into a nice gateway and whilst admiring the views I got on with the job in hand!  Just below me was an old stone building, and you are not going to believe what happened next, calling from the barn was a........LITTLE OWL!!!!!!! 

Luckily I had the inclination to load the camera before I left this morning so it was out in a "flash" (did you get the pun???? dohhhh!!) and with camera in hand I started a slow walk down towards the building. Then I spotted it for the first time on top of the old chimney stack, it was difficult to get a good exposure due to the horrid white sky but a record shot was in the can!

It didn't seem to like how near I was and flew off to a nearby fence post, although a little distant I was able to capture this more atmospheric image.

I went back to the car and drove it a little further down the lane and pulled up. It wasn't long before the owl returned to the building roof, along with its mate!!

Its like I'm an owl magnet at the moment, every where I go just lately I seem to be bumping into them! However, it was amazing to see Little Owls somewhere else rather than in Leicestershire, a very unexpected and lucky encounter, albeit a brief one!!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Just So!!!!

This morning I was in accompanied by Mr Colin Green, a well respected local Leicestershire birder who has very kindly offered to help me with my Barn Owl nest box project. Today's task was to have a look around some local terrain and select what we believed to be the "most suitable" to site some boxes.

During our rounds we obviously encountered some of my known Little Owl territories, one of which was site No 77 in South Wigston. Here we located "bright eyes", a well known Little Owl to me who as the name suggests has the biggest, brightest and most intensely yellow eyes I have ever seen in a Little Owl. He was located in his nest tree sitting among the spindly branches, again on his own as his mate has not been seen now for over twelve months!
Alone..........Bright Eyes.

Colin and I were having some good close views when all of a sudden he uplifted and flew to a nearby Willow Tree. We followed in the Landrover and to our surprise when we relocated him he wasn't alone! He had got his partner with him, but it wasn't his old mate who I haven't seen for an age, he had a new woman in tow! I immediately recognise her, she was one of this years chicks from the nearby site No 105, and how do I know? Well if you study the two images below I'm sure you will agree it is far more than a coincidence!!

Site No 77, the new woman, along with a damaged left eye!

June 2010, Chick from nearby site No 105 with damaged left eye!

I know the images are not identical she has obviously moulted out into the adult plumage which is darker and more contrasting but I have no doubt it is the same bird! What do you think?

Anyway after all that distraction time ran away with us but we did managed to survey two very suitable sites where in the not too distant future some Barn Owl boxes will be erected.

After Colin had made his way (he was late for his Sunday lunch!) I made the trip over to Great Easton. Another well know birder from the east of the county, Mr John Turner had invited me to accompany him on a vigil to a village called Great Easton, Short Eared Owls were the quarry. They had returned for the winter and had been showing really well on the previous few days.

We parked up adjacent to the area where they had previously been seen hunting and waited for them to show. Whilst we waited we made best of the time chatting and catching up as we hadn't met for a good few months.

Although bitterly cold the time past really quickly and after a couple of hours the expectant crowd had grown from just the two of us to around twenty hopeful observers. John decided to take matters into his own hands and wandered off down the track to see if they were hunting in the out of sight adjacent field.

John had nearly wondered out of sight when the first Short Eared Owl appeared.....typical! He soon made his way back to the posse who were by now well onto the owls.

It was great to eventually see the owls, three in total plus a bonus Barn Owl but due to their late showing the photography was very difficult indeed as the light had almost gone!.

This was my best capture from a pretty bad bunch.

How could you cap such a wonderful day? Well I will tell you how, by finding another Little Owl site on the way home.........that's how! John had given me the info on a potential site at a village called Cranoe, I followed his precise directions to a tee,  but after around 30 minutes nothing was either seen or heard! I gave up and left, then only a few hundred yards out of the village I spotted a suspect blob sitting on top of a barn......LITTLE OWL!!!!! Fantastic site No 135.

The "Blob"

 I have my suspicions on whether or not this owl is from the site John tried to put me onto, never the less I will have to give him the credit........for now!

Today was a superb day, many thanks must go to Colin & John for making it just so!

Good things come in 3's!

Yesterday was horrid damp and overcast and really good for nothing apart from maybe sitting in the pub and watching the footie.! However, during the day I had three good pieces of fortune. The first "good thing" came after fruitless visits to several sites and seeing nothing I then stumbled across a tiny oasis deep in the south of Leicestershire where the cloud broke for a while and the sun managed to break through. 

I was at site No 34 near to Gilmorton and the resident pair of owls were out sitting in the nest tree.

Owl No 1, the female.

The female again.

The male bird.

All was going well, both owls were relaxed with my presence as I leaned out of the car window snapping away, we all seemed to be making the most of this little pocket of sunshine. Then all of a sudden the male bird squawked out his alarm call and they both flashed out of sight and into the nest hole!!! How bizarre, I couldn't work out why they had done that? I'd made no sudden movements and the area was deathly silent!!

Then I understood, in the adjacent field we had a visitor, a buzzard had moved in and landed on a nearby fence post. Even though it was a good 50 yards away the Little Owls were having none of it and scarpered!!!

An unwelcome visitor! 

The untimely arrival of the Buzzard put paid to seeing the owls for a while so it was time to move on back into the gloom. I finally arrived at a farm in Lubbesthorpe, I was greeted by the landowner and the second "good thing" happened. He was aware of my up and coming Barn Owl box project and wanted to support it, to the tune of £100.00, what a result and what an absolutely fantastic gesture!!!

The third and final piece of "good luck" occurred whilst myself and the land owner walked across one of his fields to check out a Little Owl box I put up a few weeks ago in a solitary Oak Tree. As we stood under the tree looking up at the box a Little Owl popped out and flew off! Fantastic, another new site (No 134) and it was using my box, sadly no images as I had left the camera in the car!

The box in question (taken at time of erection).

What a superb day, my luck eventually ran out though, the lottery tickets I purchased on the way home proved to be a waste of money!!!!!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Out of the mist!

Whilst driving home last night I decided to take a slight detour and stop off at my site No 34, I've only ever previously heard owls at this site and the last encounter was months ago!

So when I pulled up and observed the area, I wasn't very hopeful of making my first ever sighting as the valley was cloaked in strange hanging mist, see image below.   

Unperturbed I drove down and parked up, there was this weird eerie feeling about the place, quite surreal really.  The lack of visibility seemed to heighten the senses, after a ten minute wait the silence was shattered, curdling through the gloom came the screech of a Little Owl. 

It was coming from the general direction of the old barn,  then it appeared!!!! I could just make out the owls  ghostly silhouette on the barn roof, brilliant my first ever sighting albeit a pretty dam poor one! 

I did manage this single image before it flew off, not good of the owl but it gives a sense of the atmosphere........very spooky!!!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Lucky Seven!

Another new Little Owl territory was located tonight, taking my overall tally to 133 sites. It was located in pitch darkness down a muddy farm track in the middle of nowhere. Due to not being able to see my hand in front of my face the method I employed tonight was "playback". A laborious method of location that requires a lot of patience and very good hearing.

I selected an area that I hadn't visited before and therefore no previous owl records, it was as isolated as you can get near to where I live and far away from any light and noise pollution. I drove the Landrover right to the end of the track and turned around. The slow drive back found me stopping every 2/300 yards, I then played my Little Owl recording at the predetermined duration and within the protocol advised. It was then a matter of waiting to see if there was any response and on the seventh stop I got one!!!! The single owl called back on several occasions and at one point came very close but unfortunately I never saw it.

I will return again soon, only this time it will be in the daylight so I can have a good look around the area and maybe locate the nest tree and then maybe........some images?????

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The tally increases!

A very long work day today, an early start, 4 customer calls later and 258 miles under my belt I found myself re-entering Leicestershire at around 4.00pm. The light levels were poor but armed with camera in the car I was hoping to see the owl at site No 34 near to Gilmorton, a bird I haven't seen so far this year!

Half a mile before site No 34 I spotted a Little Owl sitting at its nest hole, after breaking hard, reversing and messing about getting the camera and settings ready I only had the time for one image (below) before it disappeared into the tree, but hey who cares about the image quality it was another brand new site (No 132).

Site No 132, a poor quality image but a record shot never the less!

Absolutely overjoyed about locating the new site I continued for the further half mile along the road not really bothered whether the owl at site No 34 showed or not!!! I pulled up near to the tree where I saw it last (Nov 2009) opened the car window and waited........

The light had almost gone, if it was going to show this was the perfect time for it to emerge........if it was still here? And it was, and with its mate! The light levels were so poor I had to use flash to attain an image but they didn't seem bothered!

My first viewing and image of the pair at site No 34. 

What a superb 20 minutes, confirmation of a pair at a site where I haven't even seen a single owl so far this year and a new site! This keeps up my streak of finding at least one new Little Owl site every month since August 2008, long may it continue!

Good On Ya!!!

A MASSIVE thank you to all those whom responded to my call for help with the funding of the Barn Owl boxes, I have nearly had enough enquiries/pledges for my 2011 Little Owl calender to fund the first two boxes, only 3 orders short!!! 

It would be great to get enough orders for the second box, so if there is anyone out there who would still like a calender (see previous post) they are priced at £9.99 each, including p&p and ALL the profits of £1.75 per calender will go towards getting the first two boxes and maybe............even a third???? 

All you have to do is email me and I will get back to you asap.

Thank you! 

Friday, 12 November 2010

Help Needed..........PLEASE!!!!

I have just finished putting together my 2011 Little Owl calender with a selection of my favourite images that I have taken in 2010 from in and around Leicestershire. Last year I did a similar thing and gave them away to family, friends and local landowners. This time around I am using the calenders to try and raise some funds towards the costs of the Barn Owl boxes that I hope to put up this winter. 

In my opinion the calender is of pretty good quality with a varied selection of my images, the card stock is of premium quality and the photos are finished in high gloss.

Here are some examples of what it looks like......

Should anyone out there which to grace their wall with a copy of their very own they are priced at a very reasonable £9.99 each which also includes p&p to UK addresses, wow that's fantastic value!!!!!!! All the profits of £1.75 per calender will be going straight into the Barn Owl box fund, which incidentally are costing around £40.00 each, so as you can see I have an awful lot of calenders to sell to even get the first box.
So should you wish to help me to help the local Barn Owls please order a calender (or even two) by sending me an email and I will get back to you asap............Many many thanks Paul.
my email address;   p.riddle@fluid-solutions.co.uk

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Blast From The Past!

Due to just having a busy life and the clocks changing recently getting "owl 'n' about" this last week has proved a bit difficult. Therefore I have decided to upload a few of my Little Owl images taken from before this blog was started. Nothing particular impressive but just a small selection from my 1,000's of Little Owl images.

A juvenile from a site 31, very local to where I live, very confiding bird.

Getting a decent flight image has proved extremely difficult, this I suppose is one of my "better" attempts from site No 19.

An adult owl out hunting for its hungry brood, a morsel of a Caterpillar can just be made out in its beak.

Another "flighty" shot, a shame the sun was in the wrong direction!

Another very confiding juvenile, it is sometimes amazing just how close they will let you get!

I just found this image a little comical, the Little Owl will make use of almost anything for a perch!

And finally one of my very favourite images, this was the first really close up view I had from my mobile hide.

Hopefully my commitments will ease slightly over the next week allowing me to get back out there and find whats being going on!