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!!!

Monday, 28 February 2011


Yesterday (Sunday) I revisited the Long Eared Owl site I located before the weekend, I thoroughly checked the three roosting spots where I had previously seen pellets on the ground and poo in the branches.......but nothing!! I am just hoping that the atrocious weather conditions we've being suffering recently have made it seek refuge in a more sheltered roosting location and it will return come better conditions?

On a brighter note though, on Sunday two new Little Owl sites were added to my ever growing list, both were results of recent chance encounters with local people with local knowledge and after having a good chat with them (or rather an interrogation) I extracted a couple of leads. 

After searching for hours in the cold blustery wind and rain I finally got em both, believe me though neither of them were an easy find, judge for yourself by the images below!

New site No 156 at Dunton Basset, I assure you it is in the image, can you see it?

Did you find the owl? No I thought not! Now look just inside the very bottom of the hole that is in the middle of the picture, you can just make out the top of its head and its eyes, and some of you think finding these owls is easy!

New site No 157 was located at Gumley and it was almost an impossible find and much harder than the previous, although you wouldn't believe it from looking at the picture (below). What isn't apparent in this image is the fact that there was a bush in between me and the owl and it was only when I was searching through the camera lens whilst focusing on the tree that I found it sheltering out of the wind and rain.

Many thanks to the two ladies who gave up there time to talk to me about owls, at the time of my "pestering" one was busy lambing and  the other was working in the garden centre!

So my "Little Owl Ometer" keeps ticking over and my reset target of 200 different sites is now becoming a reality, is it possible to attain by the end of the year?..............Lets wait and see!


Saturday had been long planned in for putting up some more Barnie boxes, Col "high viz jacket" Green and myself in the morning, and then around 1.30pm meet up with Daz and go over to Thornton to see Andy Smith to erect a few more........well that was the plan!!!

Col "HVJ" turned up at my place at 8.00am, it was going to be a really productive day, the target was to put up 7 boxes. It was planned with military precision, we knew all the sites we were going to, what time we would be there, how long it would take, etc etc, but nobody told the weatherman that!!! 

It was awful, it couldn't have been worse, it had been raining solid for a couple of days and it had ruined our best laid plans. Its not that we don't like getting wet, we were dressed for it, the problem was getting to the sites. No respectable landowner was going to take kindly to me driving the Landrover across their soggy water drenched fields cutting, or rather ploughing them up!

At the eleventh hour a change of plan was required..........BARNS, and easy accessible ones at that. If they were close enough to where I could park we could carry the kit and work inside! That was it, we made our way over to an area where I knew of a cracking barn with a gravel track leading to it, oh no I didn't! On arrival the field had been ploughed over and the track had gone! It was too late now, we just had to go for it, so we slipped and slided around the edge of the field in an attempt to get close. On route we stumbled across a little spinney in the corner of a field that had single dead tree that just shouted out to us, "come and put a box on me", so we did!

We didn't hang around either, we just got on with the job in hand. 

In no time at all the 1st box of the day was up.

I went up to check Col's work, (as if it needed checking) yeah all OK good job mate!

A nice position too, high hopes for this one!

Pleased with our quick erecting efforts we packed up the kit and continued our way to the barn, on route I had the dreaded but expected phone call from Andy Smith, the planned box erecting for the afternoon over at Thornton had to be cancelled, the fields were just too boggy and the farmer was convinced we would get stuck!

We arrived at the barn, all the required kit was unloaded and we got on with putting up the next box, and thankfully it was in the dry. What greeted us inside the barn lifted our damp spirits, Barn Owl pellets were everywhere, I counted over 50 and some were very fresh indeed. The barn was obviously being used as a roost, this gave us extra motivation to get on with the job.

Barn Owl pellets and poo.

A bit of an "arty" image of Col up in the rafters with the box.

Where to next???......I knew of another easily accessible barn that would be idea for another box, the only problem was I hadn't got permission for access. I knew where the landowner lived so we went and introduced ourselves! He was pleased to see the good work we were doing and entry was granted.

Not really a barn, more like a small hovel really but it was a perfect location for our third box of the day. An additional bonus was it was obviously being used by roosting Barn Owls as a pile of pellets were discovered inside.

Its wasn't a surprise we found pellets inside, this is the pasture adjacent to the barn, absolutely perfect for hunting Barn Owls.

Inside the hovel it was a little cramped for space and very dark, good job Col had his High Viz Jacket on otherwise I wouldn't of been able to see him!!!

The third box of the day up and in position.

The day was now getting on and Col had to leave as he had a pressing appointment elsewhere. He didn't say what it was but judging by his jacket I reckon he's got a part time job as a lollipop man!!!

After Col departed I assessed the day's results which were rather disappointing, we had only managed to erect 3 boxes out of the planned 7, but that was the dammed weather for you! As there was still plenty of time left I decided to visit another known Barn where I did have permission to go. Due to the fact I hadn't heard from Daz (must of gone to watch the footie) I opted to "go it alone".  

I called in to see the farmer who owns the barn, he said it was OK for me to go and put a box up as he thought I'd be able to drive down as the fields were quite dry and wouldn't cut up, mmmmmmm!!!

It took a lot longer to erect the box on my own as compared to when help is at hand, it was a bit of a struggle at times but the outcome was OK.........I think! I'm not quite as proficient as Col at putting them up, hopefully it won't have fallen down come the next time I visit???

Looking back down into the valley of the last site/barn of the day, a picturesque setting with my Landrover tracks clearly visible, ooooppps!!!

To summarise, the day looked like it was going to be a total washout, but in the end it turned out really well. Four more boxes up and in locations that evidence suggests are frequented by Barn Owls on a regular basis, here's hoping they will choose to take up residence.........soon!

All being well and a bit of decent weather, more boxes will be put up at Thornton next week?

Thanks for your help Col.........top man!

Friday, 25 February 2011

GOT HIM......again!

This evening I made a return visit to see if I could eclipse last nights brilliant encounter with the LEO (Long Eared Owl). I was on location just a bit earlier than last night so I needed to make the most of what available light there was if I was to get an improved image.

So tracking down the bird in its daytime roost was going to be one hell of a job, just where do you start? The site is massive, trees, hedgerow and scrub everywhere! Well, having gained some invaluable advise from "Stevie LEO Evans" on locating methods he suggested to start my search near to where I last saw it.

Therefore I started looking in the dense undergrowth near to where I was parked last night, I'd gone no further than 30 yards when I found what I was looking for, loads of white wash (bird poo) on the ground and on the above branches and twigs. Surely this was it? Viewing into the hedgerow proved very difficult and after 10 minutes of careful scanning it produced nothing! I moved on, and after another few yards I came across another load of white wash that also offered no LEO. Another few yards on and another load, this was starting to become a bit tedious and at this rate I could be here for hours.

Then I got really lucky, I was drawn to a slight movement deep in the Hawthorne, there was a blob, a big blob! I moved around cautiously whilst trying penetrate my vision deep into the bush, was it? wasn't it, I wasn't sure, then our eyes met, what a fantastic experience........LEO!!!!!

I managed the daytime image I was after, a bit obscured by all the twigs but the most important thing was I got those piercing blood orange eyes.

So as not to disturb the bird too much I made a quick retreat once the image was in the can. I continued the search for another 20 minutes to see if there were anymore in the area but nothing else was found. An absolutely brilliant experience and one I will never ever forget.

Thanks for the help Stevie. 

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Is any body going to believe it???
Not even sure if I do yet!!!
A fiirst for me in Leicestershire, (only my second ever sighting in the UK),
Self found,
And it was.............AN OWL!!!

OK, let me calm down and explain......

This evening after work I visited a local area to hopefully see Barn Owls, I arrived around 5.30pm just as the light was starting to fade, first sighting was of the resident Little Owls, a pair sitting out in their nest tree, a little too dark and too far away for quality images but good to see never the less.

The resident Little Owl emerging from its nest hole.

I moved a 100 yards or so further up the lane from the where the Little Owls were and parked up, a good vantage point for Barn Owls, if they were to show? I wasn't to be disappointed either, I'd been waiting only 5 minutes when I spotted a Barnie in the distance, it was flying low along a field side verge and heading straight for me! I set the camera up on the highest ISO possible and waited, it came close, really close but due to the low light levels I just couldn't "lock on to it" for an image, dam and blast! Up and over the car it went and then disappeared behind a hedgerow, they were brilliant views, something I would have loved to of captured an image of. Then would you flipping believe it, a second Barn Owl!! It too followed an identical path to the first, only this one landed on a post not 10 yards from the car, I'd resigned myself to no images so I just sat and admired what utterly awesome and graceful birds they are.

In seconds they had both disappeared into the darkness, I was well satisfied with what I had seen but wanted MORE!!! I tried an old trick, to imitate a mouse noise! (a sort of silly squeaking) to see if I could bring them back, it has worked for me before so why not now?

After 5 minutes I'd about given up when suddenly one of them flashed past only two feet from my window, WOW the squeaking worked! It landed on top of a hedgerow and offered some super close up but silhouetted views. Hang on a minute, that's no Barn Owl...........it's a Tawny Owl! It then turned it's head and what I then saw I couldn't believe.......oh my god IT HAD TUFTS.......It was a LONG EARED OWL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dark or not, I had to get a record shot, yes I know the image (below) is terrible and out of focus but it was the best of a bad bunch. Remember though, it was taken in almost pitch blackness, hand held, manual focus and a shutter speed of 2 seconds!!!! But without doubt, it's a LONG EARED OWL and only my second ever sighting of one and my first in Leicestershire, Yes Yes Yes get in THERE!!!!!

It sat totally motionless for 5 minutes before it flew off, unperturbed I tried the squeak again, and it worked!!! It returned and sat on top of the same hedgerow but this time it was a little closer. I knew there was a chance that if I turned on the car lights I could get a better image but would it spook it? I had to try my luck, on they went, driving lights, full beam and even the fog lights and my luck was in as it stayed put! This gave me just enough light to get a better image (below), still hand held, manual focus and a shutter speed of 2 seconds but with the aid of the flash and some post processing on the computer it was a much better image.

What a brilliant night, two Little Owls, two Barn Owls and a real rarity for Leicestershire, a fabulous LONG EARED OWL!
Does owling get any better?????

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

In betweener!

Over the last week I haven't had much to report in terms of owl sightings and activity, a simple reason really, I've just not been out!! Don't read too much into that though, I've not just suddenly lost interest, far from it! Work just hasn't offered the "late in the day" opportunities, the weather has been really poor and last weekend I was away in London.

After this evenings events I am now firmly back in the "owling groove" (not that I was ever out of it!) and what better way than with a brand new site! I was driving home through the village of Leire and as I was passing my site No 62 I stopped off to see if they were about, and they were! Distant views were had of the pair as they sat in the nest tree, my first encounter since last September.

Poor light levels at site No 62.

I hung around for another 10 minutes to see if they would come closer and allow for an image with the aid of the flash, but they were having none of it and stayed put! After no more than 1 minute of leaving them I spotted another Little Owl in  a roadside tree, now this couldn't be one of the birds from site 62 as I'd only just left them and my next nearest site (No 84) was another half a mile up the road, get in there new site 155!! I suspect this may well be a juvenile from last year that has set its territory up in between the two existing territories? Hopefully it will have a mate, if so I didn't see it.....not this time anyway! Although it sat nicely in the tree watching me it just wasn't possible to attain an image due to how dark it was, dam and blast!!!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

If at first you don't...........

Didn't have too much spare time this evening, but what time I did have was put to good use. Following my owl article in the Leicester Mercury I was contacted by a resident from the village of Glooston which incidentally is in the eastern part of my Leicestershire survey area. 

I was informed of a couple of Little Owl sightings that were made last summer. Great just what I need, a hot lead. Well so far I have made about 7 visits to try and locate the owl and seen nothing, I was beginning to think that the owl that was seen last year was either a dispersing juvenile or an owl that had decided to move on, or even worse it had died? Well in fact I was wrong on all counts because this evening I finally caught up with it!

I'd been sitting in the car surveying the area and then BINGO!!!! I  located it sitting on a pile of old wood, and it was watching ME!!! A rather nervous bird that soon took flight the moment I opened the car window. Good news though as it only went and landed closer to me in a nearby tree, I think it came over to  check me out! This was the opportunity I was hoping for, much closer views but unfortunately the light levels weren't so good for photography purposes!

New Little Owl site No 154, Watching ME!   

Checking me out.

There's obviously a moral to the story somewhere, I suppose after all my failed attempts of not seeing the owl the moral must be.........."if at first you don't succeed try try again".

Many thanks to the resident who gave me the red hot info, can't believe I ever doubted it........sorry!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Good Samaritans!

A few spare hours on Sunday morning was spent looking for owls at existing sites where no no sightings had been made for a while. Considering the atrocious weather conditions (windy and raining) it wasn't surprising that only a single owl was seen! Site 118 near to the village of Gumley saved the day, a pleasing encounter though as it was last seen in August 2010 and although not a great image it is the best I have managed thus far.

Site No 118, further away than I would have liked but my best yet!

This evening my Little Owl territories increased by another two sites, taking the overall tally to 153. The first was following a hot lead from my good mate John "T" and the second was located by pure accident! 

I'd been working over in the Cambridge area and  just in case I got back into Leicestershire in time the camera was on board. Lucky it was too, as within a minute of arriving at the suspect tree the bird was located, the light was just holding out and a few shots were rattled off. Both John "T" and I have previously seen Barn Owl in this tree but never before Little Owl, but hey hoe I'm not complaining as it was new site!

Near to Horinghold, new site No 152.

Soon after banking the new site I continued on my way home, just after the village of Cranoe I spotted a suspicious "blob" in a roadside tree. I wasn't convinced it was an owl as I was driving too fast, but the curiosity got the better of me so I turned around to investigate further. On the second passing I slowed right down to get a better look, yep I was right first time, Little Owls!! I pulled the car up as tight as I could to the grass verge and as not to dazzle the on coming traffic (I was on the wrong side of the road!) I turned my driving lights off and put my hazard lights on. Slowly I opened the window and although the owls appeared to be alert and very suspicious of my presence they stayed put. 

By now it was getting pretty dark but what the hell, I just had to have a go at getting an image. I had just managed this first image (with flash) when the stopping started! Confused???? The good old locals who were driving by obviously thought I'd broken down and needed some assistance, well you would wouldn't you? Nearly dark, country lane, car parked on the wrong side of the road, no lights on and the hazards flashing!  After the fourth car stopped in no more than a minute I just gave up! 

So this was my image of the owls at new site No 153, as you can see it was pretty dark, no doubt though you can see the owls. The second image (for comparison) is identical to the first but with a little bit of computer manipulation to make it more presentable. 

I will be back, but next time in the light and facing the right direction!


Leicestershire now has a brand new website called "naturespot", a superbly presented and very comprehensive website/database that covers all aspects of wildlife that is likely to be encountered in VC55 (Leicestershire).

Visitors are actively encourage to participate by uploading sightings, records and images so they can be shared with others. Take a look, I guarantee you won't be disappointed, I wasn't!! And if you like it, why not register as a user, its really easy and only takes a couple of minutes.

So no matter what your chosen subject/interest is, it WILL be in there!!!

Please take a look by clicking on this link Naturespot or by clicking on the link in my blog list.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Be Prepared!

A lot later than planned the Landrover was loaded up Saturday morning with a batch of freshly made Barn Owl boxes, myself and Ron on board and all the kit we could possibly want to do the job in hand. At 9.00am we set off to towards the first site but on route we decided to stop off for breakfast, a bacon sandwich for Ron and 2 sausage baguettes for me (fat bu**er) I needed this to soak up the beer from the night before!

By 10.30am we turned off the main road and down a dirt track towards our destination, four muddy fields and the opening and shutting of three farm gates later we finally arrived at the first site of the day. A disused and very isolated dutch barn near to the village of Fleckney, it sat adjacent to a large rough pasture, loads of  ditches in the area and a meandering stream with grassy banks, ideal for Barn Owls! Many a year ago Barn Owls did use to breed here, it is understandable they don't use it anymore as there is no nest box/cavity, until now!

We finally got the box up, but it took far longer than we anticipated? As previously mentioned we had all the kit on board we could possibly want apart from that is the most important piece, the power drill!!!!! I had a go at using a traditional old fashioned screwdriver but this was a total waste of time, it was utter useless! There was no choice, we had to drive back and fetch the power drill, 16 miles, 8 muddy fields, 6 gates and 1 hour later we were back.

Finally the box was up, I just hope the owls appreciate all the effort and they do the right thing and move in! 

The erecting of the second box was pretty uneventful in comparison to the first, we again selected a "nice" looking area at Kilby, it has loads a grassy field strip margins and ditches. The owner of this land does occasionally see hunting barn owls so we are at least in roughly the right area.

An isolated tree that sits on a grassy field margin was selected for the Barnie box, it will be great if they move in here as for neighbours they will have my Little Owls at site No 91, a breeding pair who incidentally are also using one of my boxes.

By the time the second box was up we had ran out of time and we had to call it a day, the rugby and the footie were on the TV and we just had to go to the pub and watch them! Nowhere near the targeted 5 boxes we wanted to put up, I think the moral of the story is, be prepared, no stopping of for breakfast and deffo no beer the night before!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Burning the midnight oil.

If I'm not at work, out owling, watching the footie, down the pub or sleeping.......then the chances are recently you will have found me making Barn Owl boxes. Mostly alone but on several occasions Colin Green came over to offer a very welcoming hand. Marking out, sawing, screwing, painting and painting and even more painting has taken over my life. It started off as a labour of love but more recently it has started to get on my nerves as there just didn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.....until now!

After what seems to of been hundreds of hours stuck away in my garage, finally this morning (Saturday 12th Feb) the second batch of 15 are ready for erection.

The "pyramid" of boxes before the erection starts, yes I know three of them are not quite ready, they need a final coat of paint and of course the entrance hole cutting out, that's a job for Colin (he's good at that), if he ever comes around again!!! 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Window of opportunity

The lighter nights are just starting to draw out now and today I had around 30 minutes for any photographic opportunities. So after finishing work today I thought I would chance my arm and stop off at my site No 136 near to Hallaton to see if I could capture anything. No real reason to stop here, just that I was passing on the way home and it was the nearest site to where I was situated.

I'd all but given up waiting as the light had about gone when an owl showed, it popped out of the nest entrance and gave me the classic "stare". I rattled off a few shots, in hope really, I was expecting to get back home, review the images and trash the lot. But to my surprise there was a couple of "keepers" which was a real bonus considering the nearly dark conditions.

I am really pleased with the outcome of the above image, my best by a mile from this site so far, and in the worst conditions. ISO 1600, handheld and a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. You just wouldn't believe it concidering the outcome, (well I wouldn't) the Canon 40D really is a special bit of kit!

Just before I left there was another surprise in store, a second owl emerged from the tree, previously I'd only ever seen a single bird. This is going to be a great site for photography come the breeding season, that is if they get down to it!!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


We are now fast approaching the breeding season for the Little Owl, without doubt my most enjoyable time of the year. All the hard work during the winter months finding new sites should start to pay off when I make revisits and hopefully the adult birds will be far more tolerant of my presence whilst they go about their parental duties. This will be my third breeding season since I started my project and if this year is anything like previous years I should be in for some superb and sometimes spectacular views and juvenile antics.

I have gone back through my files and dug out some of my favourite juvenile images from the past, most of which have never previously been posted on my blog, double click on any image for a larger versions.

I hope you enjoy...........

Site No 68, I can see you!!!

Wing stretching at site No 6, a brilliant site in 2010.

At site No 11 I located a very tolerant juvenile that just gave me "the stare".

A balancing act was going on at site No 14.

Lining up like soldiers at site No 107, one of my favourite sites last year.

Mother  and Daughter at site No 16 waiting for dad to return with dinner!

Plenty of scratching going on at site No 32.

The youngest juvenile I have ever seen out of the nest at site No 33.

A crash landing after it's first ever flight at site No 35.

It didn't take this juvenile long to perfect the adult "scowl" at site No 55.

At site No 61 the Juveniles soon started to use the adults favourite perches.

A typical Little Owl pose, trying to morph into a branch at site No 75.

Waiting to be fed at site No 76.

Juvenile antics at site No 97, peek a boo!

Learning to dance at site No 105, the quickstep maybe??

First flight at site No 107.

Fingers crossed for some more great juvenile views during 2011, if I am able to capture some more "moments" you can be sure I will be sharing them with you, watch this space!   

Friday, 4 February 2011

A quick update.

This last week hasn't presented many opportunities to get owl n about, early starts, late finishes poor weather etc etc. However, in between all the day to day chaos two new Little Owl sites were located, the first followed a visit over to Thornton that was made a couple of weekends ago. I had a morning out with Andy Smith from the Charnwood Ringers, we were checking out the area for potential Barn Owl box locations and Andy pointed out a potential Little Owl nest tree, he and the local land owner had seen the birds here the previous year.

Armed with this info I stopped off one evening as I was making my way home to check the tree out. On arrival nothing obvious was showing, I then systematically searched the tree through my binoculars looking at every branch and nook n cranny until.........BINGO, there he was!!!  Andy was right and the owl was still hanging around, not a good image though as the light levels were poor and the bird distant, never the less new site 150 was most welcome!

I stopped off again later in the week in better light to attempt a better image, I hung around for a while but on this occasion it was a no show owl. I then made my way further down the road and pulled over at a very owly looking area. I got chatting to a local resident who invited me into his house, we sat down in his conservatory which incidentally overlooked the area I'd been checking out.  We had been there no more than 5 minutes when to my amazement a Little Owl landed on his garden fence, get in there site 151!!!!

The story then unfolded that they had been in his garden for the last couple of years and last year they successfully bred and had 2 youngsters. He explained that sighting of the owls were made a couple of times a week and nearly every day in the breeding season, although he is not sure where the nest is? That was it, I didn't need any further encouragement, permission was sought (and granted) for me to return and investigate further, and I am also allowed to take my Landrover onto his lawn, can you believe that, what a fine chap! 

Watch this space as I am sure there will be some super images to come from this site come the breeding season.