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 December 2011

Last Post!

Same old story, off work and can't get out due to the bloody horrid weather.........AGAIN!!

So rather than letting the situation wind me up I thought I'd make most of my idling time and attack the massive task of vetting my Little Owls images from 2011, they are now into some thing of an organised manner, I think!

Here are a few that I haven't published before, various birds on various perches......

It is highly unlikely that I will be doing another post before the end of the year, so let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year!


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 Review.

Phew what a year it has been, plenty of memorable highs and a few inevitable lows thrown in to sober things up a bit, but all in all a very enjoyable year! This is going to be a long post (could have been even longer!) but beings as so much as happened it is not easy to condense it all into a review without waffling on a bit.....sorry!
My blog has now been running for nearly two years and it seems to be going from strength to strength, 2011 saw the unique visitors count rise up to nearly 18,000, and the total page views to over 44,000 from an astonishing 82 different countries, didn't realise there was that many?

The year started off with terrible weather which hampered getting out owling so Col and I made the most of a bad thing and got on with making more Barn Owl boxes, 40 more were made and erected through out year.

Col and a few more boxes.

Nearly every weekend was spent making more boxes or erecting them if the weather was favourable, loads of return visits were made to existing and new boxes to see if any occupancy had taken place. During this period I had an opportunity to grab my first ever image of a Little Owl emerging out of one of my boxes!

Later in the month I was checking out another box for any Barn Owl activity when to my utter surprise I chanced upon a LEO (Long Eared Owl). Only my second ever sighting of this species and my first in Leicestershire. It was so dark my camera couldn't focus on it, but with a bit of help from the car headlights I was able to attain a record shot in manual mode.

A re-visit the next day in better light,  it took an age but finally the LEO was re-located day roosting deep in a Hawthorn bush.

The weather was starting to settle down and warm evenings were becoming more frequent, the owls were showing signs that we weren't far from the breeding season. Males could be heard most evenings calling out loud establishing their territories. In between all the goings on during the month I managed another first, a reasonably close up image in good light too of Little Owls mating!

In 2011 I made a consertive effort to locate as many Barn Owl sites as possible in my survey area, in total three sites were located and I'd monitored them on a regular basis. Due to the fact that one of these sites was very near the land owners house it was decided that we would try some "assisted feeding". This compromised offering a couple of day old chickens on a purposed built feeding platform and if the owls decided to breed maybe it would help in the rearing of the owlets?

The chicks started to disappear,  so a couple of evening vigils followed and low and behold the culprit was soon detected......A Barn Owl! Fingers crossed this would bode well for the future?

My search area for new Little Owls sites expanded over to the eastern part of Leicestershire. In one long slog of a day I was able to locate an incredible seven new sites. One site in particular had an incredibly approachable bird, some superb views and photo opportunities were had from within the confines of my landrover.
On this particular day the light was just superb, the owl was very accommodating too as it landed on some interesting perches.

Also in April I was awarded with Bird Guides Photo of the week, this is a website that I visit on a daily basis and regally upload some of my images to share with like minded folk. They can have up to 2,000 images per week to judge from so as you can guess I was well chuffed to be awarded with this accolade.

BG's Photo of the week.

Earlier in the year I was contacted by Amateur Photographic Magazine, a national publication who regally run features on different aspects of photography. They had heard about my work with the owls and during their April edition a four page spread was published with a selection of my images.

By now the owling world is a hive of activity, breeding was well underway and it was a race against time to get around as many different sites as possible to monitor the progress. The first evidence of the year was in the form of five Little Owl chicks in one of my boxes at my site No 21.
Two of the five chicks being held by yours truly.

In my introduction I mentioned that during the year there had also been some lows, well two of these came during the month of May. Although slightly humorous (on my part anyway) but at the time both were quite sobering incidents. The first came when Daz and I were checking out yet more owl boxes for breeding evidence, going up and down the ladders is part and parcel of "the job", well it is for my helpers anyway! On this particular occasion up went the ladders and then up went Daz. Then crashing down came the ladders followed closely by Daz from a height of around 20 feet! Daz was very lucky indeed as the ladder broke his fall which I am sure made the injuries none fatal!
Daz's leg injury, he's still getting free pints of beer out of me now......7 months later!

A ruined ladder that gives an indication of the impact, could have been worse though as Daz's leg could have ended up being this shape?

The second incident during the month came when Col filled in for the injured Daz. Again it was when we were erecting boxes, not really sure what happened but Col came down the ladder with his head streaming blood, apparently he had hit himself with a hammer!!! Like the wanna be press photographer I am "getting the image" was of prime importance.  Once the image was in the bag and I'd stopped laughing it was time to administer first aid, what I wasn't aware of at the time was Col has a condition where his blood is very thin (maybe it's all the alcohol he drinks?) and if he cuts himself it gushes like a good un.
Bloody Col, he still had time to smile for the camera!

The breeding season was now in full flow, I'd been monitoring loads of sites in readiness for the visit of the Charnwood Ringers. Little Owl sites were again on the agenda, but this year we had Barn Owls too!
Daz with a brace of juveniles Little Owls from my site No 136.

Little Owl, just ringed and not far from fledgling the nest.

Barn Owls, a first for me and successful breeding was recorded at three different sites. This first image was taken on 5th of the month, although difficult to see there are actually five chicks huddled together.

On the 27th of the month we returned to ring them, oh my how they grow!

These juvenile Little Owls were located at my site No 77, very cute to look at but dam hard to get at. There was four at this site but the entrance hole was just too tight to get them out to ring.

Yet another site where breeding was prooven, this image was taken at my site No 180 and amazingly the nest hole was only 18 inches above the ground!

To finish June off in style I also managed to tick off another item on my Little Owl wish list, a decent image of a pellet expulsion.


After all the hard work of making, erecting and monitoring the boxes/nest sites it was now time to reap the rewards with juveniles showing at most sites.
My Little Owl site No 115, four juveniles fledged from this nest site which was located in an old barn.

Little Owl site No 154, two juveniles fledged from this site.

At my Little Owl site No 120 there was a record breaking six juveniles that fledged, I never did managed to get an image with them together but I'm not complaining as getting three of them in one shot was a right result!

Late in the month I had a call from a local landowner telling me that he had found a juvenile Little Owl and had taken it in. He'd been caring for it for a couple of weeks and its diet of dog food and fresh rabbit was doing wonders! It was finally placed outside in an upturned washing basket and eventually its parents located it and after being released all was fine.

This was one of the adult owls that came to investigate why its youngster was in prison!

Here the parent bird can be seen taking a closer look.

I spent quite a few evenings camped out at one of the breeding Barn Owl locations. After many fruitless visits and countless hours I finally captured an image of two of the developing chicks emerging on the 24th of the month, my calculations tell me these particular birds were around 2 months old.

At one of the closest Little Owl sites to where I live more breeding success was confirmed, I chanced upon a slightly nervous and agitated adult owl. It was constantly calling and kept flying towards me and landing on a combine harvester.

It soon became quite clear what all the commotion was all about when one of its youngsters appeared from within the depths of the farm vehicle, I never did locate the nest site, I wonder if it was in the harvester?

My last visit out in July was again rewarded with more Little Owls, at my site No 91 there were three juveniles located messing about on a tarmac driveway that leads up to a farm, I was intrigued, this needed further investigation. I drove as near as I dare and pulled up, the owlets got nearer and nearer to me, they were so pre-occupied with what ever it was they were doing I didn't bother them! Then to my utter amazement one of them flew up and landed on the bonnet of my car! Then another and then the third!! They sat there huddled together gripped onto my windscreen wipers. Then the penny dropped, they were gorging themselves on a hatch of flying ants, they were all over the place, including my bonnet!

I couldn't managed a shot as they sat there, they were far too close! Luckily one of them flew from the car and relocated to the side of me on a fence post, slowly I opened the window and grabbed a couple of images.  

This was a really quiet month in owling terms, mainly because I was out of the country on my annual holiday. After arriving home late in the month I did manage to get out and located two more breeding sites that had success with breeding Little Owls.

This image was taken at my site No 77 where 3 juveniles fledged.

Although I didn't know it at the time I was going to get very familiar with the four juveniles that I located at my site No 87. It took numerous visits for the birds to get use to my landrover but once their confidence was gained I could drive within 6 feet of them! 

Nearly every time I managed to get out owling during September I found myself heading towards my site No 87. The owls were so receptive to my presence I just couldn't stay away. The biggest obstacle though was the light, not a lack of it but it coming from the wrong direction!

Another pellet expulsion....

On a couple of occasions during the month I did managed to resist the temptation of visiting site No 87 and went to see what else was about. My mate John gave me a tip off that there was a very approachable Kestrel showing at a nearby nature reserve, I was lucky enough to locate him and he flew close by on a couple of occasions.

At the end of the month more Little Owl breeding was proven with this fine pair of youngsters at my site No 136.

After a very hectic previous month October was relative quiet in comparison, a major change in focus was on the horizon........SEO's (Short Eared Owls). But not before I had my final visit to my now favourite and possibly over visited site No 87.

Unbeknown to me this was the last time I was to see the juveniles at this site, ironically I achieved a nice group shot of three of the juveniles and an incredible close up that was taken from around four feet, so close in fact that the reflection of my landrover can be seen in the owls eyes!

Then mid month my next obsession began, I knew the SEO's would soon be arriving in the UK but didn't know where or when? I hadn't got any decent images of these majestic birds so I needed a plan, and my plan was to find some suitable habit and keep a very close and watchful vigil on it.

I knew of just an area and after a dozen evening visits they finally arrived, there was nine in total and I was the only person there watching them! I had to wait though for some decent weekend weather before I finally nailed a couple of images.

All my free time in November was dedicated to the SEO's, I now knew of owls at two different sites totalling around 20 birds, and at times they would come incredibly close. The word had got out and both the sites were becoming more popular by the day with fellow photographers. This had a detrimental effect as the birds more often than not kept their distance, so a change of tactics was needed.

I decided to take my hide and set it up away from the crowds, on numerous visits the tactic change didn't pay off as the birds we even further away than before! But on the odd occasion the gamble was a good one as the odd bird did stray close to where I was. 


As good as the SEO's are I realised I'd been neglecting my Little Owls, so the first weekend of December was spent re-acquaintancing myself with them. I opted to pay a visit to a very reliable site in South Wigston, and true to form they obliged.

Wasn't long before I started getting itchy feet, my next outing was back with the SEO's,

And to end the year my final outing was only be for one thing........Little Owls. So my final two images are of Little Owls from my sites 77 & 168.

Well that's is folks, an enormous amount of activity crammed into a "brief" (ha ha) review of 2011, I could have made it last twice as long you know!!!! Anyway you did very well getting this far without either falling asleep or dieing of boredom!

Lastly thank you for taking out the time to follow my blog and here's wishing you a very happy new year and may 2012 be a hoot!!!