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!!!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Maybe a pair?

This evening Daz and I re-visited my most recent little Owl site (No 163) over at Great Glen, our purpose was to meet up with Becky & Zara, (the self appointed guardians of the owls) and to position a "landing perch" underneath the nest hole that will enable the juveniles to more easily return to the nest hole should they so wish.

On route we passed my Little Owl site No 111 near to Wistow. This site was first located in July 2010 and although I have heard the birds calling on several occasions I have never been able to locate the nest tree, let alone see the birds! Well both of those "nevers" were well and truly put to bed tonight as it was mission accomplished on both counts.

As tonight Daz was driving it gave me far more opportunity to thoroughly scan the trees and hedgerows as we made our way along the country lanes. And then it happened, as we were approaching near to site 111 there it was, a Little Owl sitting out brazenly in the evening sun in a road side tree, yippee!!!! Daz passed the bird and turned around so as to get the bird on my side of the car, window wound down and camera at the ready we approached with caution and pulled up. It sat there long enough for me to attain my first ever image, not the best of quality as it was back lit by the sun but I was well chuffed!


Things went without a hitch at Becky's & Zara's and the juvenile perches were soon up at site 163, its just a matter of time now to see if they are used? On our return journey we pulled up again at site 111 and the owl was there again!! It was in the same tree and it allowed a few fleeting seconds for an image, no problem with the sun this time as it was nearly dark, possibly too dark?

It wasn't until I was processing the two images that I realised they could actually be two different birds, take a look at the head patterns, what do you think?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Life is good!

What a hectic and industrious time I have been having since my lost post, here is a quick catch up of the last few days!

Saturday Col was on my doorstep knocking me up at 8.00am with yet another delivery of timber for us to make another 10 Barn Owl boxes. It was a very slow start to the day for me as I was still feeling the effects of the gallon of beer from the night before! But by 9.00am I was starting to come round and the production was at full speed, I think the two of cups of tea and a brace of bacon rolls helped bring me back to life. The marking out and cutting up of the timber went without a hitch, and by 1.00pm the 10 sheets of 8ft x 2ft timber had been reduced to a huge pile of ready to assemble boxes.

Just as Col was departing Daz turned up ready for the afternoons task of erecting a couple of  Little Owl boxes, en route we passed this roadside Little Owl sitting on top of a traffic sign, can you see him?

The owl then dropped down onto a roadside post offering a better photo opportunity.

We continued on our way but Daz was soon asking me to pull over again, he wanted to check out an old farm building to see if there was any evidence of owls, oh and to also attend the call of nature, talk about killing 2 birds with 1 stone!!

Daz after his deed was done, and no owls!

The 2 Little Owl boxes were put up without any problems, apart from that is I forgot to take any images!

Later in the day we visited my newest Little Owl territory near to Fleckney (site 161) that I located one evening last week, the intention was to try and locate the nest tree and get some images of the owls......we failed on both counts!! But during our drive around this as yet unsearched area a new Little Owl territory was located.......GET IN THERE SITE No 162, we also located the nest tree and I got an image of the owl!!!! It flew across us as we were driving around the edge of a field and landed in a pond side bush, not a great image but an image never the less.

A distant Little Owl at site No 162.

Sunday found me gardening and making visits to and from the local tip for most of the day, eventually though when all the work was done I did finally manage to get a "pass out" for a couple of hours. I decided to go "owl n abouting" in the Enderby area and looking back at some of the images I managed it was a worthy visit.

Little Owl site No 142, my closest view yet!

Nice light and nice pose at site No 88. 

I am still after that dam elusive "owl in flight image" and this I think is one of my better attempts and not too far away from what I desire. It would have been much better if the owl had been closer as the image had to be cropped too much for my liking losing that extra bit of quality and sharpness.

After dozens of visits to site No 88, I finally located the nest hole!

This evening (Monday) it was great to finish work knowing there was still at least a couple of hours of good light left to exploit. And tonight I had plans, I had been invited over to the village of Great Glen to meet Becky who had Little Owls living in her back garden, how cool is that!!!

En route I made a quick stop off at my site No 11 and one of the resident owls was soon located in one of its favourite perching spots.

Peek a boo!

I finally arrived at Beckie's and once the formal intro's were out of the way we soon found ourselves standing underneath the nest tree deep in "owl conversation. We'd only been standing there a few minutes when one of the owls flew out of the nest hole and into a nearby tree........ GET IN THERE SITE No 163!!!!!

Becky has very kindly agreed to me returning and setting up my hide near the nest tree in an attempt to get some better images of the adults and hopefully some juveniles in a couple of months.

My first image of an owl at site No 163. 

It has been a super few days owling wise, more Barn Owl boxes are on the way, 2 more Little Owl boxes are up, 2 new owl territories found,  improved light, longer days, some great images attained, and I've met some really nice people along the way........................life is good!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ground Work!

Last night I made a return visit to see Glynn, the gamekeeper who I met for the first time last weekend (see old post of March 20th). We got chatting "owls" again and it was agreed that he has the perfect locations for Little Owl & Barn Owl boxes so I will be making and putting up them up very soon......

Glynn has also very kindly agreed to me erecting a quarter length telegraph pole outside the building where the Barn Owls are breeding, hopefully it will be used as a landing perch which should offer some great views and photo opportunities.......if it is used????

Whilst we were chatting away Glynn told me about a potential Little Owl site on a local farm just up the road. Mmmmm this could be a new site for me so rather than hang around for the Barn Owl to show I opted to go and introduce myself.

The owner of the farm, Bob & his daughter, Lisa were a great deal of help and pointed me in the right direction to where they thought the Little Owls might be. As the light was just starting to fade it was the perfect timing for Little Owls to emerge and "get vocal". I positioned the car at the gateway to the "likely" field and waited, it took no more than 10 seconds before the first bird was heard calling......new site 161!!!! Although I didn't actually see the owls as they were too far away and it was too dark there was no doubt in the fact that there was 2 of them calling back and forth to each other in a distant Willow tree. Bob has given me permission to return and drive my Landrover into the said field, surely it will only be a matter of time before an image from the new Little Owl site is obtained?

So no photos to show from last nights trip out but some very useful ground work, networking and preparation has been completed for some potential future images.......bring it on!!!!!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


On the way home today after working in Manchester I opted to stop off at a Little Owl site I located a few months ago near to the village of Flash in Staffordshire. As they were showing in the same area again this must be their territory, so even though they are not in Leicestershire I have decided to add them to my growing list of Little Owl sites and they will become site No 160. .

This site is so different to any I have in my local area, it is unbelievable remote with loads of rough ditches, small streams and rocky outcrops, and would you believe there isn't a tree in site! It offers some really different and interesting photo opportunities, I just love the dry stone walls that seem to go on for miles and miles and the owls just seem to relish perching on them.  They are a lovely feature with loads of character that would certainly complements any image with Little Owls in it. We just don't have this type of wall in and around south Leicestershire so I hung around waiting for the moment......And it eventually came with the added bonus that both of the resident owls posed together.....what luck!

In order to create a different type of image altogether and to show off better the raggedness features in the stone I opted to have a first ever attempt at processing an image in a monochrome style. 

New Site No 160. 

I think it works.......even dramatic maybe, hope you like it as much as I do?


I posted the above image onto the Birdguides website and  Phil Manning  asked if it was possible to see the colour version of the monochrome Little Owls, so here it is..... 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy Landlord!

I Checked over some of my Little Owl box sites on Sunday, not a lot to report as yet apart from a pair of new residents in one of them, and a very welcome ones at that!

This is my first ever image of a Little Owl emerging from any of my boxes, lets hope its not the last!

Once he was convinced the coast was clear out he popped.

This site has now risen to the top of my "premiere list" and I can see me spending a lot of time here come the breeding season.........BRING IT ON!!!!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

TOOOOO Bright!!

Yesterday it was time forget putting Barn Owl boxes up, for one weekend at least! The morning was bathe in glorious sunshine so as not to waste the opportunity I downed the tools and went out with the camera. Off I went to site No 147 near to Wistow, a relatively new site for me and as yet no images of the resident owls!

After a few introductions to the local residents access was granted for me to drive the Landrover across the grassy pasture to set up next to what I thought was the Little Owl nest tree? I'd only been there 2 minutes when I noticed I was being watched!! A guy was standing at the bottom of the field giving me the once over. Here we go again I thought, my camera lens can be seen poking out of the window and from a distance it can easily be mistaken for A GUN!!! It has happened before so I abandoned the owls and went to put things straight.

It turned out that this guy was the local gamekeeper and he manages over 2,000 acres on the local estate. After a quick intro and assurances I was not poaching we got chatting away. It soon became quite apparent that he knew his stuff when it came to all things nature related, especially owls! He was recounting stories of pass through Short Eared Owls, problematic Tawny Owls that keep him awake at night, some potential Little Owl sites and the creme de la creme, breeding Barn Owls!!!!! A couple of years ago he put up a box in an old barn and in no time at all a breeding pair had moved in, last year they successfully reared 4 chicks!!!!

What mouth watering prospects indeed, needless to say, I WILL be re-visiting......very soon!!!

I did eventually get back to looking for the Little Owls at site No 147, I finally located them, but not where I originally thought they would be. I'd been sitting awaiting for their emergence from a hole in the suspect tree when I heard calls coming from the other side of the paddock. A quick manoeuvre soon had me watching a pair coming and going from a hole very high up in a Ash Tree.

I did managed my first images from this site though, the female popping out of the nest hole and the male posing in the nearby Oak Tree. Difficult lighting (too bright) combined with shadows made getting a decent image a challenge!

My second location was to re-visit to site No 154 at Glooston, again both birds were located sitting out in a huge wood pile. I had some real difficulties with my images here too, as both birds were out in full sun it was difficult to get the exposure correct without "blowing" the whites out. As you can see from both the images below the owls white eyebrow has completely lost all of its detail, any ideas on how to overcome this would be gratefully received.

I did return to this site later in the day when the sun was lower and it had lost it strength, much better results I think?

I visited a number of other sites during the day but owls were proving difficult to locate, strange really considering the conditions? The only other site where I managed a "useable" image was at site No 136 near to Hallaton.

Here one of the owls was located sitting high up in a tree, I was hoping for a "take off" image as the good light was allowing for high shutter speeds that would enable  a "freeze of the action" and I very nearly nailed it!

An enjoyable day with some vital lessons learnt, or rather than lessons learnt more of a don't try and take images of Little Owls in the full sun. Due to their cryptic feathering pattern (the contrast of whites on dark browns) the subject matter can be very difficult to expose just right, or am I doing something wrong????

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Feeling Fruity!

A couple of images from last nights evening session at my site No 88 near to Enderby, they showed really well and were feeling a bit fruity!!

My first "usable" mating image!

The low golden sun offered some stunning tones.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Just perfecft!

All my searching for new sites during the cold dark winter months is now starting to pay off now the warmer lighter nights are creeping up on us. Tonight was just perfect for locating Little Owls, no wind, quite mild and a bit of late evening sun peeping through!

I was lucky enough to locate the resident pair at site No 62 near to the village of Leire without too much difficulty. All I had to do was get the sun off my back and systematically search through all the likely roosting spots near to the nest tree. Although this image looks similar to one I recently posted on my blog that had a pair of owls perched amongst the ivy I can assure you this is a completely different site and about 3 miles away.

Nestled nicely in the ivy getting some rays, my 1st image of the pair together at this site.

The next location I went to was at Dunton Bassett and my relatively new site No 156 that was located at the end of last month. I was after my first image and it didn't take long, I pulled up in the Landrover, parked up near the suspect nest tree and hey presto the owl appeared out of what I thought to be the nest entrance.

I rattled off a few shots before it flew to a nearby tree. This gave me a few seconds to review the image I'd just taken and check the settings, would you believe it a second owl then popped out and flew off!

My setting weren't quite right for this image, but I'm still happy with the result.

Whilst en route to the last site I bumped into a local farmer and we got chatting, he gave me the heads up on a potential Little Owl site on his land near to the village of Croft. I didn't need a second invitation and it wasn't far so I was soon on my way. On arrival it looked very promising, a scattering of old barns and brick buildings and some nearby wind damaged Ash trees. Mmmmmmm where do I start looking???  I decided to have a drive around and give the area the once over when I noticed a very suspicious lump sticking out the apex on one of the barns. I drove nearer and nearer and nearer still and to my astonishment it was a......LITTLE OWL!!! I couldn't believe my luck and it wasn't bothered about the Landrover one iota! The camera was soon locked on and some images attained, and I must admit I am really very pleased with the outcome!

New site 159 near to the village of Croft.

The bird then disappeared inside the barn, what more could I do but follow it? I entered quietly and located it up in the rafters peering down at me, the cheeky brass neck still wasn't bothered by me!

An "up in the attic" image complemented with a bit of flash.

As time was now getting on I decided to see if I could squeeze one more site visit in before the light failed on me, as I was only just up the road from site No 141 at Ashby Parva that's where I went! I'd previously only managed images from over a roadside hedgerow and nearly always into the sun so needless to say they were pretty poor quality. This time I took a different approach, I'd previously got permission from the very kind lady who owned the land for me to drive my Landrover into her paddock/orchard. This I did and it made viewing of the area much easier with the sun off my back, all I needed now was an owl!!

There was a couple of likely candidates for the nest tree and luck would have it they were next to each other so this is where I parked up. I was sitting and observing the general area when "flash" an owl darted in from nowhere and straight into a hole in the nearest tree to me! I think my Landrover had obviously made it a bit nervous, hence the hasty retreat? It wasn't long though before its curiosity got the better of it and it popped back out for a look at me!

My best image by a mile from this site.....so far!!  

So that was a crammed packed couple of hours that can only be summarised as.....JUST PERFECT!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Snuggled Up.

Got out this evening in the late golden sun hoping to make the most of any photo oportunities that presented themselves. Really pleased I did as I located this pair of Little Owls snuggled up in their nest tree near to the village of Gilmorton, totally chuffed with the result!

A Waiting Game

As mentioned in my previous post, this afternoon (Sunday) I went out to erect the ninth Barn Owl box of the weekend, I had the best of intentions.....honestly, but when neither Col or Daz would answer my phone call I decided to leave it for another day!

As it was a gloriously sunny afternoon there was only one thing to do, go find some owls. I headed over to the eastern side of my Little Owl monitoring area to an take advantage of the fact that I had recently gained permission to drive my Landrover in the fields of two recently found territories, sites No 153 & 154.

At site 154 near to the village of Glooston I located an owl sitting out sunbathing on a wood pile, I got this distant shot of it before I edged a little closer. 

I got to within about 30 feet and parked up, in the meantime the owl had disappeared! After a few minutes of scanning the nearby trees and hedgerows I spotted it again, still in the woodpile. It had snuggled down behind some timber but in a vantage point where it could keep a close eye on me.

Eventually, well an hour to be exact it finally had the confidence to pop out from its hiding place. This gave me a chance to get an improved image without any other distracting branches or wood in the way.

It didn't show itself for long though, after all that bloody waiting it only sat there in full view for around 30 seconds. Would you believe it, a fellow Landrover driver came bombing along the nearby hedgerow at a good 30 mph and scared it off, what an idiot!

It didn't go far though, it soon settled down again only this time underneath an old lorry trailer. I did however have a bit of a bonus whilst doing all my waiting, my first sighting of a second Little Owl at this location, great news and another site for me to monitor for any breeding successes in a couple of months.

The next site I went to was No 153 near to Cranoe, I just knew the owls would be out in the sun, but locating them was another matter! I just wasn't going to give up and after an absolute age I eventually located them hiding in the twisted Ivy on the nest tree.

I sat and waited for two hours for some better views but all the time I was there they never budged, in the end the light faded and I gave up!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Leave the best to last!

Yesterday (Saturday) was "marathon box putting up day", I'd fallen well behind plan with getting them up and if any of my Barn Owl boxes were going to be considered for breeding locations this year, they had to be up NOW! It was an early start, Col (AKA - I wanna be a pop singing Lollipop man) Green arrived around at my place around 7.30am, the plan for the day was to erect 9........yes NINE boxes, could it be done???

All the kit and 5 boxes (that's all we could get in) were loaded into the Landrover and off we went. The first site of the day was near to the village of Narborough, an expansive area of open pasture with loads of rough grassland and a meandering river. I have seen Barn Owl on a couple of occasions only a few hundred yards from here so the area was a good contender for a box. The problem was we were just spoilt for choice as to where to site it. Eventually we both agreed on a specific tree adjacent to the river where we suspected the Barn Owl must patrol when out hunting.

Before erecting a little pruning was required (by Col!).

Although this is my Barn Owl box No 15 it will be known affectionately as "Ivans Box". A long story but it is the result of a bet with my uncle 3 years ago! As you may have guessed I lost the bet and it was pay up time last week.........£50.00! Anyway, he very generously voided me actually giving him the cash as he donated it to my box fund. So many thanks to uncle Ivan and here is a picture of his Barn Owl box (from distance) in its final resting place, nice ah! 

Col on his hands and knees again! No not praying to Allah but picking up hundreds of screws and nails he dropped in the grass, the clumsy bugger!!!

We soon arrived at the second site of the day, a derelict barn near to Ashby Parva. 

There were loads of pellets on the floor, an obvious favourite roosting location for the local owls. It didn't take long before the box was up, and no spilt screws this time!!!

We were now motoring along and the 3rd box at Dunton Basset (No 17) was soon up.

At the 4th site we were just completing the final touches to the box (well Col was) when a couple of local landowners came over for a chat. It appears that we didn't have permission to use this particular field or tree but after a bit of grovelling (by me, cus I am good at that!) all was well.

Site No 18, Peatling Magna. 

The fifth site to have a box was on the back of an old barn, Col said that once we had put this box up he had to go as he had an afternoon appointment......funny he didn't mention that earlier to me? I think he must have got fed up with it being a bit of a one sided affair, he did all the hard graft whilst I just took the pictures!!!

Oh well if he was going to leave me I might as well let him do his final bit of graft!

Box No 19 near to Knaptoft, a nice aspect hoping for a "fly by owl".

I dropped Col off and loaded up with another 4 boxes, a successful morning with 5 more boxes up in good locations. Col was knacked.....I wonder if I will ever see him again?

En route to put up the next 4 boxes I picked up Daz, I wonder if he was going to have more stamina than Col? We arrived at the 6th site and as to be consistent I let Daz do all the graft, it just wouldn't have been fair to Col if I started doing a bit now!

Site No 20 near to Willoughby and a "fresh" looking Daz!

A super location with plenty of rough grassland where hunting Barn Owls are often seen.

Daz and I then wasted an hour or so looking for the next suitable site, several potential locations were visited but none of them quite fitted the bill. Eventually we were both in agreement that the site we were at had all the necessary criteria. I was feeling very encourage by Daz's enthusiasm to "get on with it" and in no time at all the 7th box of the day was up.

Just look at him go, he was a blurr!!!

Site No 21 near to Willoughby, no evidence of Barn Owls but that will surely soon change?

Time and daylight was now running out and several more potential sites were visited and rejected for one reason or another.  I knew of another site that may be suitable but we had to get a move on but it was a good 5 mile drive. We eventually arrived and had a quick look around, there was no doubt in either of our minds that this was just brilliant!! It had all the attributes required for Barn Owls, a scattering of mature trees, plenty of ditches, a stream, loads and loads of grassy pasture, extremely isolated and no nearby roads or footpaths.

Barn Owl Box site No 22 near to Gumley......too good to be true!

This image doesn't really tell the whole picture and do the area justice, but believe me it ticked all the boxes! 

We eventually ran out of time and the planned 9 boxes for the day wasn't met, but I suppose 8 wasn't  too bad a result, thanks Col & Daz, top men!!!. I shall be going out again today when I have finally finished writing up this long winded account (sorry!) of yesterdays antics. I'm going to do a bit of owling and to put up the 9th box, I already know where it is going but not sure who will be coming with me, I'm just wondering if its worth giving Col a call................???!!!!