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, 31 May 2011

Long Slog Update.....

I have now finished reviewing my images from yesterdays "long slog" in the rain over at South Wigston and here are a few more images that have been salvage (with some post processing) to the point where I think they are "useable"?

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Long Slog

Absolutely typical, a days owling planned and what happens??? Rain, rain and more bloody rain, should have known.....its a bank holiday!! 

So this morning I was in a dilemma, stay in and do some DIY or brave the atrocious weather conditions and see if I could find some obliging owls, mmmmmmmm that's a hard decision........NOT!!!!

I headed for my Little Owl site No 105 over near the village of South Wigston, a huge strip of private pasture land that fortunately I have permission to access in my Landrover, thank goodness I have as I wasn't going to be walking around in this deluge! On the way I stopped off at several other owl sites, it wasn't surprising that nothing at all was showing, things looked bleak and I wasn't hopeful of seeing anything today.

I finally arrived at my destination just before midday, I opted to park near the nest tree which was used by the owls for breeding last year. My plan of attack was to sit it out and wait, if they had chicks the parent birds must show at some time?

Finally after 2 hours of waiting an adult owl showed at the nest entrance, but it wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere, it just sat there keeping dry whilst looking at the rain and me!

It took it an hour before it came out!!

The next few hours proved to me that they must have chicks that needed feeding, for every 30 minutes or so one of the adults would leave the comfort of the nest to brave the elements and go hunting. And it was worms they were after! The soggy conditions meant that they were in plentiful supply as no sooner had they left they were back with one dangling from their beak!!

I was very privilege to have had some fantastic views whilst they went about their business, below are a selection of images from the FIVE hours I spent there, sadly most are quite noisy (grainy) because as it was so dark I had no option but to shoot at an ISO of 1600 to get any kind of shutter speed for the flight shots (max 1,000th sec)................yes that's a proper excuse this time!!!

My favourite image of the day.

Considering the conditions, my photographic inexperience and modest camera equipment (oh for a Canon 500mm lens, anybody got one!!!!) I am very pleased with the results.

So yes it was a hard slog, but better than doing DIY!!!

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Got out for a few hours this morning with Daz, we went out to check a few more sites for breeding activity and to blow the cobwebs away from a very heavy drinking session yesterday, we went down to Twickenham to watch the Leicester Tigers play in the premiership final which they sadly lost to Saracens! 

Anyway, there was nothing much doing at the sites we checked apart from another great tit nest in a Little Owl box, that's the forth now!!!! There was only really 2 highlights from the morning, a confirmed breeding territory has been set up by a pair of Hobbies over near to Enderby and the 5 Little Owl chicks in one of my boxes near to Whetstone Gorse are doing just fine.

Here is an image of the box that the Little Owls are breeding in, amazingly it is only four feet from the ground!

Before further investigations could take place I took this image of two of the chicks as they sat inside the box.

Your truly fighting through the brambles to take a closer look

Flipping cute or what!!!

As the hen owl was in the box with the five chicks I didn't hang around too long and only took 2 of the chicks out for closer inspection, the parents are doing a smashing job feeding them up as they looked to be really healthy and twice the size they were a week ago!

I need to be contacting the ringing group very soon otherwise at the rate they are growing we could well miss the opportunity of ringing them as they could be gone!!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Much Improved.

For the last week or so Leicestershire has been hit with some persistent high winds that have really hampered my owling just recently, therefore I needed to find a sheltered location where the owls just might show. One such site (No 157) possibly fitted the bill perfectly, it is near the village of Gumley and set amongst a few old ash trees in the bottom of a valley.

Although I have seen the owls here on a few previous occasions I'd never really invested any proper time and had only ever managed a single and very poor distant record image (below).  

So this evening that is where I headed for, and to my relief upon arrival I found the area was perfectly sheltered and out of the wind. I set myself up not far from what I believed to be the nest tree and waited. It took an absolute age before anything happened, but the owls did eventually show albeit only for around a minute!! But this was time enough for me to grab a few images of the resident pair, by no means quality images (the light was poor again!!!!) but a massive improvement on what I had before?


If the weather doesn't pick up soon I think I will be visiting these owls again, lets hope it does otherwise they are gunna be sick of the sight of me!!!!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Cookies & Owls!

What a superb few hours owling I had this evening, and to round it off the last site I visited must rank up there with the very best owl sites around! Anyway, I'm jumping ahead of myself so let me start with the first site of the evening, a return to my new site 177 at Bitterswell. On the day I located this site (19th May) the light was really poor so the intention of today's visit was to try and attain some more natural looking images in the daylight.

Although the evening sun was still strong and the light levels good it was still very windy which makes searching out the owls all the more harder! I drove slowly around the edge of the field on the sheltered side of the hedgerow and eventually I accidentally flushed the male owl out of a ditch. I pulled up and watch him from a comfortable distance and he soon continued with his task of grubbing around on the floor looking for some juicy morsels.

I'd soon got the "daylight" image I'd come for, not really a "flight image" more of a take off shot really, but considering the distance I'm pretty pleased with it! 

After watching him for 10 minutes or so I chanced my arm a drove nearer, a much closer and more detailed image was soon in the can but he only tolerated my closeness for a few seconds before he was off!

The second site I stopped off at was my site No 107 near to Gilmorton,  locating the owl at this site was pretty easy today as I know he loves to sit in and around a nearby haystack. So I just headed for the sheltered side of it and hey presto there he was!

The next location in my evening plan was to re-visit to my newest site at Desford, the one that Col put me onto the night before last. I needed to introduce myself to the owner of the farm and hopefully gain permission for access. Sadly there was no answer, as I was only just down the road from my site No 115 at Brascote that's where I opted to go for the last hour or so. This site is in the back garden of a residential property and the only access is up a driveway to the only viewing location, on the back lawn!  

Luckily the home owners were in and permission was granted for me to go into their garden to see if the owls were about. As on my previous visit they insisted that it would be OK for me to drive my Landrover over their back lawn!!! I didn't need any further encouragement so I did just that! I positioned the Landrover smack bang in the middle of the lawn in a area where I could see both the nest entrance and a favourite landing perch.

I settled down and waited for dusk to arrive.....the owling hour! I'd only been waiting about 10 minutes when the good lady of the house was tapping on my window with a very welcoming cup of coffee, how good is that?

Shortly after I located the male owl perched up high in a holly bush, he was out hunting which strengthened my suspicions that there could well be chicks in the nest. If that was the case then in all probability the hen bird would still be in the nest brooding her youngsters and wouldn't emerge until it was nearly dark. For this reason I chose to concentrate all my efforts on getting an image at the nest entrance. 

It was now a waiting game, but not for long! The sun dipped down behind  a nearby barn which put the nest site entrance into the shade, seconds later out popped the female owl! 

She flew up onto the barn roof and then disapeared the otherside of it. I decided that was enough, I'd got the image of her at the nest entrance that I wanted so it was time to go.

Just as I was starting to pack up all my kit I had another visit from the "garden waitress service", another cup of coffee and a large very tasty looking cookie.......oh this is the life!!! Out came all the kit again as it looked as though my stay was going to be extended somewhat! As the light had all but gone I needed to have a change of tactics, on went the speedlight flash and the remote shutter release, I then switch to manual and pre focusing on the nest entrance. I was now able to concentrate on my cookie and coffee but be prepared at the same time should the owl return, and it did!

So as I was saying at the start of this post, this must be the best owling site I have ever visited, fantastic views of the owls with the added value of good comfortable garden viewing, and the bonus of coffee and cookies!!!..........How lucky am I?????

Monday, 23 May 2011

Share and share alike!

I haven't been out "owling" for a few days due to too many other things going on and the really unowl friendly crappy weather, but after having a call from Col Green I had to get my act together and get out there! Col had seen a Little Owl sitting in the guttering of a farm house near to the village of Enderby......and it was one I didn't know about!!! 

So tonight I was compelled to investigate, after a bit of searching I did finally located the owl and it wasn't too far from where Col had seen it on Sunday night. A shameful image I know, but I do have all the usual excuses, too dark, too wet too far away etc etc....

My first image from new site No 179, along with a mocking Blackbird!

Wasn't it nice of Col to share this owl site with me, I think the bang on the head he took last week has turned him into a really nice and caring person..........either that or he's after something???

Cheers Col!!!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

In dusk we trust!

Two more new Little Owl sites were located tonight, the first in the village of Bitterswell the second in Broughton Astley. The light levels were shocking at both sites so flash fill was required in order to get anything like a useable image.

At the first site a pair was located loitering around what I suspect to be their nest tree, it could be that they have a chicks and this was the reasoning for both birds to have been out. I only managed an image of one of the birds (below) a very close encounter, pity I had to use a high ISO of 1600 and flash!

My first owl image from new site No 177

At the second new site of the night a single bird was spotted sitting on a farmhouse TV ariel as I drove past. I quickly turned around and as I re approached it flew to a nearby telegraph pole. Here is sat whilst I stood underneath it trying to get an image. It was too dark for the auto focus to work, so I switch to manual override and attained this image (below).

My first image from new site No 178

A really slow evening with hardly any sightings of note then it all exploded in the last hour as the light started to fade, as Stevie Evens the excellent owler from up in the north east says........"In dusk we trust"........very true tonight!!!!

Without a hitch!

Last night 3 more Barn Owl boxes were erected, Colin very kindly was in assistance again and fortunately there was no accidents to report, apart from me getting a minor poke in the eye from a twig! In fact the night actually went without a hitch, all the boxes went up quite speedily which left us some spare time to check out a few of my Little Owl boxes for breeding activity. Of the four boxes we checked. two were empty, one had a Great Tits nest in (this is the third one we have found this year!) and one had Little Owl chicks in, five of them!!! Sadly no images as yours truly forgot to take his camera!!!!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A bit of variety!

Quite a varied and enjoyable evening was had tonight, as I write this up its getting late, so not too much waffling  with reams and reams of text, I'll hopefully let the images speak for themselves, well maybe just a little explanation here and there!!!

I was in the eastern part of Leicestershire and on my way to revisit a recently located Little Owl site (No 176) when I passed what I thought to be a very "owly" roadside tree, image below. I parked up next to the tree and inspected it further through my binoculars, there were some clues to what the likely resident was. I could make out a couple of quite large black pellets and some loosely scattered white feathers on the ledge, Barn Owl maybe???

After a few alterations on the camera settings I was able to take an image deep inside the blackness of the hole, and to my utter delight my first suspicions were confirmed......a Barn Owl! It was fast asleep so there was no point in hanging around, I'm sure it won't be too long before an improved image of this bird is gracing the pages of my blog?

I finally arrived at my Little Owl site, and whilst I was sitting in the car waiting for some action a flash caught my eye, it was a Kingfisher and it had settled on some reeds in an adjacent pool. As I watched, it dived down into the water and then re-emerged with a small fish (a Roach I think?) a quick maneuver of the car got me into position and a single image was attained before it departed with its catch!

Finally my waiting was rewarded when the resident owl showed itself, the low light levels under the canopy of a huge Oak tree made getting a decent image tricky, these are a few of the "keepers".

On my way home I stopped off at the "5 egg" Barn Owl site, I didn't have to wait too long before the male bird appeared out of the barn. The light had almost gone so again I had to employ the use of my new speedlight flash to get an image. Although the flash doesn't seem to bother the owl, one day I hope to be able to get some more natural looking "daylight "images of this bird, maybe he will come out a bit earlier when he has young to feed?