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!!!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Puking Pellets

I've still got loads to catch up with from the last week or so, there's plenty of owls, juveniles and ringing encounters to post but I just had to upload some images from this evenings events. I was at my site No 135, near to the village of Cranoe, a location that thus far has never yielded any images, but when they finally came they were well worth waiting for!

An integral part of my studies is looking for pellets, a common day occurrence in the life of the owls, I have found hundreds and they are evidence that owls are active in a particular area. I have seen owls going through the expulsion of them but never before close enough to capture to act......until now!

In the next three images the expulsion act can clearly be seen, not very tasteful but good to watch....

I have visited this location on many previous occasions, I heard them calling and observed them at distance but today was the first opportunity to capture some "datyime" images.

I am really pleased with the set of images from today, I hope you are in agreement?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Catching up

Pheeeew!!! I have just come through the most intense period of owling I think I've ever had and keeping my blog up to date has had to take a back seat. Almost every evening during the last week or so I have been out doing one thing or another, networking with local landowners, checking boxes, ringing and loads of site monitoring looking for signs of fledged juveniles.

Over the next few days I will endeavour to do a complete round up, but for now I will leave you will my latest image of a juvenile Little Owl taken at my site No 45 near to Willoughby, an image I am particularly pleased with.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Few words......

A few more sites, a few more juveniles, a few more images.

A few images of the Juveniles with mum & dad.

Oh, and not forgetting a few of just the parents!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Mad Dash!

I have spent the last two evenings looking for fledged juvenile Little Owls, and due to their very timid nature and the fact they are experts at keeping hidden I had to take a tactical approach. Late evening is the best time, they tend to wonder out of hiding with a little more confidence whilst continuing with their persistence begging call for food.......hissing!

This juvenile wasn't difficult to locate as I walked past, it sat quiet and motionless up against an old building in the village of Countesthorpe. It was relying on its cryptic camouflage feather pattern to keep it undetected, obviously it didn't work!  

At the next site near Husbands Bosworth they took a little more finding, the last time I visited this site there was three juveniles in the nest. They were easy to see as the natural cavity was only two feet from the ground! Upon arrival the nest was empty, they had fledged! I knew they wouldn't be far away as they were too young to fly, I thought it improbable they'd got into any of the nearby trees as they had no low limbs for them to clamber up on to!

I then heard a hiss, it came from a mass of exposed tree roots 50 yards away!! After a good wait they revealed themselves, but there was only two of them!

Once I had attained an image I walked back in a direct line to the nest tree, and on the way the third owl was found, or at least evidence of it......a mass of feathers but no body! It must have been taken by a predator whilst making the mad dash for cover, more than likely the culprit being a Fox or a Tawny Owl!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

And there off!

During the last week I have invested quite some time spread over three different evenings at my site No 115 near to the village of Brascote. I'd been waiting for the four Little Owl juveniles to show in some reasonable light so I could get some images of them, and this evening they obliged. 

I was very fortunate to have been there this evening as I don't think I'll get another opportunity to get up close and personnel, because tonight they fledged!

The nest site is located inside a brick barn, and they gain access to the outside world through a hole where a brick is missing. Around 8.30pm they one by one all emerged, but getting a "group" image proved difficult as they were all spread out. One of the adults then came swooping in and perched next to the most developed of the juveniles, at last an image was attained (below).

It was a long wait and the light had nearly gone, but a flash assisted image of three of the juveniles was finally possible, I was happy but it there was still one of them missing!

Mission accomplished finally..... all four juvs together!

At 9.30pm both of the parents came close and all of the juvs became very excitable, but this wasn't the normal feeding visit I'd previously witnessed. It was totally different, something else was occurring? There was plenty of friskiness and calling by all the owls, then it happened, one of the juveniles took the leap of faith and fluttered away into the darkness.......they were fledging the nest site!

The first juvenile to take flight landed safely on a fence rail, this was the very last image I managed on the night, it was just too dark and I couldn't focus!

A safe landing.

Oh I forgot to mention that the barn the owls call home is going to be renovated in the near future, so as not to completely evict them when the work is done I designed a new style Little Owl box and erected on Sunday morning. It didn't take them long to get use to it as the image below shows, I think they approve!!!

New home.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Too Late!

Saturday was spent slogging around yet more Little Owl sites in the eastern part of Leicestershire to see if any more breeding activity could be proven. The first site that Daz and I visited was hopefully going to get the day off to a flying start, I'd visited here earlier in the week and an adult owl was seen in the vicinity of the nest box.

Daz making his way to the location, I was carrying the camera!

The box was in a terrible condition, the roof was split and will need replacing very soon (another job for Colin!). It obviously hadn't put the owls off though, just look at the dirt and claw scratches around the hole.

Daz went up to have a closer look, he then relayed down to me that it was good and bad news? The good news, it had definitely been used by Little Owls, it stunk to high hell had loads of fresh pellets and downy feathers but........it was empty? We had missed the boat, the juveniles had fledged! 

So it wasn't the flying start we were after but it was still good news that another of my boxes had been used, we will have to start our sites visits earlier next year!

During the day we visited and checked a dozen sites, most of them showed signs of breeding but due to the fact they were in natural sites the nest chambers were just too deep inside the trees for us to reach. We did have positive results at two sites though, three juveniles were found at a site in Great Glen and a further two at a site near to Goadby.

Here's Daz with the two juveniles from the Goadby site.

There wasn't many photo opportunities for images of the adults during the day, but here is one that I captured, I thought I'd share it as I am very pleased with the outcome.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Fab Four

There has been far too much rushing around just recently, I seemed to have been continually flitting between different owl sites gaining access permission, checking boxes, monitoring any breeding and ringing chicks. 

So this evening it was going to be a chill out night where I was going to stake out just the one site. I was at my site No 115 near to Newbold Verdon, I know there has been breeding here as I saw two juveniles at the nest entrance last weekend, it did eventually produced the goods but not before it was nearly dark!

Around 8.30pm the hen owl emerges from the nest entrance.

Shortly after a single chick emerges.

At 9.15pm the second chick comes out, the light starts to fade so flash was necessary to attain images from here on in. One of the adults then make a fleeting visit, it wasn't until I reviewed this image (below) that I realised it must have made a food delivery, it's dinner can been seen hanging out the beak of the chick on the right!   

Five minutes later I had a real surprise, a third chick emerged!

Then it got ridiculous, a fourth chick!!!!

The male owl made a visit at 10.00pm, he too had brought in dinner.

The male disappeared into the nest with the mouse, all four youngsters in close pursuit.
That was it, time for me to go.............

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Two out of three aint bad!

For anyone who read my previous post you will no doubt recall that I challenged myself to find 3 new Little Owl sites at a brand new group of pasture fields (new for me anyway) that a local land owner very gracefully introduced me to yesterday..........Well tonight I set about that challenge!

It was a gorgeous evening, the persistent wind that had been with us for the last couple of weeks had abated, leaving a perfectly still and sun drench evening, absolutely perfect for locating owls. I also had a bit of help with me tonight, my teenage daughter Louise! (I know I don't look old enough do I??) She decided it was time to tag along to see what her "geeky, nerdy" dad (her words not mine!) got up to most evenings. 

Before we went on our discovery of the new pastures I wanted to stop off at my Little Owl site No 28. I erected a nest box here last year and it was time to check it out. I wasn't that hopeful as I haven't seen an owl here for months and have never managed an image. We checked out the location from a safe distance and surprise surprise a Little Owl, and it was very near the nest box! We just had to investigate further, upon closer inspection we discovered a very dirty front to the box, especially below the entrance hole. This is so consistent with other occupied boxes I have, and the final bit of evidence were the fly's! They were swarming in and around the hole, a good sign that there was a dead rodent or two in the box! I will be utterly amazed if the box hasn't got chicks in it, I'd no ladders with me so I'll check it out tomorrow.

Anyway we eventually arrived at the new pastures, we spent the next couple of hours driving around whilst scanning the posts, dead trees and any potential perching areas for owls.  Nothing was seen on our outbound journey but on the return we had a bit of success. We heard owls calling at two different locations, a pair  at the first which were too distant to photograph and a solitary bird at the second. 

As we watched the owl at the second location it came and landed on a gate post quite close to us. It was now 9.55pm and almost dark but I had to try and attain an image. In total I rattled off 90 shots, and the first image below is a fair representation of 89 of them, it was far too dark which resulted in nothing but blurs!  

But I got somewhat lucky, there was a single image that was just about salvageable, below.

On the way home we stopped off at site No 174 in Blaby, I located this site only last month and at the time only had a very brief sighting of a single owl. Well we made a big improvement on that as tonight, we sat and watched a pair come in really close, they were no further than 10 feet away!!

A truly successful evening,  confirmation of a new breeding site, a confirmed pair at another site and I don't think that achieving only the two new sites (No's 183 & 184) out of the planned three is too bad? But I found the most amazing thing of all was, Louise really enjoyed herself, I wonder if she dare tell her friends what she's been up to? I guess not, its not "cool" going out with your sad dad!

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Prediction.

I did my rounds again tonight, nothing new to report on the breeding front although the male owl at site No 87 was out  grubbing around for food and when he found something he dashed back to his cavity, I strongly suspect to feed his young?

The male owl taking a rest from grubbing around.

I relocated myself near to the nest cavity and waited for the male owl to make a visit, I was hoping that upon his arrival I would get confirmation of chicks in the nest by the begging noise they make, I heard nothing!

The male arrives at the nest, a ringed owl from 2010.

Later on in the evening a couple more owls were seen but they were too far for any images. At one site near to Fleckney I bumped into the local landowner, he recounted seeing a Little owl a week or so ago and it was in an area I'd never seen one before!

I was soon in the vicinity of his sighting and there were a couple of very owly looking trees, they both had cavities that looked as though they could be used by Little Owls. It was now a case of sitting and waiting to see if anything showed, and it did!

This owl seemed nervous of the Landrover and wouldn't come any closer than about 30 yards, hence the distant and heavily cropped image, below.

So a very slow and uneventful evening turned out to be a good un with yet another new Little Owl site, that's 182 now!

Right at the end of the evening I bumped into another local landowner whom I'd never met before. He very kindly gave me a guided tour (in the dark!) of a few of his fields and it just oozed owls. In fact it looked so good I am going to predict that it will produce no fewer than 3 new Little Owl sites for me in the near future, and you never know maybe even a Barn Owl!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Chick chick hoorah!

Its Saturday again and that can only mean one thing, a whole days owling and unbelievably I wasn't feeling lethargic or heavy headed, this was a really unusual for a Saturday morning. It wasn't difficult to work out why though, for once I had been a good boy and had a steady Friday night,  only a few beers!!!

Today's target.......to photograph some chicks in the nest!

So with me being as fresh as a daisy it was an early start and the first location of the day was my new site No 180 over near Husbands Bosworth. I was hoping that the chicks would be peeping out of the nest by now but during my stay they were heard plenty but not seen, maybe another week or so? I did however see the male owl going to and fro a few times delivery goodies for his rapidly growing chicks.

Can you believe those yellow eyes!

At the second site, No 141 near to Ashby Parva there was no activity upon arrival, so I settled down within  good viewing distance of the nest cavity and waited. After around an hour I started to hear a very familiar sound, Little Owl chicks "hissing" in the nest, they were begging for food! 

Not long after a couple of them showed.

OK that was great, my target for the day was achieved, all I wanted now was an image of one of the parent owls bringing in some food, a dangling shrew or mouse would make a nice image!

I sat and waited for 3 hours before one of the parent owls showed, nice close up views but no mouse!

Time was getting on so it was time to move on, Brascote was my final destination of the day but en route I passed by site No 159 near to Croft, although I didn't plan to visit this site I'd got nothing to lose by stopping off for half an hour?

Since my last visit here the farmer has moved some cattle in and consequently the access gate was all tied up with rope. This meant I had to get out of the Landrover and walk, normally using these tactics for getting close to owls is not good. And that proved the case again today, the owl was located almost immediately but it was nervous of my presence so I had to make do with these distant images before it did its disappearing act.   

Finally I arrived at Brascote, the first owl was soon located sitting on the barn roof. Then the second adult appeared and on and off they showed really well for a couple of hours, they were relaxed and came quite close to the Landrover at times, obviously they had no idea I was inside!!

Around 7.00pm I heard that same familiar noise that I'd heard earlier, chick hissing! My attention was now firmly fixed on the nest entrance in the side of the barn. And true to form it wasn't long before they were at the entrance waiting for mum and dad to feed them.