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!!!

Sunday, 31 July 2011

No owls but.......

No posts for the last few days as I have been making the long, boring and ardious journey to Indiana, USA. We are here staying with family for our annual vacation and in between doing all the normal family things I am hoping to slip off occasionally to see what birding goodies are about.

Of course my main objective is to see some owls, but as there's such a vast array of different bird species (that I've never seen before) I'm not going to turn down the chance of a photo or two!

So this morning (Saturday) I had my first real opportunity to see what was about, I spent an hour sat in my car near to some garden feeders and it was just amazing!!!!

First up was a Mourning Dove, a dainty bird very similar in size and characteristics to the UK's Collard Dove.

The second visitor to the feeders was this bright red breasted finch size bird. At the time I hadn't a clue to its identity but later research revealed it was a male House Finch........I think!

A Canary!!!! No, but I thought it was when it first came and settled in. A very handsome male American Goldfinch a truly gorgeous bird.

Red Bellied Woodpecker, best bird I have seen to date, dam difficult to photograph as it doesn't stay still for a second, hopefully better views and opportunities to come!

As yet the identity to this bird (below) remains a mystery to me, I've checked some reference books and the internet but I can't find it, any ideas???

Whilst here I have done some research on the owl front, it appears there are three common species in this area, Barred, Screech and Great Horned Owl. It's not going to be easy to track them down though as all three are nocturnal. I'll do my best to locate them but in the meantime I am going to be spending some more time near the feeders, who knows whats going to turn up next?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

My Favourite!

I made a return visit to see the Little Owls over at Kilby again tonight, only this time I planned the positioning of the car with a bit more thought and got the full frame image I was after.....just!! No owls on the bonnet tonight, but the three juveniles where up to their normal mischievous antics!!!

Of all the thousands of Little Owl images I have, this particular one ranks right up there with my favourites! 

Close Encounters!!!!

Got out later than planned this evening, I'd missed what good light we'd had for decent images so I had to be content with just doing a bit of owl watching, but where? As I hadn't visited the local Barn Owls for a while that's where I headed.

It wasn't much of a wait either, only about 20 minutes! Two of the four juveniles duly obliged and put in an appearance at the barn window. It was good to see that they are obviously doing well, in fact they are now very handsome birds. Although the conditions were poor I still had a go at getting some images, high ISO and low shutter speeds resulted in a load of trash, but there was a couple of salvageable ones......just?

My time with the Barn Owls was all too brief, it was soon bitch black and time to head off. On the way back I stopped off at my Little Owl site No 91 near to Kilby. I pulled up and parked not far from the nest tree.

I kid you not, what happen next was unbelievable but true!!!!

I sat in my car peering into the darkness whilst straining my ears for any evidence of owl activity when out of nowhere a juvenile Little Owl landed on a fence post right next to the car. It was so close I could of put my arm out of the window and tickled its belly,  I dare not move, it obviously hadn't seen me?

It then dropped down onto the tarmac road beside the car and starting hopping around in a frenzy. I soon realised that it was feeding on flying ants, there had been an explosive hatch of them this evening and there must of been millions of them, especially on the road! Soon after it was joined by another two juveniles, they were all so preoccupied with gorging on the ants they didn't even bother about me.

I sat watching in amazement, but then I was amazed even further, one by one they fluttered up and landed on the bonnet of my car! They sat there all cuddled up together, the nearest one was perched on my windscreen wiper! They seemed very content, they'd had a good feed and the warmth of the bonnet from when the engine was running must have been to their liking. At one point all three were staring straight at me, I was transfixed!

After a few minutes they were back down on the ants again, I took this chance to reach across and get my camera. I engaged the flash and then manually focused on the fence post next to my car, it took a while but during another rest bite two of the owls did land on it and I got these images of them (below) they were so close I couldn't even fit their whole body into the frame!

Over the last few years I had some really close encounters with owls, but nothing as ridiculous as tonight, and before you ask yourself if I'd been drinking and dreaming, no I haven't, it's totally true...........HONEST!!!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Relaxed Owls

I managed to get out owling for the whole afternoon today, I visited three different Little Owl sites and in total saw 14 different birds, 3 adults and 11 juveniles. I spent 2-4 hours at each site sitting and observing from my car. Due to the fact I had a cammo net up at the window the owls couldn't see me and at times they came very close.

The light was pretty good and the owls were relaxed, which lead to some pleasing results.

Fellow Hunter

Out of the blue an email from an another, unknown and local  "Little Owl Hunter" landed in my inbox during the week, they were letting me know of a few sightings of the critters they had made around the south Leicestershire area. Most of the sites were already known to me but one was a bit of a surprise! It was near to the village of Tur Langton, an area I'd searched on many occasions without any success. 

So one evening last week I headed over there, I started my search looking in the roadside trees where they had reportedly been seen, after 30 minutes no luck! I then started looking around the general area slowly moving further and further away. After two hours of searching and around a hundred yards from the initial start position I eventually tracked them down, a couple of alarm calls indicated where they were! I only managed a sighting of one them and due to the fact I was on foot and in clear view I couldn't get too close, so I had to make do with a distant image, below.

Thanks must go to my fellow owl hunter for helping me secure my Little Owl site No 191.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What A Sterling Box

During the last year I have manufactured and erected (with the help of Col & a few other victims) over 40 bespoke Little Owl boxes. Thus far the uptake of these boxes by the owls has been a bit disappointing, only six! Now there could be many factors or reasons why they haven't taken to them more readily, the obvious ones are, poor location, too low, too high, facing the wrong direction, etc etc, or maybe a poor box design?????

I know the old box design has worked well in other parts of the country, but that is mainly in areas where I believe there is a distinct lack of trees and natural cavities, so the owls don't really have a lot of choice.

So with these thoughts in mind I went about designing a new box, but what should it be like?

Having seen hundreds of natural nest locations I needed to work out what the common denominators are, and then I needed to start thinking like an owl and then how do I implement my thoughts and findings into the design.

Firstly, a lot of natural nest sites have a landing platform, usually created when a limb tears off the main trunk, so I need one of these. Little Owls love natural sites where there is a long tunnel that leads to the nest chamber, I think it gives them a sense of security and deters predators from entering, OK I need that too. It  needs to be dry, dark and draught proof, yet roomy enough to cater for the hen owl and say three or four fully grown juveniles. I would also like to give the male owl some where away from the main chamber to roost and the design must not make it too easy for the juveniles to wonder out and be predated when too young........easy hey!

Well after loads of thought I finally came upon what will hopefully be the perfect design? So 4 weeks ago I quickly made my first version out of some scrap timber and erected it near a know breeding site, within 24 hours of putting it up it was being used by the resident owls!

Now this particular box was made without drawings, it was all in my head. So before mass production could commence I wanted Colin see it and gain his approval. So we went over to see it last weekend, Col's first comment was on the shabbiness of the construction but he thought the design was just perfect, especially when he looked inside and it had four roosting owls in it!

So last night Col came over and we set about making a "professional" version, it took us a few hours as we needed to make a few slight alterations to the original design. 

So with all the criteria met, here it is, obviously with the roof removed.  

Col looking very pleased with his evenings work!

It was a pure coincidence that the timber manufacturers logo ended up being in just the right place, but Col and I were both in agreement that this box will be aptly known as the "Sterling" but we couldn't agree on what the "OSB" should stand for, maybe "Owl Survey Box? If you can think of a better name using the "OSB" please leave me a comment or send me an email.........there could be royalties in it for you! 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Only 10 More!

An email received just lately gave me a bit of a wake up call?? I'd unknowingly slumped into a lethargic period as far as my owling was concerned, and getting out there had taken a back seat! The last two months had been so intense with excursions out almost every evening that sooner or later I needed a break from it all.  Don't get me wrong, I just love what I do but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing? 

Anyway the kick up my backside that finally woke me up from this mini break was a potential new Little Owl site, my mate Tony, from Barwell had sent me an email letting me know he'd seen Little Owls whilst he was out walking near the village of Cotesbach, as I'd got no sites in that area it needed further investigation!

I made my way to roughly the area Tony told me about and started searching, there one obvious tree that just "looked right", so I headed straight for it. I was about 30 yards away when all of a sudden there was an explosion of owls, they seemed to be everywhere as they flew off in all directions. This instantly stopped me in my tracks, I surveyed the tree from where I stood and luckily two birds hung around long enough for me to get an image (below).

Superb a new site (No 190) but in all the confusion I wasn't sure how many of them there where, obviously it was a family party and it contained juveniles but just how many???

An inquisitive juvenile. 

An adult owl "hiding".

I made a hasty retreat to around a hundred yards and waited. After another 30 minutes of observations I finally made out that there was two adults and at least 3 juveniles! They were all difficult to see as they were low down in a hedgerow taking shelter from the prevailing wind.

A very distant image of the three juveniles.

So after the successful "tip off" from Tony (cheers mate) I now have another site to add to the "proven" breeding list for 2011, that list now stands at 89 juveniles (at least) across 36 different territories! My overall different Little Owl sites is now on 190, only 10 more required to reach the magical milestone of 200, I would have never guessed I'd get anywhere near this total 3 years ago, my original target was 20!!!!   

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Lap of the gods!

I re-visited my site 47 last night, this is where the recovering juvenile was set free after 2 weeks of nursing (see previous post). It appears that on it's first night of freedom it took flight into the darkness only to be rediscovered the next morning sitting on the floor near the farmhouse!

It was collected up and re-positioned in the upturned washing basket and left all day to watch the world go by. It fed well, two bowls of mashed up dog food and fresh rabbit (along with the fir) where soon consumed. Around 10.00pm the basket was again lifted at one end so it could venture out, by morning it had gone and hasn't been seen since! Another bowl of food has been left out at the release site just in case it returns again, its now in the lap of the gods to how it fairs, if I get any more news of it I will let you know.

Whilst there last night the male owl was again tracked down, I managed a couple of images of him (below) near to his nest site before he got bored of me and flew off!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Owl rescue

Over the weekend I received a call from the landowner where my Little Owl site No 47 is located. Its not far from the village of Peckleton and I haven't seen an owl here since 2009! So when the call came in telling me that a juvenile Little Owl had been rescued I was very interested.

The juvenile was found at the foot of a tree 2 weeks ago, at the time it appeared lifeless and had a severely damaged right eye. It was taken in and kept in an outhouse, an upturned plastic washing basket was used to retain it and keep it safe. During its time in captivity it has been fed fresh rabbit and dog food, this combination seems to have worked wonders! It now looks a picture of health and its eye is heeling well. On the odd occasion it has even been let out for a fly around the shed!

Juvenile Little Owl, on the mend.

We discussed the situation at length and it seemed we had three options, release it, keep it or hand it in? It was a bit of a dilemma but after all the pros and cons were considered we were in agreement that  a reintroduction back to its natural surroundings would be best. Our major concern with this option was it had become "humanised" and totally reliant on being fed. 

Due to the fact that its parents were still about (I'd seen them on arrival) we hoped they would accept it back and teach it the skills required to survive. We took the washing basket outside and positioned it near to the nest tree, image below.  We then placed a couple of bricks on the top to try and deter the local cats, we then retreated to a safe distance and observed. 

After around 30 minutes there was a visitor.......one of the parents!

They both seemed confused at first, but in time the adult got nearer and nearer until they were almost making contact through the holes.

The plan was working perfectly.....so far! The next and final stage of the plan was around 9.00pm the washing basket will be lifted at one end allowing either the juvenile out or the parent owl in, at the time of writing I am waiting to hear how things went, to be continued................ 

 Whilst waiting for the adult birds to find the juvenile there was a few photo opportunities, below.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Last nights trip out didn't produce any evidence of more new juveniles sites. I think they are now getting to the age where they don't hiss as much, making them a lot harder to locate.

I did however locate a new Little Owl territory, site No 189! I was looking around the village of Bitteswell and came across a very owly looking area, whilst I was scanning the trees for juveniles I picked up this adult bird giving me the stare!

Poor light and distance resulted in just a "record" image, not too bad though considering it was 10.00pm! 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Food for thought

One of my Little Owl sites (No 130) is located in someones back garden and the nest entrance is in a really obscure position high up in an ash tree. Consequently getting some decent images would be really tricky, however the local resident came to the rescue as she fitted a motion detecting inferred camera near the nest entrance and yesterday she sent me some clips.

I have chosen one of the clips which shows the parent owl making a couple of visits with a juicy worm, just click on the link below to view. 

Juveniles being fed at my Little Owl site No 163

I know the quality isn't brilliant but you can clearly make out what is going on, having seen these clips it has given me food for thought! I think it is well overdue that I too should stat to do some movie footage of my owls.........now wheres that video camera?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

More Juveniles!

Two more Little Owl sites with juveniles were located tonight, with these added to the ones already found it now takes this years tally (so far) to 32 different proven breeding sites. Across all these sites there is at least 77 juveniles, making it an average of 2.41 per site, not bad hey?

A pair of fluff balls at my site No 168.

Hopefully many more still to come.............

Close to home!

Didn't get out as early as I'd wanted to this evening, consequently I ended up searching more local to home than I usually do. My site No 10 in the next door village of Cosby was the target destination. I wasn't hopeful at all, I have only ever seen a single owl here on a few occasions and the last time was over 2 years ago!!

It ended up being a superb visit, just seeing an owl would have been a bonus but it got better than that, much better in fact. In total five different owls were seen, two adults and three fledged juveniles........what a result!

Juvenile No 1 had taken up residence in the rafters of a barn.

The second juvenile was located in the old pig pen.

And believe it or not the third juvenile was located (through its "hissing") hiding underneath a stack of old slabs!

Juvenile No 3 clambering about on the combine harvester.

Due to how the juveniles were scattered about I now understand why both of the parent owls were perched up high on the steel girders of an old barn, the high elevation enabled them to keep a watchful eye on all that was going on.

The hen owl on the girder.

The male owl taking his turn to watch out.

When the hen owl muscled out the male from the girder perch, he would re-positioned himself on the wing mirror of the combine harvester.

Just goes to show that even if an owl has not been seen for an absolute age one must not give up looking for them, especially when it is a close to home as these birds are!

Oh I nearly forgot, another new Little Owl territory was also located tonight in the village of Leire, site No 188! It was very late and I was having a slow drive around the country lanes following a tip off from one of the local residents (thanks Kate) when this pair were located on some field posts. It was far too dark for images but I'll be back, very soon!!! 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Baby shortage!

Over the weekend a few more of my sites yielded yet more fledged juveniles. Most of them have been out in the big wide world for around a week or so now, and they are wising up very quickly.  Locating them is becoming extremely difficult, just like their parents, they are perfecting the art of disguise and keeping hidden!

At some of the locations the only clue to their presence was the distinctive, and repetitive "hissing", mostly coming from deep within a bush or heavily leaved tree. But with a little patience I did get a few brief glimpses.

At my site No 87 near to Willoughby a pair of them were located on distant fence posts, after an hours wait one of them came nearer, it was grubbing around in an old manure pile when I think the "clicking" of my camera shutter startled it, needless to say its instincts of survival soon had it taking for cover. 

Over at my site No 120 near to Slawston it was a Little Owl mad camp, there was no fewer than seven owls showing in total, two adults and five juveniles! Getting some decent images proved very difficult as they were all high up in the trees, eventually one of the juveniles landed in a hollow on a tree trunk and this image was in the can.

Beings as I was in the area I chose to re-visit site No 135 at Cranoe, I was very fortunate to have managed some cracking images from here one evening last week. The male owl showed again but the light wasn't as complimentary, therefore most of the images were just poorer versions.  

Site 149 over at Walton was one of those where I could hear the juveniles hissing but they just wouldn't come out, it was very frustrating and I had to make do with an image of one of the parents.

Four juveniles were showing really well at site No 184 near to Kilby, trouble was they were too far away! As with a previous site, one juvenile obviously felt sorry for me and came closer, trouble was it kept partially hidden behind a field gate!

I spent quite some time at site No 182 near Fleckney, after only 5 minutes of arriving I had confirmation of juveniles. The slight difference in the hissing pitch coming from a bush told me to expect 2 juveniles, but after a 3 hour wait neither of them showed! In the end I got fed up with the waiting, a decision was needed. Do I call it a day and depart or should I take a walk? The latter was chosen as I didn't want to go away empty handed after all the time I'd invested.

I crept up to the bush in question and peeped in, I could make out both juveniles but one was too deep in and totally obscured. I managed to get into a position where I could just about get an image of the nearer one through the foliage, once attained I departed slowly and both birds remained undisturbed.   

Finally, my run continues of finding at least one new Little Owl site every month since my study began. This latest one, No 187 was located at 10.15pm near to the village of Bruntingthorpe. It was sitting on top of a telegraph pole as I was driving home, luckily as I reversed and parked right underneath him it didn't budge, I had to manual focus and over expose to get anything like an image.......if that's what you'd call it! 

So all in all the returns are not too bad on the fledgling front so far this year, the average of juveniles per site is up on last year but I am still down on total birds and site numbers. The latest tally is 69 juveniles across 29 different sites (average 2.38 per site), compared to last years total of 82 juveniles across 39 different sites (average 2.1 per site).

So keep your fingers crossed for me, another 10 sites and 13 juveniles required..........at least!!!