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, 30 August 2011

Bank holiday blues!

Up and out by 5.50am on Monday morning, the weatherman had predicted a glorious day and I'd been granted a pass out until early afternoon, superb nearly a whole days owling and for what???

I may of well spent the Bank Holiday with the rest of the population pulling my hair out and moaning whilst sitting in lengthy traffic queues whilst attempting to visit a local attraction of some kind. But no, I opted to sit in my Landrover for a whopping 8 hours for two very brief owl sightings! The weather was crappy, intermittent showers complemented with a constant breeze made the conditions for seeing the owls very poor indeed. It is always a bit slow seeing owls post breeding season but this was so bad I was wishing at times that I too was having a glorious time in some motorway grid lock.

Anyway, that's my rant over.......am I getting a bit cantankerous? The two birds that did show were both sheltering out of the wind, they just sat there looking rather cosy. Neither of them ventured out, they were obviously not as stupid as me.

First owl of the day, site No 105 near to South Wigston, it only took it four hours to put in an appearance, and all it did then was poke its head out!

Yeah you just stay in there.....Mr warm owl!


The second owl of the day, site No 16 near to Kilby was a fleeting glimpse too, but at least it had the decency to show a bit more of itself. A good sighting though, as I thought the owls here had gone, no sightings since February! My mate Nigel said he saw an owl here a couple of weeks ago so after investigating it proved he was quite correct, I bet he didn't wait for over 3 hours though!

Quite a tatty looking individual?


Sunday, 28 August 2011

Early Morning.

I managed to sneak out for a couple of hours this morning, I do have to make the most of any window of opportunity I get and today it meant getting up early and out (and back!) before the rest of the clan had even got out of bed!

I went over to see what has been going on at my site No 105 near to South Wigston, due to the remoteness of this location is its an absolute must that I go in the Landrover, something I haven't for a good few weeks now because I couldn't be bothered to tax it!

During the two hours on location only a single bird was seen, a very showy but all to distant juvenile. The light levels were just perfect and along with the defused backdrop it made for a couple of images I'm rather pleased with. 



There is obviously something in this early morning lark, not that I am prepared, or even capable of doing it on a regular basis though.......the beer the night before soon puts paid to thatt!!!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A walk down the lane....


After indulging myself somewhat over the top on my recent trip to the USA, the waistline has now grown to near obese proportions! It didn't matter how much I tried to suck the massive overhang in, the full length mirror didn't lie, the message was loud and clear, diet and exercise!!!!

So as to turn over a new leaf I needed a life style change........no beer and plenty of walking! Therefore, I decided to have a gentle walk this evening, I know that doesn't seem too arduous but for someone who just drives everywhere it was a "BIG DEAL"! Now not wanting to waste an opportunity, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone, I'll take my camera with me and do some owling. 

I ended up down a very quiet back lane near to Willoughby, it felt kind of surreal parking the car up and walking away from it! Anyway, as I "power-walked" my way down the lane I came to my Little Owl site No 103, I was beginning to tire (must have walked a good half a mile) so it was time to take a breather.

I lent on a field gate and surveyed the area, there was a flutter in a nearby tree, it was one of the resident Little Owls, my first sighting here since October 2010! It didn't hang around long, I think the massive blob leaning on the gate scared it off, but not before I managed an image!

Little Owl site No 103.


Nothing much more was seen whilst I puffed and panted my way along the lane, nothing that is until I heard a Little Owl alarm call, and it was in an area that I hadn't seen one before! By now I was completely knackered so I sat down on the grass verge and had a rest. I wasn't sure exactly where the call came from so I sat quietly an waited for it to call again. Then I saw it, it was up high in a nearby tree watching me! I managed a quick shot (below) before it moved out of sight. 

At the time it was too early to say if this was a new site or not, it could well of been a juvenile moving away from its natal site? After later studying the image I am now quite confident that the owl in question is an adult and not a juvenile.....get in there new site 193!

Little Owl at new site No 193.  


So I suppose this new regime does have it's good points, a new Little Owl site and after one good walk I'm at least 10 pounds lighter, not sure how the "no beer" will go though!!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Finish at the Start!

Today, weather wise it was an abysmal day here in Leicestershire, however the early evening skies started to clear somewhat and the sun poked through......occasionally. That was the excuse I was looking for, the kit was loaded and I was out! I'd planned to visit several Little Owl sites in the eastern part of Leicestershire, but due to how the evening unfolded I soon discarded watching the owls in favour of searching for another species of bird?

I was near the Langton's (a scattering of small villages north of Market Harborough), I settled down at the chosen owl site near to a huge pile of timber (a yet to be lit bonfire). I knew the resident owls liked to sit in amongst the pile when the sun was out, and this evening they duly obliged!

A 30 minute wait and they appeared.


After a while the sun disappeared behinded yet another blanket of clouds, doohhh!! But that was when the action started, the owls gave up on their sunbathing and started to move in and around the bonfire. The light wasn't so good but it was a small price to pay as they were offering some interesting photo opportunities, which is unusual for Little Owls as normally they are very static and very boring!






Whilst they stayed down low in the bonfire getting the correct exposure wasn't too much of a problem, but when they opted to go up higher the horrid grey backdrop made things extremely difficult, where's the blue sky when you need it?


The high level of activity soon slowed down though, the owls had made their way back up to the top of the pile and just sat there! I was just thinking about moving on when, hang on what the hell was that just behind the owls??

Strange bird in the background.


I refocused on the mystery bird.......Bloody hell it was a Common Redstart!!!!


I have only ever seen a Common Redstart in Leicestershire on a handful of previous occasions, let alone ever photographed one!!! Wow this was so unexpected, I deserted the owls and spent the next hour or so trying to relocate it..........to no avail!

So I will have to do with this very poor image, (below) a heavily cropped portion from the image above.


I would say this bird is a juvenile male, and contray to the name, (Common Redstart) they are definitely not that common here in Leicestershire! They are a summer visitor to the UK and are normally seen when they make a "feeding pit stop" whilst en route to their breeding grounds in the spring, or on their return journey to Africa where they over winter.

So all in all a pretty eventful evening, and I bet there isn't many people in the world that can boast a Little Owl and a Redstart in the same image........... 

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Bird On A Wire!

This afternoon I visited a local Little Owl site near to Willoughby, my intention was to hopefully see some juveniles and photograph them before they start to disperse.

I'd been parked up around and an hour and no images were possible, the owls were there all right because I could see them through the hedgerow, there was at least three of them and they were sheltering out of the breeze on some fence posts!!

My patience finally ran out and I went to see the landowner of the field where the owls were. Pemission was soon granted for access (thank you!), I adopted a very slow approach as I didn't want to spook the owls! My cagey tactics finally paid off as I'd got into a position where I wasn't too far from where the owls were. It was now a waiting game and over the next four hours they came pretty close at times.  

Juvenile No 1


Juvenile No 2 & Dad


Juvenile No 3



Juvenile No 4


A balancing act and on one foot.....what a show off!


Just goes to show that the grass can be greener on the other side of the fence, well this time it was anyway!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

No owls?

A quick run out before going to the pub last night, no owls were showing at the site I visited? It wasn't surprising though as this menacing chap was surveying the area!

Common Buzzard 


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Experimenting

Since the purchase of my new Canon 7D camera body I've had a few evening opportunities to get out and have a play. I'm finding the operations a bit fiddly and loads of mistakes are still being made! But in time I hope to show an overall quality improvement, especially with my low light owl images as the 7D has a much higher ISO range than I have previously been use to. 

This Little Owl image (from my site No 87) was from the first session I had with the new camera, although the golden colours are totally natural (due to low level setting sun) I felt they were too intense, therefore have toned them down somewhat to make it more appeasing to the eye. 


Terrible back light nearly rendered this owl image from my site No 154 to the trash bin, that is until I processed it in a monochrome style, I think I did the right thing in salvaging it?


Same bird as above but better light this time!


Male Little Owl at my site No 176, due to the distance and low light this image would never have been possible with my old camera. But more pixels and higher ISO with the 7D gave me a "keeper"!


Whilst at my site No 176 I noticed a heron hunting in a distant pond. A quick manoeuvre of the car gave me a good vantage point to watch as it stalked its prey. I was far enough away as not to disturb it and I got a couple of images at the moment it striked.


On both occasions it emerged with a tiny fish.


Although I was captivated by the hunting Heron I couldn't help but be distracted by a group of Mistle Thrushes further along the lane. They were making a right commotion as if they were mocking a bird of prey? Hmmmmm maybe a Tawny Owl, this needed further investigation.

I slowly drove up to what all the fuss was about and low and behold........a Little Owl!!! The Thrushes were giving it a right hard time, they were continually mobbing it. Eventually it flew to the sanctuary of a nearby oak tree, that was my chance to attain a "record shot". Although this was my only sighting another 2 owls could be heard calling, I suspect a family party?

New Little Owl site No 192.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Chomping at the bit!

Got out tonight for a couple of hours and how I enjoyed it! Over the last two weeks I'd missed my owls  and as this evenings late setting sun offered a glorious glow what better excuse could I ask for than to get out and see some owls, and of course try out my new camera!

This is my very first published image with the new Canon 7D, it just had to be of a Little Owl didn't it? The controls and settings are so different to that of my old 40D camera it is going to take me a while to master it, but I don't think my first effort is too bad? I have cropped this image far more than I would ever dare do with the old 40D, one of the beauties of having nearly twice a many pixels to play with.

The owl was located at my site No 87 near to Willoughby Waterleys, it was perched up on top of an old manure pile. The back drop of the sun shining on a tree trunk gave an unusual golden and warm feeling to the image.


Another feature that the 7D has is the ability to record movie footage, (click on the arrow to play) this is my first attempt and yes it is shaky, slightly out of focus and out of synchronisation, but hey give me a chance!!

Here is the same owl as above calling back to his mate.

video

Not sure I will do a lot of movie footage, but it's a nice to have should the situation arise.

Upgrade!

Back in the UK now after a superb family break in the US,  we had a smashing time and whilst there we were very well looked after by Bren and Jay....thanks guys! During the holiday the birding/photo opportunities in their back garden were just brilliant, that is until my Canon 40D decided to stop working!! It was very frustrating with loads of good bird images missed! However I must be thankful that it did work for the first week and some stunning birds were captured.

So yesterday I made a visit to the local camera shop (Jacobs in Leicester) a good bunch of guys who are very helpful, unfortunately they didn't know what was wrong with my camera and it needs to be sent away.

It just so happens that I have been looking at upgrading my camera for a while now but never had the conviction to actually "splash the cash" and go for it! Well guess what, I am now the proud owner of a brand new Canon EOS 7D!!! All in all a better model than the 40D with the facility of also being able to recording live footage, move over Spielberg!


As soon as I familiarise myself with the operations (and get over the jet lag) I'll be getting back into the groove and catching up with my locals owls, hopefully some better quality images and movie footage to come?


Friday, 5 August 2011

In Flight.......at last!!

A picture speaks a thousand words.................

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A walk around.

I still haven't had any luck with finding an owl, or relocating the elusive Bluebird, but during a walk around the gardens of where we are staying (7 acres of them!) a few more north American birds were tracked down for an image.

Brown-Headed Cowbird, possible juvenile. From a distance these birds look very much like the European Starling. They group together in small flocks and as their name suggests can be found feeding around cattle. This individual was searching around for food on the ground under some horses, lucky for me it flew nearby and landing in a tree top!! Once you get a closer look it is quite obvious they are not Starlings at all, especially when the beak in noticed.


Further along the track I chanced upon this Chipping Sparrow, with a beak full of grub!


In the pasture immediately to the front of the property can be found a very unusual "back yard" bird. In fact there are dozens of them and they breed here too. Now getting near enough for a decent image has eluded me all week. This image (below) is the best I have managed so far, it has been very heavily cropped and consequently the quality has reduced, however it's identify can still be made!

Now I know what it is, do you??????


And finally a few more Ruby Throated Hummingbird images. My patience and endurance of the midday heat is finally starting to pay off with some "better" images of these delightful characters. To try and understand how small their body is, look at your thumb, (from the nail to the first joint),.........tiny hey!!!!


My first "usable" in flight image.


My favourite USA image so far, their colours are just awesome......


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A trio of beauties.

Not a good day today to spend time trying to get images, too dam hot, 90+ degrees and humidity to match of 90%. I did venture out at around 8.00pm when things started to cool down but it was still sticky and damp. 

My quarry tonight was the Hummingbirds, I wanted to try and get some "in flight" images. I made a little hide with some mesh I'd bought earlier in the day and settled down near to one of the many nectar feeders. It was a frustrating waiting game at times as they seemed to favour the other feeders over mine! Eventually I did managed some flight images but due to the low light levels and consequence slow shutter speeds they were no good!  However, I did get a couple of "perched" images that I am pretty pleased with, especially when they were shot just as the light was going and the ISO set at 1600! 

Female posing nicely. 


The male Hummingbird only made one visit and although I am happy with the image I wasn't able to crop out the feeder, I would rather not have it in the image as it adds an "artificial" element to the composition, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers!!

The male, a magnifiently coloured individual.


Just as I was packing up for the night I noticed a new bird on the posts behind me, a male Eastern Bluebird, I think? It was my first ever sighting of this species and a gorgous looking bird. I had to make do with a distant image, but tomorrow, weather allowing I am going to set my stall out to get closer and hopefully some better results.

Eastern Bluebird.


Monday, 1 August 2011

Back Yard Birds - USA Style.

This morning I spent another hour in the car parked up near the feeders. Some amazing visitors and great photo opportunities.

Downy Woodpecker


American Goldfinch, already seen but an improvement in the birds posture.


White Bellied Nuthatch.


House Sparrow


Red Bellied Woodpecker, a massive improvement over my previous image.


Red Cardinal, Indiana's state bird, pretty spectacular hey!


Goodness knows what my next stint will turn up?