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!!!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Tawny Owl

I have been waiting an awful long time to get a Tawny Owl image in the daylight, the conditions were challenging but I am well pleased with the results from the one and only opportunity I've had in 2012!

There were two of them tucked up inside this hole, now I know where this site is I'll be heading back next weekend, cheers John!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The morning after.

No birding of any sort was conducted on Saturday because it was an out and out boozing day. We were celebrating Daz's 50th and needless to say we were going to do it properly! We "got on it" at midday and come 8.00pm we were all done for! There'd been countless pints of lager sunk and in between we sampled a few glasses of red wind and towards the end of the day we went up to the top shelf and finished off with a few tots of rum.

Ooooh my head was hurting this morning, but regardless of the suffering Daz and I ventured out into the fresh air to do a bit of birding. First up I treated Daz to his first ever Waxwing encounter, the local site that I have been keeping a vigil on produced the goods again with 10 birds showing well.

There was no excuses about the conditions, it was almost perfect and loads of images were taken but with my shaking hands most ended up being fuzzy!

Also during the morning an hour was spent checking out a local Barn Owl site, the Barn Owl didn't show but as a consolation the resident Little Owl put in an appearance. It just popped out of a hole in the roof where a slate is missing, looked around and then just as quick disappeared again! 

To round the day off we checked out a few other likely looking Barn Owl sites but none were seen. Our final destination of the day was the site where the newest Barn Owl box was put up, see previous post from Dec 3rd "another owl box".

We walked down to the box to check it out (more in hope than anything else) and there in the grass directly beneath the entrance we found a single owl pellet! We quickly moved back to a safe distance to observe. Then just as it was getting dark a pure white face appeared at the box entrance, yessssss a Barn Owl!!! It was far too dark to take any images but it didn't matter, this was just the tonic we needed to take away our hangovers, and to think that this box was only put up 13 days ago, knowing that it has been occupied already was very rewarding.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Wonderful Norfolk Barnies.

I made the most of my day off of work yesterday by re-visiting the north Norfolk coast. I was on the road for 5am with the intention of being there for first light. Barn Owls were the initial quarry and if everything went to plan I was hoping a hunting bird could be located before it got too bright? 
I'd recently been in contact with Doug McFarlane regarding the Norfolk Barn Owls as he is a frequent visitor to the area and knows it well. For some reason the local Barnie's tend to be seen out hunting in the daylight hours on a more regular basis than here in Leicestershire? Doug had very kindly given me the heads up on some likely locations (cheers mate) so after plotting them all on a map off I went. The roads en route were empty and good progress was being made, the sat nav was telling me that I was due to be at the first site a good 30 minutes before dawn, excellent that allowed me enough time to stop off for a hearty, (but not very healthy) breakfast!
I was in situ at the first location just as the sun started to creep over the horizon, although chilly it looked as though the light was going to be in my favour first thing.  Wow, the area looked just perfect as the early golden light lit up the whole area, there was lots of waste/scrubland, a meandering river and total solitude, all that was needed now was a Barnie!
I'd been there huddled against a hedgerow surveying the area for around 20 minutes and no owls were seen, although by now it was very bright and excellent for photography it was also bitterly cold. The wind was harsh and cutting straight through me, I needed to warm up so it was back to the car for some shelter. It was at this point that I reluctantly gave up with this location and moved on to another of Doug's referred sites. The story was the same at the second, it look great but no owls? Maybe the high winds were putting them off? On the way to the third site I took a wrong turn, and how fortunate that turned out to be! As I was conducting a three point turn in a gateway my first Barnie of the day was spotted. It was distant but looking a the terrain I calculated that if it continued to hunt the marginal edge of this vast field it could make its way around to me? I got myself prepared and again I crouched down low in the hedgerow and waited. Everything then worked to perfection,  the owl got nearer and nearer and eventually it was with range of my 300mm. It was so pre-occupied with hunting for prey it didn't even give me a glance as a few shots were rattled off!

Its next move was to go up and over the adjacent hedgerow, a tentative glance around and I could see that it had landed on a post right next to where I'd parked my car. It perched there for a few minutes whilst scanning the nearby scrub for prey, I hesitantly moved very slightly and crack, a twig broke under foot, instantly it turned its head and looked straight at me. I didn't try to get any nearer for fear of spooking it so I settled for this distant shot, sadly it was in the shade, doooh!   

It didn't seemed bothered about my presence and carried on surveying to ground around it, I think me being backed into the hedgerow helped? Eventually it took flight and came back into the field I was in and continued to hunt the field margin. It was now flying away from me but after 10 minutes it made its way around the whole perimeter of the field and now a second pass by was on the cards. Only this time it came even closer and just as it came within range it lifted up a little higher and turned midair, it caught the golden sunlight just perfectly.


It was an all but too brief encounter really but excellent whilst it lasted. Seeing these magnificent creatures out in good light is a very rare occurrence in deed, especially where I live in Leicestershire! Another "daytime" hunting owl was located later in the day at a different location but before I could nail any images it drifted too far away. I will deffo be making a re-visit to Norfolk and these two new sites as soon as circumstances allow, its just brilliant!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

More Jays

A number of posts ago I mentioned that I'd been working on a couple of other projects away from the owls, the first being Kingfishers and the second being Jays. The Kingfisher project has yet to produce any results but after a very slow start the Jay project is now gathering momentum.  Originally I selected a secluded location that had the most important requisite.....OAK TREES. The next part of the plan was to create a "feeding table" and this would be topped up every couple of days with a variety of nuts.
Up until yesterday all that I had seen there were Magpies, Crows & Squirrels. I was en route to an appointment and did my usual quick stop off to keep the feed topped up, and to my amazement as I was driving off a Jay appeared! That was it, an early lunch was to be had and I parked up the car and waited. I didn't have long due to other commitments but that wasn't an issue, the Jays came back down to the feed almost straight away. There was three in total and they must have been hungry as they demonstrated a bolder approach than I have ever seen before. The light wasn't very good but hey I am not moaning as these are by far the best Jay images I have ever captured. I did do a quick post with a few images late last night but I didn't have much time as I was off to the pub! So this morning I have had time to go through the other images and here they are. 

It was a very exciting ten minutes for me, absolutely brilliant when a long term plan comes to fruition, OK lets go and get some Kingfisher images now!

Friday, 7 December 2012


Most of us "birding types" have that certain image of a particular species that in our minds eye we would love to nail a picture of, in my case the Jay was my quarry. It has always been a mythological bird in my life, you hear that it is an easy bird to see if you go to the right place at the right time of year, but so far it has kept its distance from me! I have been very fortunate to capture thousands of owl images that the every day folk would die for and I'd gladly trade some of those encounters for seeing some Jays. After five years of trying to get get close to them they have always proved to be elusive. I have tried on many occasions to get a "record shot" of this "shy away from the camera" bird and failed every time, but I wasn't going to give up that easily!
This year we have been graced with a continental influx of them into the UK, so no better time than now! A few birding friends have beaten me to "getting up close and personnel" and achieved some stunning images (well done guys) but this has only given me more encouragement.  After countless visits and thirteen quids worth of peanuts at my feeding station at last it had a few visits, and believe it or not whilst being graced with their presence I had my camera with me!  The light wasn't brilliant as it was late in the day but these are by far the best images I have achieved to date.  

I will no doubt be visiting these gems again over the next few days,  I know it is a long shot but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some better light and hopefully some better images?

Monday, 3 December 2012


I gave in, I wasn't going to bother with them this winter but beings as there are so many in Leicestershire at the moment I went to have a look. The light was for ever changing, but I am happy(ish) with the results.
It was a real challenge but I wanted some flight shots, they were a little too high which resulted in heavier cropping than I would have liked, but my first ever proper in flight images of Waxwings.
And no set of Waxwing images should be without the customary "berry shot".
On the way home a new Barnie site was located, a couple of very shoddy record shots were achieved, the light was atrocious!


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Another Owl Box.

A couple of weeks ago whilst erecting a Barn Owl box at a private location I chanced upon a pile of 50 x long wooden boxes, there approx dimensions were 2 feet square and 12 feet long. They looked absolutely perfect for being adapted into more owl boxes, trouble was they weren't mine!
So after a bit of of down on my knees groveling with the land owner I was told to take what I wanted, yesssss! Due to the size of them I was going to need a large undercover workshop/area for storage and working on them, it also needed to be as close to home as possible? So this is where my mate Norman comes onto the scene,  Norman has his own steel fabrication business only a mile from where I live, and he kindly offered me the use of his premises.
So one evening last week I made a trip over there with Norman in his flat bed lorry (he's a handy guy to know!). We were going to take several of these boxes back and store them at his premises. I would then go back in the evenings and at weekends to start adapting them into loads and loads of owl boxes. The trouble was we just couldn't lift them, we didn't realise until we inspected them closer that they were made of 1 1/2" ply with two 2" x 3" hard wood bearers that ran the entire length of the box, it also had a 2" ply board false bottom and 8 steel lifting lugs, believe me they were HEAVY and going nowhere!! So our original plan of taking a lorry load of these boxes back to Norm's was discarded, instead we decided to saw one box in half to reduce the weight. Now that was easier said than done, we took it in turns with the hand saw and eventually we got there, it only took us an hour! We were both knackered, but we did have enough strength to load the two halves onto the lorry, just!
So that brings me to this morning, Col Green and I went over to Norms to take a closer look at the boxes and work out the best way to adapt them into owl boxes. When Col saw them he wasn't very impressed, the simple and quick task of converting them into owl boxes was far more complicated than I'd made out, oh no I was in trouble! 
Anyway after Col had given me a bollocking we got on with the task in hand, he can be seen here using Norm's fork lift truck to manoeuvre the heavy timber. Not the wide angle shot that I'd have liked but I forgot to take my camera with us so these images were taken on Col's phone (he doesn't look very happy does he?).

It took us far longer than anticipated and sadly a lot of the timber was wasted. It wasn't just a case of sawing the long box into segments and then adding a side and an end. We had to completely strip it down and then discard the false bottom and hardwood bearers before re-assembling what was left, but with Col's expertise we did it! Even though the box size was now 30% smaller than we originally planned it was still dam heavy, we reckon double the weight of any other box we had ever made. Normally we are able to take a box up the ladder before fixing it into position, there was no way we could possible do that with this box, but fear not I had a plan!
I made a quick call to the land owner where we wanted to site the box, I explained our dilemma and asked for his assistance, he was only too willing to help. He knew that if the two Barns Owls he'd seen recently around his farm were to remain we had to act fast.
And here is the secret weapon, it made easy work of getting the both of us up to the correct height so we could mount the box, it made Col a happy chappy too!  
And finally, our newly designed box in it's final resting place, do ya like it?

I will be returning to the box very soon to put on some roof felt to help protect it from the elements. Apparently it is the kind that adheres with the use of a blow torch, but that's another story and another mate that's been hoodwinked into helping me!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Close views, site 218.

Glorious sunshine earlier in the week allowed for a very rare opportunity to get some owl images in brilliant light, makes a change I suppose as I am all too quick to complain if the conditions are poor.
This particular owl (at my site No 218) doesn't take kindly to cars stopping within the confines of his territory and more often than not comes for a closer look, he's quite an inquisitive guy! He seems to have three or four favourite perches with the bright yellow footpath way-marker being one of them.

After I'd captured a few shots of him from distance I chanced my arm and shuffled the car back and forth to get closer, oh he was having none of that and flew to another perch only a few feet further away, there was now a Hawthorne bush between us but he continued to watch me through the gaps. A quick change over to manual focus and I was still able to capture him giving me the stare.

For the next five minutes he sat quietly assessing the situation, he couldn't see me as I was obscured by my camo screen. I think that once he realised there was no threat it was OK for him to return to another of his favoured perches. I'd seen him on this particular gate post before but never managed an image, the car was always at the wrong angle.
I have "a thing" for images of owls with dark backgrounds, (don't ask me why, I don't know?) but I do know that I was very pleased he landed on it as these next two images are easy my favourites from this session.

He bobbed and weaved his head from side to side in that characteristic way that owls do checking that the coast was clear, once satisfied all was OK he returned back to his favoured "yellow post". He was now very close, and the next two images are full frame shots taken at a focal length of 300mm.

And finally just for good measures, the owl duly obliged by landing on the footpath sign again that I captured him on during my last visit.
Only this time I managed to zoom out enough (120mm) to get all of him and the sign in the frame, thanks owl!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stupid Owl.

Yesterday evening I re-visited my newest Barn Owl site that I first located a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping it was still hanging around and if so would show whilst the light levels were still OK? I haven't yet managed an image of it that I'd say was "a keeper" so I keep turning up night after night hoping that eventually it will be captured. 
It did eventually grace me with its presence but sadly it was too dark for any quality images. There was however enough light left to admire its grace as it quartered the rough pasture seeking out its prey. But after tonight this individual is really concerning me, on a couple of occasions it floated up and over the boarding hedgerow and then drifted across the adjacent busy road just missing the passing cars!
The proximity of the road to its preferred hunting area is just too close, as can be seen in the image below, the owl is flying only feet from the passing cars which are zipping by at 50mph!      

It is only going to take a slight glance from a car travelling at that speed and the consequences for the owl are going to be terminal, I feel totally hopeless and fear a carcass is going to be found very soon.
Just what can I do?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Staying Put.....For Now!

When I had a some time off from work a couple of weeks ago I couldn't believe my bad luck, the weather was pitiful at best and it ruined all my birding plans. But now on reflection I consider myself to have been quite fortunate as I could have been off work this week. The conditions at present are  atrocious, with the high winds and persistent torrential rain getting out at the moment is an absolute no no!
So with any kind of birding abandoned for this weekend myself and four buddies decided that Saturday would best be spent making the relatively short journey up the M1 to watch the mighty Leicester City FC play the Owls? The Owls being the nickname of Sheffield Wednesday FC, it was a rather damp visit to the steel city but the 4,000 travelling away supporters were rewarded with a fine display and a 2-0 victory.
So that now brings me to today (Sunday), looking out of the window this morning the rain has ceased a little but the flooded fields means that yet another birding day  has to be abandoned. This got me wondering as to how the local owls will be coping in these adverse conditions? I don't think it will effect the Little Owls too much as the high water levels will offer them plenty of drowned worms to feed on but I fear the worse for the Barn Owls. They are very reluctant to hunt/feed in wet weather  tending instead to just sit it out in some sheltered barn or tree hollow getting hungrier by the day.
This got me thinking as to how the three juveniles at the "owl cam" site would be fairing? A quick look through yesterdays recordings and all three of them were found to be safe and sound roosting in the barn. They all looked to be in pretty good condition with no apparent weight loss, so for these guys the local hunting/prey doesn't seem to of been effected too badly.

As I flicked through more recordings to see what else had been happening they all disappeared!! Could they have gone out "day hunting" during a rest bite in the rain? No that wasn't the case, what they did was hop up on top of the nest box and spent the rest of the day roosting up in the eaves. In this screen shot (below) the most developed of the three youngsters prepares to go up, the other two followed suit shortly after.

So for now these owls are doing OK, I think that the layout of where they live helps because they can hunt/move into a complex of adjoining barns without having to venture outside, other local Barn Owls don't have that luxury and I fear the worst for them if this weather continues.
But in order to help these three youngsters and their four siblings that fledged from this same site earlier in the year I have saturated the local area with more nest boxes. They have all been erected in barns/old building (rather than on trees) and fingered crossed when they eventually be used once they are found. But it doesn't stop there, more boxes are needed in suitable sites a little further a field, so if you would like to assist me in getting more boxes up you can! Please do not forget that there are still some of my 2013 calendars available (see at the top of this blog for more info) all the proceeds will go towards more boxes.
Cheers Paul.
PS For those of you who have very kindly ordered one of my calendars (and the payment has arrived) they are being posted out to you tomorrow (Monday 26th)..........thank you!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Little Gems

There is no doubt about it, owls are without doubt my favourite bird species, big uns, little uns, fat or thin it doesn't matter. It would be frightening if I actually knew how many hours I must have spent watching, studying and photographing them? But occasionally it is good to leave them alone and spend sometime with a different species altogether.
Last week when John and I went to Norfolk we saw loads of different bird species, it was a refreshing change to spend time watching something else rather than owls. But for me none of them really hit the spot. Yeah they were good to watch for half an hour or so but where was the  "character" that the Little Owl for example just oozes? None of them grabbed my attention and I quickly got bored and wanted to move on. That is apart from the Sanderling, what a brilliant little wader, I was absolutely captivated by them. The Sanderling is a small plump sandpiper of 18–20 cm in length. It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor and passage migrant in spring and autumn, journeying to and from their high Arctic breeding grounds.
Several were seen on the beech at Hunstanton feeding along the edge of the surf, and if one employs a bit of stealth and patience they can be quite approachable. I reckon John and I got to within about 20 feet before they got nervous and scampered away along the beach. And when they move they really move, they are very energetic little birds that hardly stand still! Their little black legs are just a blur when running so as to freeze the action high shutter speeds were needed, and that is where our problems started because the light levels were atrocious. But I did my best under the conditions allowing and here below were my best efforts from the day with my 300mm.

So if you have never had the chance to watch these stunning birds you should make the effort and get down to a beach near you now, you won't regret it! I for sure will be returning to see the ones at Hunstanton again and hopefully next time the light will be more forgiving?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Birding Week - Thursday

Firstly I did not do a "birding post" for yesterday (Wednesday) as it was an utter disaster. I did get out for most of the day but my three target species evaded me, yes that's right no Kingfishers, no Jays and not even any owls! Aside from all that the weather was glorious, bloody typical.
So today (Thursday) my mate John Starie and I opted for a change of scenery, we went to Norfolk. We had a smashing day but the photography opportunities were very limited indeed, we had heavy fog all day!
Anyway it has been an extremely long day and I am far too tired to waffle on about what we got up to so as to give you a feeling for what we saw (when the fog lifted slightly) here are a few images.
Bar-tailed Godwit - A beautiful bird with striking plumage, shame it never came close.   

Brent Goose - Pretty boring I know but we were limited to what came within range.

Spotted Redshank - A bit distant but never the less a nice find in Thornham Harbour.

Turnstone - These comical guys were everywhere.

Little Egret - Feeding at Stiffkey, possibly the closest I have ever been to one of these birds, nearly frame filling images with my meagre 300mm lens! 

Redshank - Several of these were seen feeding in the muddy estuaries.

Absolutely my favourite bird from the day, the Sanderling. A small flock were feeding along the coastline on the beach at Hunstanton. It took a while but eventually we got close enough for some nice images. I have never photographed these before and I can highly recommend them, they are a super smart bird.

I can't recommend the north Norfolk coast high enough, the variety of species is just unreal, even if  it is foggy and you can't see the birds most of the time! We stayed away from the more popular Titchwell and Cley and instead  concentrated on the harbours and desolated beaches. One word of advice though, Wells Next The Sea is a total rip off, £4.50 to park the car and then to make matters worse £9.50 for Burger and chips at the Sea-View Restaurant, stay away or take plenty of cash!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Birding Week - Tuesday

In comparison to yesterday the weather today was an improvement, it was still overcast and blustery but at least it was dry!

My first port of call today was the new Barn Owl site that I located late last night, I was there at first light hoping to catch it out hunting. And would you credit it, just as I pulled up it flew straight past me and into the lower of the two holes in the tree. It did poked its head back out for a few brief seconds to have a quick look at me and then that was that!

I waited around for an hour but it wasn't coming back out, so I moved on. My second location was to check up on how the Jay feeding station that I set up yesterday was progressing. No joy there either, the nuts hadn't been touched! Oh well, I suppose it is early days yet, I am sure it won't be long before they find them?
The rest of the morning was spent looking for SEO's, I was positive that after all the rain we had yesterday any local birds would surely be up hunting early, none were seen!
I also called in to see my new Little Owl site No 220 again. So far I have only seen the solitary bird here, and guess what the story was the same again today, and it was sitting in exactly the same spot!
Moving on down the road I went to a local reservoir, recently I have seen a lot of Kingfisher activity here so my intentions were to go and position a few landing/feeding posts. No Kingfishers were seen whilst there but the posts are now up, maybe later in the week they will pay dividends?
On my walk back to the car I did see this Cormorant perched up on a log, I got down low and crawled through the long grass to get nearer. True to form, as soon as I raised my head above the cover off it flew!

On my way home I called into see the owls at my site No 19, both of them showed well up high in the tree.
And finally I returned back to the first location of the day, the new Barn Owl site. I got there an hour before dusk hoping it would be out hunting in some reasonable light. It wasn't, it waited until the light had all but gone and only then I got a very brief glimpse of it as it headed out into the fields in the distance to hunt!
I am not going to give up on this owl, I now know it has spent the last two nights at least roosting in the same tree. If there is any justice in this world tomorrow will be my day!