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 January 2012

Learning Curve

In my recent theme of posting "something different" in an attempt to offer variety and keeping things fresh I would like to share with you an experience I had on Sunday that was definitely different but will NEVER EVER be tried again!! 

Before the story can commence I would like to introduce to you "Eddie", he is a stuffed Little Owl that my good friend Ron gave to me. Eddie was found dead in the front grill of an Eddie Stobarts HGV, hence his name! Now Eddie has taken pride of place in my office for a couple of years, he's been a good boy and easy to keep, he just sits there on his perch watching over me and never demands anything.

Eddie the Owl 

Just as I was leaving home on Sunday morning I glanced over to the shelf where Eddie sits and I had a flash of inspiration. Mmmmmm I wonder what kind of a reaction I would get if Eddie was placed within the territory of a known pair of Little Owls? It could be quite interesting to see how they would react beings we are now approaching the start of the breeding season where the male owls do become quite territorial.

At the first Little Owl site I visited I parked up down a lane that had fence posts running away from me on either side of the lane. In the field to my right I picked up a pair of Little Owls sitting in a distant tree, I positioned the car sideways on to them so I could shoot from the car window if they came close enough. After a 30 minute wait the pair hadn't moved any closer so it was time to put "operation owl intruder" into action to see what would happen.....if anything?

Eddie was placed along the lane on one of the left hand posts that ran away from the car, he was in full view of the resident owls and it was now another waiting game to see if he would prompt a reaction of any kind?

Almost immediately one of the owls (presumably the male) flew across from the tree and landed on one of the right hand posts. He totally ignored me hanging out of the car window taking images, he was totally focused on Eddie!

Giving Eddie the stare! 

Within a flash the owl leapt from the post and attacked Eddie, I managed to capture an image of "the attack". The quality of the image is very poor as it was taken in a hurry and through the car windscreen, but there is enough detail to see what occurred. 

The very next image in the sequence was of poor old Eddie falling to the floor and the owl flying off with a talon full of feathers and fur.

The owl then flew to the hedgerow to the left of me, I opened the passenger window a grabbed a couple of shots, if you look carefully Eddie's feathers can still be seen in its talon.

The owl must have been satisfied with the "kill" as it soon flew off back to its mate leaving Eddie's feathers all over the top of the hedgerow.

To be honest if I knew how the owl was going to react I would never have done this experiment, not just for the sake of the owl but for Eddie too! My first concern is always for the welfare of the owls but I must admit this was a fabulous "one off" encounter to witness. I'd always wondered just how territorial the male owls get during the breeding season, I am now in no doubt at all......very aggressive!

For the record, Eddie is now back home nursing his wounds, he is a little bit worse off for his experience but will recover fully in time!

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On a completely different subject matter........Blog header images.

My mate Col recently suggested it would be a good idea to regularly change my header images, well my last one of a SEO in flight with a manipulated monochrome background went totally  unseen by him!!!

So just for you Col, here it is again!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Nipped out!

Not much time for owling on Saturday, a very tasty hangover put paid to my planned early start, then I had an appointment down the city in the afternoon to watch the football, not much time left for anything else then? It's amazing just how quick a day can flash by and nothing  seems to get done, however, as busy as I was I did still managed a quick visit out to check out three local sites where I made my first sighting of the year.

Little Owl site No 88. 

At my site No 86 a bird was located sitting on some straw bales in a barn, I think it was hunting for mice? It was pretty dark in there which resulted in quite a noisy image (grainy in the shadow areas) because of the need to use a high ISO setting.

My site No 10 also yielded a first sighting for the year, a pair where out here but only one of them came close enough for a quick snap.

Goodness knows how many owls I could see in a whole day if I dedicated the time to doing it? Without the hangover of course, so not much chance there then because nearly every weekend is spent recovering from one!!! 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Drip Drying

It was windy, raining and getting dark as I approached one of my SEO sites, I nearly didn't bother as all "the rules" were telling me it was a waste of time and nothing would be showing. But I couldn't ignore the niggling inclination I had that it might just be worth the effort this time?

I pulled up and quickly surveyed the area for flying birds, initially nothing was seen. As I scanned the area through my binoculars I picked up one in the distance field perched on a very spindly branch, then another on the hedgerow.

Owl No 1

Owl No 2

A couple of quick shots of the two distant birds were bagged, I then moved a little further along the track and a third was was picked up, again on a distant perch in the middle of the field.

Owl No 3

Then as I made my way further down the track and a fourth bird was sighted in a tree, I slowly made my way to it and got the closest image so far!

Owl No 4

I continued along and through a gap in the hedgerow, what met me the other side stopped me dead in my tracks, an owl sat there staring me out no more than 20 feet away! I'm not sure which of us was more startled, but neither of us budged. I dare not move for a few seconds but then my paparazzi instinct kicked in and a few shots were rattled off. The owl then took flight and landed further along the hedgerow.

Owl No 5, my best SEO image to date, I think?

After that fantastic encounter I made my way back to the car, I was just about to pull off when a sixth owl was noticed just along the track. The camera setting were adjusted to the low light and I chanced my luck by creeping very slowly to a more advantageous position, luckily the owl stayed put long enough for me to get that dammed perched image I've been after for months!

Owl No 6, a perched owl.

All the time I was there (around 40 minutes) it was very strange that I never saw an owl flying about or hunting? The only explanation I have is that the birds must have been "drying out" after sitting in the middle of the field all day in the pouring rain, I guess I will never know the answer but one thing is for sure, I will never forget my closest ever encounter with a SEO and at last I bagged that "perched" image that I have so desperately sought for what seems an age.

Monday, 23 January 2012


Just recently I have been having a "play around" with my blog layout, I thought it was getting a bit too messy (and maybe a bit stale) so I tried to tidy it up a bit and make it more appealing to the eye for any readers. I have also been occasionally changing the header image, and to be fair I have had some positive feedback, which is nice!

It was suggested by one Leicester birder (who will remain anonymous) that I should change it on a daily basis..........WHAT???? 

Now I'm all for a bit of variety but to do it that regularly would mean I've got hundreds of suitable images and loads of spare time........of which I haven't, of either!

However, I have taken on board his request (no pressure then!!) so from now on I will attempt to keep things fresh and change it maybe a couple of times a week......images allowing?

So, this latest header (large above and smaller cropped below) was one of a series taken in May of last year and the owls were located perched up sitting in the sun on the side of an old chapel.

Hope you like it?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Where's owly?

Goodness the wind this morning was bad, strong enough in fact to blow your skin off! Anyway I still got out there and braved the elements for a couple of hours, my main quarry was Little Owls, 12 sites visited and not a single sighting!

Surprisingly though, a quick drop into one of my SEO sites produced a quick glimpse of an amazing 5 owls, all together!!! They weren't up long and the viewing was brief, I think something must have spooked them as it is strange to see them up so early in the day especially in the strong winds.

5 shorties all in one shot, can you seen them all?

When the owls were up they were being blown all over the place, one could sense they were uncomfortable with the gusty conditions and just wanted to get back down to the ground for some much needed cover. One by one they all landed in close proximity to each other, trouble is as soon as they are in the grass they just blend in and disappear!  

I took this image (below) seconds after the fifth bird had landed, all of them are definitely covered in this shot, but I can only see the one bird! So now we are going to have a bit of fun, (simple things please simple minds and all that!) I've gridded the image to make cross reference easier but I'm not revealing which square the only bird is that I can find. I would like to invite you to study the image and tell me where they are?

Go on give it a go! 


Thank you to those of you who made an effort and attempted the "find the owl" game, you all did very well and located the owl in grid 1C, I have studied each grid time and time again and I'm sorry to say that all the other suggestions were off the mark, but worry not all it means is that you are all as bad as me (or John S, private joke!) at detecting owls, or in other words............utter useless!

Don't feel bad about it though, these owls are cunning devils and hide and seek champions!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Barn Owl?

You may well of thought that by the title of this post I was going to share some recent Barn Owl images, well sorry to disappoint!
There is a barn and there is an owl, but it's a Little Owl in and around a barn!
Due to the fact that the weather has yet again scuppered and chances of getting out I thought I'd get on with doing some more organising of my files and images. Whilst doing this I came across a selection from my site No 172, the majority of which have never posted before, so just to keep things ticking over I'd like to share them with you, enjoy............

Here's hoping the local conditions have a change for the better and I can get out otherwise I'm afraid to say that I will have to delve deep into my archives again to share some more old stuff!

Thursday, 19 January 2012


On my previous blog post I announced that I was going to try and resist the temptation to upload any more images of "boring" subjects (like SEO's in flight) unless they were in some way different. Well that promise didn't last long did it because here are some more!

But in my defence the reasoning behind these latest images is because they are from a new (but undisclosed) site in Leicestershire. I have known that birds were here (3 of them) for a good few weeks now and although the light was terrible they are my first images, so I thought I'd share.

Now getting back to my promise of more "interesting" images, these next two are definitely in that category, well for me they are anyway! For those of you that don't know SEO's (short eared owls) spend an awful lot of time on the ground, for the best part of the day they roost on the ground and in the breeding season they actually make a nest on the ground too.

I was recently watching a private area of rough pasture which is frequented by SEO's, I'd been there for around an hour waiting for them to rise from the long tussocky grass and start hunting . Then all of a sudden there was an explosion as two owls rose from the grass right in front of me! Up they came and off hunting they went, unbelievable how could they have been so close and yet I didn't see them?

Once the birds had flown off I took the opportunity to take a closer look  in the grass from where they came, all was then revealed as to why I didn't detect they were there. As can be seen in the images they had both made little tunnels where they could cower down and keep out of the wind and of course stay undetected.

I was fascinated, it was obvious that these "roosting tunnels" were used on a regular basis because they were both full of poo and had piles of regurgitated pellets at the entrance..............cool hey?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Strange antics!

On my previous post I upload an image of a pair of Little Owls that were acting rather strange? Something I'd never witnessed before  and I can only assume it was some kind of pre-breeding behaviour. Anyhow, I did manage to grab a short movie clip of the antics, take a look by clicking the arrow button, and turn up your volume because they make some strange nosies too!

Maybe someone out there can shed some light on what they think they were doing???

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Change of attack!

Following on from an in depth conversation I had recently with Richard Pegler regarding "boring" owl images and his subsequent excellent blog post I am now taking up his (our) challenge to make a concertive effort to come up with something a bit different. To understand my reference to Richard's comments you can catch up with his blog by clicking HERE.

I think I owe it to my blog readers to offer a bit more variety with my images rather than concentrating all the time on intimate close ups. Although its not easy to continuously offer variance along with an acceptable quality I'll give it a go. A bit more environmental and or unusual behaviour should be the norm from now on, but of course there will always be some "boring" images but hopefully not as frequent!

So let us start with some non flight SEO images, as regular readers of this blog know I am trying desperately to achieve a "perched" shot, it wasn't attained over the weekend but what I can show you is a roosting bird on the ground. The grassy rough pasture that can be seen is typical of where SEO are to be located, their camouflage is perfectly suited.

Another ground roosting bird, a bit closer and in better light, just brilliant how the sun enhances those intense yellow eyes! 

In line with what I have promised, an image that is a bit different. Here a distant SEO can be seen just after catching a vole, it was just about to tuck into its meal when it had some unwanted attention from a Carrion Crow. Judging by the owls stare I don't think it is in any mood to share! 

As I mentioned previously, to offer different types of images sometimes quality and close up detail has to be sacrificed, this next image of a pair or midair owls fighting is typical of that but I think one can get a feel for what was occuring?

Next on the weekend agenda was Little Owls, recently I have tended to keep on going back to the same reliable sites, which obviously makes my life easier but results in the images being very similar? So in order to offer some variety I chose to work on some a new sites, I wasn't confident that I would see any owls let alone achieve any images!

I needn't have worried though as the two chosen locations near to the village of Kirkby Mallory produce the goods with a fine display from both of the resident pairs.

At my site No 142 the pair put in a brief appearance, not that different an image but a good start to the day.

At the second site, No 47 a stake out of the nest entrance finally paid dividends when the hen owl popped her head out to take a look at me.

Whilst I was watching and trying to perfect an image of the hen owl the male flew in and landed on a nearby branch. She was out in a flash and joined him, my first image of the pair together in glorious light, shame about the obstructing twig and slightly messy background!

I was having some superb views of the birds when suddenly they were spooked by the farmers dog that was sniffing around at the base of the tree. They weren't going to hang around and watch whilst it dumped its load, so off they flew to a nearby tree.

Once the coast was clear the owls returned, but this time to a different perch that was in full sunlight and without any clutter in the background.  

I think with hindsight the dog actually did me a favour as the owls had obviously forgot about me hiding in my car, they now seemed totally relaxed. Now I have spent hundreds, no thousands of hours watching Little Owls and what I witnessed next was a first!

They faced each other, dropped their heads and starting rubbing them together! I haven't a clue what it was all about but I did capture an image of them doing it.

After the "strange antics" had lapsed both birds seemed to be very excited, lots of fluttering from tree to tree and squawking, I can only assume it was some kind of pre-breeding season bonding? If you have a theory as to what they were up to I'd be please to hear from you.

The final image from this session was of one of the owls that dropped down to the ground right in front of me, makes a change from a perched bird I suppose!

So hopefully this most recent post offered something a little different, not sure how long I can keep it up though!!!!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Something different....

Blogs, websites, on line photo albums, social networks etc etc.......Cyber space has been completely saturated with images of SEO's recently...........and rightly so!

This winter has seen an influx of continental birds gracing our shores and the budding paparazzi among us have been filling our boots! Trouble is the majority of the images are a very similar, either a flying bird over grassy pasture or perched up on some fence or twig. Now when it comes to flight images I have hundreds, so I am well entrenched in that society but there really isn't anthing different. I'm still waiting to attain the perched up image, hopefully that will be soon so I can join that club too.

So I wanted to get something a bit different, but what? There really isn't much of an option there! The only thing I could work on was a different background, so my plan of attack was to set myself up in an area where a flying bird would offer just that and now finally I have achieved it, with the help of a dark hedgerow. The light was just magical' the bird a little more distant than I would have liked, hence some harsh cropping, but it is different.

What do you think, does it work?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Not fast enough!

Another brief drop in to see the seo's, plenty of activity in the fading light, nothing special or different captured apart from maybe this distant action  shot of a couple of the owls in a midair pursuit. The leading bird (on the left) had just captured a vole that can just about be seen in its talons. The trailing bird did all it could to steal the free meal, a magical spectacle to witness as they twisted and turned at high speed just feet above the ground, but it all proved fruitless for the chaser, it was too slow!!    

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Mad Owl and me!

My first post of the year has been somewhat later than I expected, free time has been a premium since getting back to work after the festive season, then there has been the crappy weather and to compound it all I've had a very dodgy left shoulder that needed an operation, hence no driving!!!
Anyway, prior to the op and before my return to work after the xmas break I did manage to get out for the first time in 2012 for a few hours, the quarry.......yes you've guessed it owls!
It had been a while since I visited one of my SEO sites, so that's where I went, the aim of the day was to get an image of a "perched SEO". Surprisingly upon arrival I was the only observer there? I sat in the car surveying the area for 30 minutes and nothing! So against my better judgement I decided to have a walk around the whole complex, at a leisurely pace it should take around an hour or so. This I believed was my best chance to encounter an owl in the more sheltered areas? I'd only been walking for 10 minutes when the wimp in me gave up,  it was ridiculous how strong the winds were, any owl that was up in this weather would be nuts!

Getting back to the sanctuary of the car was pure heaven, on went the engine and then the heaters at full blast. I was sitting there enjoying the warmth when an owl was sighted! It was way off  in the distance and it was perched!! Not wanting to miss the opportunity I rattled off a few shots, it was too far away for the "perched shot" I was after so instead I grabbed a short piece of video.

Just click on the arrow to view.

The owl then duly obliged by taking off and flying in my direction, it made one fly past where I managed this sequence of images. Not good quality, but my first SEO of 2012.

With hindsight it shouldn't have been a surprise that I was the only one there viewing, it was dull, wet, cold and very very windy, just perfect for owl watching.....NOT!!!!