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!!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Mr T comes up trumps!

Last night was a struggled, but I resisted all temptation to go and see the Barn Owls, instead I opted to follow up a Little Owl lead from my mate MR T.

Over the last few weeks he'd seen a Little Owl sitting in a roadside tree just outside the village of Hallaton I needed no further encouragement and off I went. Upon arrival  I was surprised to find just how much traffic there was using this country lane, not really the idea situation for owl hunting/watching. Normally part and parcel of the whole affair is the tranquil piece and quite of the countryside and if no owls shows then that's fair enough it was still a pleasure to be there. This potential site was far from what I was use to, situated at a road T-junction and hardly 30 seconds went by before another car flashed past. This was such a busy place, it just didn't seem right for owls, was I in the wrong place?

I surveyed the general area and in between the trees and hedgerows there was one post in particular that grabbed my attention, standing around four feet high and covered in ivy, if that wasn't an owl magnet I'd eat my hat! I pulled the car over onto the grass verge and did my best to get the post in view.  Camo scrim up at the window, beanbag over the door and camera at the ready it was now a waiting game.

After around an hour the passing traffic died down to just the odd car every 10 minutes or so, it was much quieter and more like what I was use to. Then I heard a hiss, then another and then another, there was no mistaking that sound, a juvenile Little Owl begging for food! It was a real surprise as I've never encountered one out of the nest so early in the year before, possible a result of the spring like weather we had a couple of months ago?

The sound was coming from a thick bush on the far side of the "ivy post".  I was watching the bush through my binoculars when something flashed across my sight of view, the binoculars were quickly lowered and there on the post was the adult owl, get in there site No 212!! It sat there for a matter of seconds before it flew off and joined its mate high up in an adjacent tree, but it was perched long enough for me to have nailed an image of it (below). I decided to crop the image with the whole of the post top showing, I think it makes for a more appeasing and atmospheric shot. As you can see the image was back lit by the setting sun which has resulted in a loss of detail, not much I could have done about that though.

Little Owl (male) - Site No 212 

Another hour was spent waiting for the owl to return or for the juvenile to show, but neither happened.

When it was time to call it a day I had a terrible shock, my car had a horrible grinding and banging noise coming from underneath it. I immediately pulled over and discovered fluid leaking from underneath, I was going nowhere.......fast!

It wasn't too long before the recovery breakdown lorry arrived, it appears that the prop shaft had shattered.........unbelievable!!!!

Whilst waiting for the recovery veichle to arrive Mr T came to my rescue, he brought down some cobs and a flask of soup that his good lady had made for me, how generous was that? They were delicious!!

Thank you Mr & Mrs T.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Barn Owls.........Again!!

It was another evening staked out in my mobile hide at the local Barn Owl site, and when they finally emerged to go hunting all the hanging around waiting didn't seem to matter and was quickly forgotten. The male owl came close on a couple of occasions and posed nicely on his favourite perch right in front of me, he is one magnificent and very handsome specimen and I think he knows it!

The setting sun cast a nice even golden glow that really complemented the colours in the owls plumage, click for bigger image.

There was still enough light left that allowed me enough shutter speed to capture some fly past shots.

Right at the end of the evening and the very last fly past I though the owl was coming in the hide for me! He was so close I couldn't fit the whole of him in the frame!

On the way home I saw another Barn Owl out hunting, a Tawny Owl sitting on top of a telegraph pole and two Little Owls, of which one was a new site! I think I may leave the Barnie's alone for a while and throw some time at the new Little Owl site to see if I can get some images and you never know maybe even some early baby shots?

Monday, 21 May 2012


This evening I was to be found yet again sitting it out in my hide, I was back at one of the local Barn Owl sites that I monitor hoping the birds would show whilst the light was still good. It's a bit hit and miss as to whether or not they will show but one has to put in the hours if the rewards are to be reaped.   Eventually my patience was to be rewarded, it was a long wait but before the sun disappeared over the horizon the cock bird came out hunting.

I could waffle on for ages about how everything just fell into place and how lucky I was but I think I'll just let the images do the talking for me instead as this sequence are possibly amongst my best ever owl images?

Please enjoy and click on any image for larger version.

A defensive posture (below), he wasn't prepared to share his dinner with the mobbing Jackdaw!

Oh and how lucky I was.......for once!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Barn Owl family

So far this weekend I've not had a chance to get out with the camera, so I thought it was about time to give you an update on the Barn Owl family where we have the nest box cam.

In the screen shot below the whole clan can be seen, mum, dad and the four chicks. The eldest chick is now 8 weeks old, two of its siblings are just a few days behind in terms of age but are catching it up fast in size but the forth chick is still tiny! The tiny one can just be made out in the foreground of the image in amongst the white ball of fluff.

Only time will tell if they all make it to the fledgling stage, I'll keep you updated on any significant developments.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Sitting Ducks!

Only a couple of miles from where I live is a pretty large retail shopping complex and adjacent to it is a commercial park that just seems to be increasing in size by the month. Nearly every time I pass through the area another piece of greenery has been gobbled up and a "fancy pants"  office has taken its place. Now in the middle of this great grey and shiny window sprawl is a yet to be developed piece of waste/scrub land, each year it gets smaller and smaller and it is now complete surrounded by buildings, car parks and Workman's huts.

The piece of wasteland has had a good reputation in the past to see passage migrants, especially Wheatears. Each year in the spring they can usually be seen when they stop off for a few days and feed up before continuing their journey north. This year was no exception with the local birding fraternity reporting up to a dozen birds at a time. Although I had already made a couple of visits this spring I decided to make yet another quick visit and get in on the action.

Camera in hand I wondered around the perimeter of the complex and soon picked up three different Wheatears, nice to see but too far for an image. Also seen whilst strolling around were Linnets, Goldfinches, a Meadow Pipit, two Lapwings and Little Ringed Plovers. The Plovers were very active in a particular area over on the far side, so I drove around nearer to where they were and watched from my car. As I sat and observed them it was surprising just how close they were to the public footpath and the passing shoppers & workers. They didn't seem bothered in the slightest about the close proximity of the human traffic so that is when I hopped out of the car and joined the procession. Unlike most of the folk who were oblivious of the Plovers presence and passed them by I stopped as so as I came along side them, no more than 15 feet away! 

I soon understood why they were so bold, or should that be so stupid as I could make out their nest on the ground with four eggs in it!!! I know it must be instinct for these birds to return to this site year after year but surely it won't be long before the eggs are either crushed under the wheels of a parking car or trodden on by an unsuspecting passer by?

They are just sitting ducks!!!!!!

Monday, 14 May 2012


Since my recent success with getting some Barn Owls in flight images another couple of visits have been made. Yesterday evening was a total flop, nearly three hours sitting and waiting in my hide proved fruitless. 

So again I visited tonight to see if the doom spell would be cast again, and it wasn't! The light was utterly fantastic, and before it finally disappeared over the horizon the male Barnie came out to play.

As he swooped in and out of the big gaps in the old buildings it gave for a brilliant "dark" background whilst still being bathed in the setting sun.

I was also very fortunate that he landed on a couple of occasions too, with his dinner.
 I'm not sure if Barn Owl watching gets any better than this?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Chirp chirp chirp

Saturday morning couldn't have been better weather wise, calm dry and sunny, all that was needed now was some owls.... But before the day could commence and for me to operate with any proper synchronism  the first port of call was at the local delicatessen for a couple of bacon cobs (to help soak up the beer from the night before), nice and crusty with loads of brown sauce, mmmmm nice!

I was so much in need for the bacon butties I ate them immediately I'd left the shop. As I sat there in the Landrover filling my face I could hear a bird calling, maybe a Blackbird? Nothing special about a Blackbird, they are as common as muck but this sounded so close it couldn't be ignored! Chirp chirp chirp, a quick look around and no bird could be seen? As I was now re fulled and feeling somewhat better I dismissed trying to locate it and got on my way.

I drove around for the next hour or so calling in at several different sites, single owls were seen at them all at them all, but they were keeping well hidden and no photo opportunities. But something was haunting me, as I moved from site to site I kept hearing that Blackbird, chirp chirp chirp, how bizarre?

The final destination of the morning was at my favoured site No 105 near to South Wigston, here the male owl was located and he allowed for a couple of photo's (below).

Whilst I was with the owl at my site No 105 I could hear that dam Blackbird again, chirp chirp chirp? This was now getting stupid, did I really have that much to drink last night that it had now effected my hearing?

Chirp chirp chirp

Chirp chirp chirp

Chirp chirp chirp

That was it, I had to find out what the hell was going on?

I drove away from the owl site and parked up in the middle of a field away from any trees or bushes. I got out of the Landrover and it continued,  chirp chirp chirp..........

The sound was narrowed down to the front of the Landrover, I opened the bonnet and there was the culprit.......a baby Blackbird!!!!  It was precariously perched up in the bulkhead on one of the brake pipes.  

It must have been one of the brood that had fledged out of the nest the day before from my back garden and then found this so called safe hiding place away from all the local moggies. Incredibly it must have been with me all morning and was continually calling/begging for food. Whilst I was working out how best to capture it and then take it back safely it flew off!

A pretty good flier but sadly I think it was a bit too young to feed and fend for itself, I suppose nature will take its course and what will be will be.........

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Catching up - Early May.

Mostly the conditions were gloomy with some periodic rain showers, however later in the day the clouds blew over to leave clear skies and some not too strong late sun.  And that just so happened to coincided with me being out! 

At my Little Owl site No 22 near to Countesthorpe the resident pair put in a brief appearance. This first image is of the hen owl, she popped out of the nest tree, had a look around and popped straight back in again!

The male owl showed for just a little longer (next image), he bounced about from branch to branch for a good five minutes before he too had had enough of checking out the Landrover and then went and joined his mate. 

The now clear deep blue skies made for a refreshing back ground.

From earlier in the week, the male owl at my site No 105 near to South Wigston. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

At long last!

It has been a long while in the capture, but at long last I have nailed a Barn Owl in flight image that I am very happy with. Captured tonight at a location in south Leicestershire and in pretty decent light too!

Click on image for larger view.

He came back around again later on, so just for good measures a perched image too, the light was then terrible so the ISO was bumped up and a bit of noise reduction made the image just about usable.

The parties over!

It was a Bank holiday weekend, brilliant loads of free time to get out there and spend some much overdue time catching up with my owls.........NOT!!!

My daughter Louise turned 18 on Sunday and as she had this massive (and very expensive) birthday bash for 120+ people in the evening and the whole of the weekend was taken up with my enforced roll of "party planner". Needless to say I wasn't able to sneak off, not even for 30 minutes as too many eyes were watching me!

So Monday morning was pencilled in for some catching up with the owls, ha ha ha what a laugh! The thumping head and dizziness from the over indulging the night before put paid to that. But come early afternoon I was starting to feel somewhat better so as the posse prepared themselves to re-visit the party venue to clear up the mess I decided it was a task far below the party planner so I sneaked off.

As I now have my beloved Landrover back I decided to visit a private and off road site near to South Wigston. In this area of land I have four different Little Owl sites but I drew a blank at them all bar one, mt site No 105. Here the male owl was located and he obliged by landing on various different perches giving some varied photo opportunities.

The time with the owl came to a premature end as the existing poor light levels soon became terrible light conditions as the clouds moved in and the heavens opened. Not to worry though, I was out long enough to allow all the party mess to be cleaned up by everyone else!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Not one but two!

I knew what I wanted on my latest venture out, a closer view of the Whinchat that I located last week and hopefully the chance of improving on my "poor" distant images, well that is if it was still around and it came close enough? Upon arrival all seemed very quiet, not a soul around, which was good but the bird activity seemed just as subdued.
After pulling up and observing the area things slowly came to life, first bird of note was a flyover Red Kite, then a distant Short Eared Owl was seen quartering in a distant field. Hmmm things were warming up, then from now where a Raven dropped in and landed on the track in front of me, no chance of an image as it was 30 metres or so away and viewing was only possible through the rain covered windscreen, I put the camera on it but I couldn't lock on the focus as it was just a black lump of fuzz. A really good bird to see anytime and I can't ever recall seeing one on the ground before. I watched it in anticipation as to what it was up to? It then took off passing close by a solitary bush and with this there was a scattering of birds, a good un amongst them too! 
The birds that were flushed from the bush were Yellow Hammers and Chaffinches, nothing special really about that but one bird that caught my eye was a male Ringed Ouzel! This was the first ever that I have found myself and a species that I have never managed to photograph before.
It didn't fly too far, just down onto the grass where it started to feed. This gave me the perfect opportunity to bag my first ever image of an Ouzel, a couple of record shots were obtained (below) I then tried to get a bit closer for some improved images but the Ouzel was having none of it! A very shy and flighty bird that didn't take kindly to my presence. I waited around for another 30 minutes hoping it would show again but no such luck.

Ringed Ouzel - Male
Whilst I was waiting for the Ouzel to re-show itself a male Skylark landed in the grass just in front of me, nothing special about this image or the species but it was my first ever capture of one.

Skylark - Male
All the other birds were nice distractions, especially the Ouzel but it was now time to get operation Whinchat back on track. I drove down to the area where I saw it on my last visit and parked up next to a scrubby area that was littered with small gorse bushes.

The first bird of note that came within photographic range was a male Wheatear, whilst it was posing nicely for me a second bird flew in and joined it, oh yes it was the Whinchat!!!!

Wheatear - Male
Not wanting to appear rude to the Wheatear but all my attention was now firmly fixed on the Whinchat, well it was what I came for after all. A splendid male bird and this was the closest I have ever been to one of these whilst  having my camera in the hand.  

I rattled off 20 or so images before I think the Gatling gun sound of the shutter spooked it! I was overjoyed...........mission accomplished!

Whinchat - Male
On the way home I stopped off at one of my Little Owl sites near to the village of Foston, it's been a while since I last saw one and needed a fix. True to form a single bird was eventually located perched up high doing what Little Owls do best.......nothing! 

As I was walking back from seeing the owl a little brown job caught my eye as it was fluttering around on the edge of the oil seed rape crop. I managed to get a fix on it through my binoculars and I couldn't believe what I was looking at, another Whinchat!!!!

The only way I could get close was to drive up the private road that was adjacent to the field. This I did but not before my camo screen was placed over the window. Once I'd got into the desired position the bird flew off into the field, too far away for an image.....dough! As I watched it kept fluttering up catching insects midair and then landing back down on the taller crop stalks. My luck was in because as it continued to feed it was progressively getting closer.

Then my one and only chance finally came, it landed close and was in full view, snap snap snap.....

I am really pleased with the outcome of what I consider to be one of my best ever images, not just because it is Whinchat, but because of the circumstances of its find and the glorious setting/backdrop that the rape field offers.