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 July 2012

Wake up call!

I wasn't going to bother going out owling today, the marathon session I had the other day in near tropical temperatures (for minimal returns may I add) put me off! I should have known better being out in the hottest part of the day would be no good for the owls, or me! However, at first light this morning it had clouded over and cooled off some what. It brought a smile to my face as it meant I could well find some owls doing something?

But where to go?? That was easy as a couple of mates have shamed me just recently and I needed to make amends. Well not so much shamed me but unknowingly to them they gave me a gentle reminder that I had selfishly been spending too much time at just two different sites. It acted as a bit of a wake up call that I have been neglecting all of my other 200 owl locations. But in my defence the viewing at the two sites in question has been just brilliant and I keep returning as on offer is the chance to get a shot of 5 owls together, but so far I have failed miserably! So they were left alone today as it was time to do "the rounds" and see what the other owls have been up to?

Getting back to being shamed; firstly it was my mate Adey who alerted me to calling owls he heard one evening last week near to the village of Potters Marston. He thought it could be a new site for me and sent me a text message whilst there, a quick check on the location and it turned out to be my site No 90.  This is a site where I have heard owls calling many times but never actually managed a sighting let alone an image, so that was my first destination.

I'd only been on site 5 minutes when I heard an adult owl call, but where was it? The next 30 minutes passed and nothing! Here we go again I thought, hearing but not seeing, just like on previous visits. It wasn't a surprise though as it was pouring down with rain. The bloke on the radio said the rain was going to blow over in an hour so rather sit and wait I went and had some breakfast. On my return it was still rather gloomy and raining, I wasn't very hopeful. But as I pulled up I couldn't believe my eyes, there sat on the distant fence posts sat two owls!!  This image (below) was the best I managed, poor light and very distant for my 300mm lens but my first sighting and image never the less. 

The second prompt was from my mate "Hoodie". He too sent me a text message alerting me to a sighting he had made near to Sharnford and thought it was a potential new Little Owl site for me. After looking at the location on his accompanying map (which by the way is very near a notorious "dogging site" - what was he doing there I ask?)  I had to inform him it was my site No 4! Well this is another site where I have never managed an image, the birds are always too distant.

My luck was defiantly in here as I located an adult owl within 10 seconds of arriving. As I pulled into the gateway it was already perched up right next to the car. I wasn't prepared for such a quick sighting and just managed the one image (below) before it flew off to a nearby tree. 

I wasn't going to chase it, I was going to stay put and wait for it to return. This lapse in activity gave me the chance to put up my camo netting and get the camera set up. An hour passed and no returning owl, maybe my tactics needed to change? I opted to stay put, but then another hour passed without incident. From across the other side of the road I thought I heard the hissing of a juvenile? That was the prompt I need to move. I re-positioned the car nearer to where the hissing was coming from and it wasn't long before I was proved right, two juveniles were up high in the tree. A quick look around and a likely perch that may be used by the owls was selected, trouble was it had a horrid background. I chanced moving the car to a better position and luckily it didn't bother the juveniles.

It was a very long wait (2 hrs) but eventually one of the adult owls landed on "the perch" that I had selected as being a potential. I am glad I made the effort of surveying the area properly as I am well chuffed with the image results.......nice background hey?

The adult owl was by now comfortable with the presence of my car, it obviously didn't see it as a threat and just chilled out right in front of me. Things then got even better, a juvenile came down from up high and joined it, it goes without saying that an image of that too was captured, below.

So after the kick up my backside from Adey and Hoodie things turned out rather well, sadly they were not new sites but I did get my first ever owl images from both of them. I think I may well have to pull a similar stunt the next time I go out! 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Out of the shadows

The weather of late had been settled, no rain and only a very gentle breeze, really good for the owls. So yesterday I had a marathon session (NINE hours) my plan was to get to the first site nice and early and maybe, just maybe I'd get the image I'm after of all five owls together?

It was warm, very warm and incredibly bright, upon arrival it didn't take me long to locate all five of the resident owls. Each one was perched up in a different location, and all in the shade! The nearest of them was one of the juveniles, so before I settled down I grabbed a shot of it (below), not easy to capture great detail when the light is coming from behind the subject but a good start never the less.

After the good start the hours ticked by without incident, really exciting stuff this! I was fed up of twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen.........and it didn't! So after five hours of watching the grass grow something had to be done, but what? I knew that in all probability they would eventually "come out to play" but when? Normally I visit this site in the evening (when activity is at its highest), but I wasn't prepared to wait that long so with just the one image taken I upped sticks and headed for site No 2.

At the second site only four of the five resident owls were located and the story was initially the same, yes they were all in the shade! However, they weren't quite as static as the previous family and occasionally they did venture out from the coolness of the shadows. Consequently a few images were captured but after four hours of sitting in the pressure cooker of a Landrover I had to concede I was beaten..........Weather 2 - Rid 0.

Whilst at the second site there was a bit of "proper" action, albeit for a few brief seconds. One of the juveniles ventured out from underneath the hedgerow and chased a Blackbird (below), trouble was I was too far away to get anything like a decent image........typical!

During the sweltering hours it hit home just how fortunate I'd been on previous visits, rain, wind, fog, storms and clouds but there had always been activity. As far as I am concerned, you can keep your mini heatwave as it's just no good for watching owls. I'm sure it won't be long before the crappy weather is back with us.........bring it on!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Burrowing Owls

It was a bit of a marathon session yesterday, weather was good, the owls were obliging, well four of them were. My short term target of capturing all 5 owls together in the same image didn't happen, but I enjoyed myself.

On another note I have been a bit confused of late? When I process and then re-sized an image on my PC it looks OK. But once I upload them to my blogger page the quality reduces somewhat, especially with landscape images! I can't understand why as I have always done it the same way? So I have tried saving them in a different way in this post, they are larger in size, still not as good as when viewed on my PC but an improvement never the less.

I have seen this behaviour before, when it is nice and hot (when.....oh what a laugh!) sometimes an owl can be observed laying down flat and opening their wings, sort of sun bathing I suppose?

Ah lovely a juicy worm, he didn't share it with the kids, that one was for dad!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the juveniles at one of my "star sites" have taken up residence in an old Rabbit warren. Here the first owl checks that the coast is clear before popping out.

One by one they all came out of their dark sanctuary and then posed nicely for me.

I was hoping for a pellet expulsion image, the male owl sat motionless apart from the odd wretch of his beak, below. I knew the pellet was on its way but he flew to a further post to "do the job" and I missed it!

This last image of one of the juveniles is without doubt my favourite from the day, in fact my favourite from the last few weeks. The owl came so close it allowed for a frame filling image taken at  a focal length of 176mm! It was clambering about on the fence and then it peered around the post and looked straight down the lens. Taken in the afternoon when the sun was high in the sky, actually it was too bright as some of the whites have burnt out but the closeness allowed for a lot more feather detail than usual. 

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Four out of five!

Another couple of hours were spent at one of my local sites, the owls here have now got so use to the Landrover they almost completely ignore the fact that I am there. Usually I park up a comfortable distance from the posts and perches that they regally use and normally within minutes they are on them just going about their business.

I pushed matters a little further on this visit and parked up nearer than I ever have before. It didn't seem to make any difference to them, but it did to me! I was able to get some full frame images at a focal length of 300mm. At times they were so close and I had to zoom out to 200mm!

As I mentioned in my last post I am now off work for two weeks and I am going to be concentrating my efforts at two different sites. Both sites have five birds at them, two adults and three fledged juveniles and my aim during this period is to attain an image of five of them together.  This next image is 80% of the way there with four of the five owls at my site No 87. They were all "in frame" together for about 2 seconds, consequently I didn't have enough time to either compose it properly or to increase the depth of field, but I will be ready next time!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

From dawn till dusk.....

The dust has now settled on the hectic and very boozy weekend in Italy, so it was time to get out for a few hours to see how the owl families where I have been keeping a close vigil were getting on. Two different sites were visited and the juveniles were still present at both.

The patient tactics that I have been using with the slow and deliberate introduction of my Landrover is now paying dividends handsomely. As long as the approach drive is done with care and consideration for the owls I can get close........really close!

This juvenile (below) seems to be the most timid of the three at this site, it spends most of its time sat next to an old rabbit hole and as soon as anything spooks it down it goes to hide away!

Although very satisfied with my evenings work and the images captured, this next shot (below) is definitely my favourite from this latest session. The light was just fabulous, a nicely defused and uncluttered background, an excellent perch and the owl held a great pose with full eye contact.

Nothing too special about this next image, not a good posture, no eye contact and the quality is a bit hazy. But the lack of quality is for good reason, it was taken through the windscreen of my Landrover, it is of one of the juveniles when it landed on the bonnet of my Landrover.....told you they were getting use to it!

I am now just keeping my fingers crossed that the weather next week is half decent and that the juveniles hang around long enough for me to exploit the fact that I have a two weeks holiday. I am planning to invest some serious time at these sites, on at least one day I will be there at first light and will hand around until dust, at least FIFTEEN hours. The ultimate aim is to get an image of the parent owls and all 3 of their juveniles.........in the same image! 


Sorry folks for the lack of updates recently, I have a very good excuse too!
Last Thursday night it was off to Bologna in Italy for a long weekend, the reason? To be guests at a gig being performed by the rock band Kasabian!!!!

One of the party, Tom (second from right on the back row) was celebrating his 60th birthday and as he is the father of the lead singer of the band it was  VIP treatment all the way, yours truly is in the black shirt.

Norman was the only omision from our party in the image above so here he is (pink shirt and all) with Tom (junior) the lead singer back stage before the gig.

The black poster on the wall behind Norman was a one off made for the gig, I was lucky enough to "aquire" it for my daughter before we left (she's a massive Kasabian fan) and all the band members signed it too! The ten of us had a blast, good company, superb weather, a brilliant gig and of course.......loads of beer!!
Back to owls soon..................

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Differrent moods.

Following my last post I have now had time to go through the rest of the images from that night. Loads that I am pleased with but an awful lot of similar ones, but here are a few more (and the latest header, above) that are a bit different.
What is quite surprising with this particular batch is how different the background colours are from one and other. Nothing to do with how they have processed them but how the light was being defracted when filtering through the branches of the nearby tree. As the sun moved around and began to set the area (and the birds) went from being in full sun (possibly too bright at times!) to deep shadow and lots a variations of mottled light in between, certainly gave some different effects.

Thanks for visiting.......

Monday, 9 July 2012

Family frolics.

It was a bit of a mixed bag on Sunday weather wise; sun one moment then torrential rain followed by more sun, and so on. The crazy British summer continued in the same vein as of previous weeks but I wasn't bothered what was thrown my way because the wind was very gentle. Which should only mean one thing.......the owls would be out!
But where to go?? I opted for a site over near the village of Willoughby, a private site where access is allowed with my Landrover. I have been visiting here on and off for 3 years, and what a good choice it proved to be as it really produced the goods today. Both parent owls were out and very active too with the feeding of their recently fledged brood.
I could waffle on for ages about what did and did not happen whilst there today, but after spending 7 hours with the owls it has been a very long day and to be honest I can't be bothered to tap away on my keyboard any longer than necessary.
So here is just a sample of the day’s images, I've loads more to look through so there could well be a part 2 from the day to follow?

Thanks for visiting.