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, 29 August 2012

Cheap night out!

Compared to previous years my monitoring of the local breeding owls has been some what subdued this year. There have been many contributing factors, or excuses depending on how you look at it but the biggest reason has been cost. My landrover returns a miserly 14 miles to the gallon and with the price of fuel recently I have to bit a bit more frugal when it is used.
However, when I'm feeling a bit flush (which isn't that often!) a do chuck a few quid of diesel into it and get out there. Last night was one of those more rare occasions as I wanted to go and check a few owl boxes for any signs of breeding.

I wasn't sure which area and boxes I was going to check out, that was dependant on the latest price of the fuel and how far it would get me? As I pulled up onto the local garage forecourt there it was in massive neon lights........£1.41 a litre. That converts to whopping £6.27 a gallon, (sort it out Cameron) or in my case a sobering £0.48 per mile!!! So my £20.00 was going to give me approx 44.6 miles, and that was to get there and back!

Needless to say I stayed very local, four different sites were checked out of which three showed no signs of any occupancy let alone any birds or breeding. But at the fourth and furthest site there was a positive result. I'd been there parked up underneath the nest tree when one of the adult birds showed at a hole entrance in the tree, below.

This bird showing wasn't a surprise as at least one of them is seen on most visits, but had they bred? I do have a nest box here but they have never used it? However, successful breeding has been recorded over the previous 3 years but the natural nest hole goes too deep inside the tree and the chicks cannot be reached, consequently they are not ringed.
Anyway, whilst watching the adult owl I got a real surprise, a juvenile poked its head out of the box! I was pleased that after 4 years they had eventually decided to use it, even though it is only 3 feet from the natural nest entrance!
As you can see the box is on its last legs and is desperate for some maintenance. I don't think just a lick of paint will suffice though, a whole new box is required...........dam, more cash!!! 

So not a bad little excursion out, yet another site from 2012 with breeding success and another box in use, definitely a positive result. On the negative side I have to fund the cost of a replacement box, (£30.00) and whilst out I drove a total of 24.5 miles, (£11.76)........Not bad hey, £41.76 for an evenings owling!!!!!!

Monday, 27 August 2012

No stiffness here mate!

Yesterday I exerted myself more than I thought possible, and the plan for today was going to be plenty of rest and then a very late start. Oh he's been on the beer again I hear you say, well that couldn't be further from the truth, actually I did a 20 mile bike ride around Rutland Water!!! OK for the average person that's no big deal, but it is if you are two stone over weight (OK three), smoke 20 fags a day, in your mid thirties (OK your caught me out again.......forties) and your idea of exercise is lifting a few pints on a Friday night.............then it is a massive deal!!!!!
So when we got back last night I was absolutely shattered, my legs and arms didn't feel my own and the numbness in my bum was murder! I collapsed for a couple of hours in front of the TV, when I finally went to get up the stiffness had kicked in, it even hurt to blink. That was it, my condition had firmly scuppered my plans for an early mornings owling! However, this morning I woke at 6.00am without the slightest hint of the torture endured the day before and the saddle sore had gone, so the owl plan was back on.
Surprisingly the weather was good early on, there was little wind and sun had got its hat on, but the forecast was for change around mid morning so I was up and out. The first port of call was one of the sites that Jenny had taken me to a couple of days ago (see previous post), we didn't see any owls then but it looked a promising location?
As I drove slowly down the leafy lane nearly every tree, bush and stump was checked out, then just as I approached the point where Jen said she'd seen an owl a couple of weeks ago.......BINGO!!! A juvenile Little Owl sat motionless on top of a fallen log, get in there site No 215!!! I didn't stop as I wasn't prepared. I pulled up further down the lane and got my camera equipment out. The camo screed was put up at  the window and then I returned at a deathly slow pace. The owl was still there, a very confiding bird too!
Once I realised the bird was OK with my presence I started up the Landie and shunted back and forth to get closer. I am very pleased with the outcome of the images especially so as the light was coming from behind the owl.

My time with the owl soon came to an end though as the early morning doggy walkers, joggers and horse riders started to mount up and they scared it off! No other owls were seen but I'll catch up with them on my next visit. Nice one Jen, you were bang on with your info.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

An owly morning!

Went out on an owl search this morning with Jenny, a local lass who is very much into her birding and a volunteer at the Rutland Osprey Project. She is very much "in the know" with all the local land owners and with her connections we were able to venture to places I'd never been to before.
The Landrover came in very handy as went from one rural location to another. Mid morning though I had a bit of a shock at one site, "park up the Landie Paul, we are going on foot from here"...........what!! "Come on she said, its only a short walk", she obviously didn't know that I am allergic to walking! Dam and blast I had no choice so reluctantly I agreed and off we went.  It was a nice area that had plenty of potential, but no owls were seen. After about ten miles of walking (well it felt like it was that far) we finally got back to the Landie for a well earned rest. Jen then surprised me again by unveiling a flask of tea and bacon rolls, all was forgiven!
She took me to several other locations during the morning, all of which had great owl potential. I will be returning to them one evening in the week to see if they produce the goods. Late morning we passed one of my "special owl sites", so beings as Jenny was doing her bit to help me the least I could do was to stop off and show her some juvenile owls.....if they were still there?
As we approached the corner of the field where the juveniles hang  out we spotted one almost immediately, they were still here!. It wasn't long before all three were seen and they put on quite a show for her, one even briefly landed on the Landrover bonnet. I couldn't resist the chance to grab a quick image of two of them on this perch, they may not be here the next time I visit?

Towards the end of our owl tour I showed Jenny around an area where I have some owl boxes that have yet to be occupied. I was taking a route that I'd taken on many previous occasions and as we passed a Willow Tree that sits in total isolation right in the middle of a field an owl was spotted!
Was it a new site or was it a dispersing juvenile from elsewhere? Gradually I inched the Landrover nearer and nearer until eventually I was close enough to grab an image, below. 
A quick review of the image confirmed it was a juvenile, so was it a new site or a dispersing juvenile? It was inconclusive, there was no way we could know either way.
As we sat and watched another owl was spotted higher up in the tree, a quick manoeuvre of the Landrover and we than had it in full view..........it was an adult! That proved without doubt this was a new site for me, No 214!

The thing that surprised me is I have passed that particular Willow Tree and checked it out on numerous occasions, and seen nothing! Must have been my lucky mascot........nice one Jenny!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hot leads.....

Still processing some of my owl images from last week, here's a few more of the little blokes when they were found playing around amongst the rubble stack.

I tried to think of a humorous caption to go along with this last image, trouble is I am far too straight laced and boring to say anything remotely funny, so I'll let someone else have a go.......

I'm out exploring tomorrow morning, a local lady who introduced herself to me at the Birdfair has offered to show me some Little Owl sites that may be new to me, how could I turn that down?  I'll be there on time and raring to go..........that is as long as I don't stay in the pub too long tonight!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Out of the blue......

Have you ever had it where something happens that you just weren't expecting, (of course you have) well that happened to me today. I had a text message come through from my fellow bird photographer pal Douglas McFarland congratulating me on my "Picture of the week" on the "BirdGuides" website.............WHAT!!!!!
It came as a complete surprise especially when you consider the other 500 or so high quality images that were also uploaded by fellow bird photographers. Personally I would have thought many of their images deserved the accolade more than mine, but I'm not complaining I'm very grateful and I'll gladly take it! And to think I nearly didn't even bother uploading the image! I suppose "the pose" the owl was holding is different but it was a massive crop which defiantly resulted in loss of quality.

This first image is the full frame original before I cropped it.

And this next image is the cropped version that I uploaded, a big difference hey?

Below is the citation from the Birdguides team that accompanied my image.....

"If you were to mention Little Owls to BirdGuides regulars, most would immediately think of Paul Riddle. Paul's phenomenal devotion to this species is well known and he has shared with us over 400 images of the birds he has come across in his monitoring and conservation activities. Given that he has located more than 200 Little Owl territories over the past four years, it's no surprise that Paul has captured images showing these birds in almost every imaginable pose, both perched and in flight. This week, though, we were entertained by his unusually posed shot of a juvenile bird with one wing and one foot outstretched. Presumably, the young owl was just having a stretch, but it's easy to interpret its expression and body language as a suggestion that Paul take his camera elsewhere! A great illustration of the fact that, to a creative photographer, birds are an inexhaustible subject".
Photo of the Week citation (admin), today 12:27

To say I'm chuffed is a total understatement!!!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Messing about in the water!

I went looking for the young Barn Owls again this evening, there was no luck in that area and I had a premature ending to the evening but I did have a couple of other nice surprises! 
I ended up searching near to Saddington Reservoir, just the usual Mallards, Herons and a few Great Crested Grebes. Whilst I was checking out the distant shoreline through my binoculars in hope that a Barnie may be out hunting early a  white bird flashed across my view...........Barn Owl!!!!
I recomposed myself and locked onto the bird, I then realised it was wishful thinking that it was a Barn Owl, but a decent bird never the less......an Osprey! I have never seen one here before and a very good consolation prize. It was hunting and I wanted to get some action images of it. From where I stood on the dam wall the bird was about half a mile away and getting a "keeper" with my 300 lens was going to be tricky! Rather than chase around the reservoir in close pursuit I opted to stand my ground and wait for it to come to me. It didn't come any closer than when I first saw it, so my "dot in the distance" image was the best I got!

Whilst waiting for the Osprey to come closer a splash in the water in front of me grabbed my attention, it was a Grass Snake and it was chasing after the fry in the margins! I'd never seen that before so the Osprey was soon forgotten and I was now in pursuit of a more slippery character.
I hid behind a clump of vegetation and waited for it to come closer, the images were OK but I wanted to get low down at eye level as I thought it would make for a better composition? As I was doing so I lost my footing and went straight into the water, luck would have I only got wet up to my knees and even luckier my camera was still dry!
All the commotion stopped the snake in its tracks, it was giving me "the stare", that was the moment and I think I made the most of it?

Needless to say that after my clumsy actions the snake dived and wasn't seen again, but thankfully I got the image I was after even though I was soaking wet!

Monday, 20 August 2012

No Luck!

This evening I went and had another look to see if I could locate any of the recently fledged Barn Owls. It was a drive of around 15 minutes from home and when I arrived the light was somewhat better than when I left, mmmm maybe its still a bit too early and bright for the owls to be out?

So to kill some time I went and checked out some other Little Owl sites......

At the first site only a single juvenile was located, he gave me a good pose in the superb light conditions.

He didn't hang around long though, fortunately I managed to nail a flight shot of him as he departed.

I got fed up then with the waiting for something else to happen at the first site so I moved on down the road. At the second site three juveniles were found messing about amongst a pile of old rubble. 

It was nice to get an owl perched on or in something a bit different.

Occasionally one is lucky enough to get some super close up views of the owls, normally it is for a few fleeting seconds and grabbing an image is not possible. This evening I had the resident adult male bird land only a few feet away from me, in fact he was so close I couldn't fit him all in the frame at 300mm! I dare not put my hand out of the window to zoom out for fear of scaring him off so I just concentrated on his eye. I did increase the depth of field from F3.0 to F5.0 so as to capture a bit more feather detail in the foreground, it wasn't quite enough and a lesson learnt.

This last image is my favourite from the session, it is of another one of the juveniles and was taken when the light was at its best.

After my stint with the Little Owls I reverted back to the original plan of trying to locate the fledged Barn Owls, sadly none were seen. I am hoping that either I was looking in the wrong location or it was still too early for them to be out.

I won't give us just yet, tomorrows another day and maybe then I'll get lucky?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Round 2.

As any regular followers of this blog may know my time with the local owls is not just about going out and taking images. Yes that does take up a lot of my time and I thoroughly enjoy it but that really was a by-product of the main objective which was to monitor numbers and then encourage population growth. So far nearly 100 nest boxes have been made and erected, in the early days the majority of them were Little Owl boxes. But in time I learnt the fact that the local Barn Owl numbers were very sparse indeed so the main focus moved over to them and suitable boxes were also made and erected.

Prior to the breeding season there was potentially 4 different pairs that may use one of the boxes, but the horrid weather conditions put an end to that and only one pair bred successfully. Luckily the box that was used had a camera in it so we were able to monitored closely the whole saga, right from the laying of the first egg on March 21st right through to the four juveniles finally fledging in mid July.

So after the youngsters had left the nest there wasn't any reason to continue monitoring via the cam as all I'd have been watching was an empty box! So when a quick check via the cam yesterday revealed not an empty box but one of the owls day roosting it wasn't really a surprise, (image below). But hang on a minute, when they roost they are normally standing up, this bird was laying down?

I continued to watch, then after a few minutes of doing nothing up she got to reveal her prize possessions...........7 EGGS!!!!!!

It is brilliant news that these owls have gone for a second clutch, they alone are doing their bit for boosting the local population, all we can do now is keep our fingers crossed that all goes well and the weather is kind to them.

I will update on any significant developments.

Saturday, 18 August 2012


Haven't managed to get out properly during the last few days, just one quick rekkie late on Thursday evening. One owl was seen en route to my destination (image below) at my site No 53 but I didn't stay with it long because I was heading over to the Wistow area to check out an area that previously I'd never been to before.

My mate Glyn "the gamekeeper" had been telling me I should go and check out this particular area as he was convinced that it would produce some goodies..........and he wasn't wrong! Quite a vast area that could only really be covered in the Landrover, good job as I am far too lazy to have walked!

My main objective was Barn Owl, the terrain was just right for them and I was hoping that I'd bump into one of the four recently fledged birds from the breeding site just down the road. This wasn't to be but, I did see a single Hobby hunting high up over the woods, countless Buzzards, two family parties of Spotted Flycatcher and..............a Little Owl!

The Little Owl gave away its presence by sounding out its alarm call as I approached its territory. Another responded then all went quiet, this is the usual tactics they use and the game of "hide & seek" was now on! I systematically searched all the surrounding trees and eventually the tell tale silhouette was spotted. It was perched in a pollarded Willow, highly likely to be the nest tree?  It sat there statue like not moving a muscle, its piercing yellow eyes fixed firmly on me. I was confident that it wasn't going to move and reveal itself because of the distance between us so at this stage I grabbed an image (below).

Once I'd secured the first image from my new site 213 I chanced my luck and moved nearer, I was being greedy, I wanted a better image. But oh no, I'd got too near and within its "comfort zone" and it was having none of that and flew off!

I shall be returning very soon to get an improved image.........watch this space!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Last night

A few images taken last night, I decided to go owling rather than going to the pub!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Rain stops play!

I have managed to do a bit of "owling"during the last couple of evenings,  just for a couple of hours at a time though, because sadly the availability of "good light"  is now being squeezed at both ends. Firstly I'm having some later starts because I'm back to work, therefore I'm setting off later than of late then to compound issues the evenings are starting to draw in. So the window of opportunity is definitely a premium which is then being further compromised with the spoiling summer thunder storms!

On Monday evening the light levels were just fab,  and to complement matters a couple of Little Owls showed well at my site No 53. Within minutes of arriving an adult and juvenile were located, they weren't in the best position as far as the sun direction goes (from the side) but within minutes a few images were bagged, it was already a rewarding visit. 

But you know how it is, everything was almost too perfect, I was expectant that something was just around the corner ready to spoil everything, and then sods law kicks in! The skies started to darken and became heavy with slate grey clouds, quickly followed by an upturn in the wind and then crashing rain shortly followed. Needless to say the owls fled for cover!

The adult owl headed for the eves in the barn, (below), and there it stayed for the rest of my visit.

The juvenile used a seclude location in a willow tree for protection, it too stayed put from then on.

Needless to say the storm put a premature end to things, it was dark, damp and windy and the owls weren't playing out in that!

Last night (Tuesday) I was out even later that I would have liked, there was no time to "stake out" one of my "neglected" sites so as time was very limited there was only really one place for me to go....my site No 87.

I'd definitely been suffering withdrawal symptoms as I hadn't been here for over a week! Would the juveniles still be there? If they were would they still be OK with the close presence of my Landrover?

I needn't have worried, they were still there and were totally cool with the Landie.

I suppose we all look at images in a different way and what is pleasing to the eye for one is not necessary for the next person. I particularly like partially lit subjects with dark backgrounds, and this next image really "floats my boat". It is absolutely my favourite Little Owl image from the last couple of weeks.

The owls at site No 87 really put on a show, I think they had missed me? But it only lasted  for an hour because yes you have guessed it, the rain came again!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Catching up......part 2.

The next site I visited was my site No 81 not far from the village of Peatling Magna, my last sighting of an owl here was back in November 2010, so why was this site on my radar? The reason was a call I had in the week from my mate Adey. He had located some juvenile owls roosting in a tree and thought it may be a new site for me? We discussed his wear abouts and I explained that the area he was describing use to be one of my sites but the owls had deserted it because the old roadside barn where they use to reside in had been renovated. The birds he had located were only a 100 yards away from the barn so it was too much of a coincidence that they weren't my owl family from site No 81.

I approached the tree in question with caution and drove past very slowly, as I came level with it a juvenile Little Owl sat out on a perch bold as brass! I didn't stop to grab an image as all my kit was on the passenger seat and all the fumbling around could well have spooked it? Instead I continued along the road, and as soon as possible I pulled over got my camo netting up at the window and camera at the ready, a slow re-approach was then made.

I pulled up next to the tree on the adjacent grass verge, dam the owl had gone! I sat quietly watching and hoping for its return, then a movement up in the tree grabbed my attention, it was the juvenile owl and there was three of them! The next hour was spent watching as they clambered around the tree, the photo condition weren't brilliant as it was very shady under the branches but never the less I managed to capture shots of two of the juveniles, my first ever images from this site.

What good news is was that the evicted owls had managed to find a suitable nest site so near to the barn and then breed. Brilliant to catch up with them again after so long, nice one Adey!

The next location that offered some good views and photo opportunities was my site No 19, upon arrival all was very quiet and no birds were seen. This is my first visit here this year and I wasn't even sure if the owls were still here? After checking out all the "usual" perching/day roosting spots both adult owls were eventually and unusually located up high in the nest tree. They were obscured by branches so no images were possible at this stage. Then one of the adults dropped down onto the track and picked up a beetle, it then returned back to a lower branch in the tree and surprise surprise a juvenile popped out from where I couldn't see it to be fed.

The action of the adult was then copied by the juvenile, it too dropped down onto the track but it wasn't quite as proficient at finding any food. This suited me as it lent for some nice photo opportunities as it hopped around on the ground.

Then a second juvenile appeared from nowhere and joined its sibling on the ground. I can only assume this must be what they do for most of the day and me turning up in the Landrover had disturb them somewhat?

At times they would come very close, they even went underneath the Landrover on a couple of occasions!

A superb day for watching owls, three more sites with confirmation of breeding success and in total I actually saw Little Owls at 7 different sites with a grand total of 26 different birds seen and one daytime Barn Owl, images of that to follow......

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, 3 August 2012

More catching up........part 1.

Yesterday I continued with the "new me" and resisted the temptation to visit my owl sites of preference where the resident owls are very showy and attaining a few images isn't that difficult. Instead,  I grasped the nettle and opted to visit a couple of relatively local sites that I have neglected of late and where so far an image has eluded me.

For starters I visited my site No 53 not too far from Countesthorpe, this site was first located in July 2009 and I'd be telling lies if I said I didn't have an image from here, I have but they we all taken from distance and are rubbish!

Again I was using the trusted Landrover as my mobile hide, it was parked up near to an old barn where previously I'd seen the owls hanging around. It was a terribly long wait here, occasionally I would see an owl fluttering along the hedgerow but they were too far away for an image with my 300mm. I think it was too early in the day and too bright for much activity but the four hour wait finally paid dividends when one of the adult owls came and landed in the scrub right in front of me.

The adult was closely followed by one of the two juveniles that are at this site, it wasn't until afterwards that I realised that they obviously sensed the bad weather that was almost upon us and they were seeking cover.......all will be revealed? 

The next few minutes were certainly frustrating, I'd waited all this time for them to come close and now they were being obscured by branches and rubble! Eventually the juvenile hopped out from the cover and posed beautifully for me, below.

It didn't show for long though as a sudden boom of thunder in the greying skies soon had it bolting for cover! Then the heavens opened, and boy did it come down! In came the camera gear and I was now resigned for an even longer wait, I could hardly see out of the windows it was lashing down so hard. After a few minutes it eased off slightly, I could now see the rubble pile and would you credit it the juvenile owl was out bathing in it!

My gear was soon poking out of the window capturing the action, the owl stood motionless with its wings outstretched having a wash.

It continued to hold this posture until the rain ceased, another good five minutes. It then had a good shake to dry itself out. 

The next part of "catching up" will have more images from the day and will feature in my next post.

Thanks for visiting.