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!!!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Early riser

I was up with the lark this morning, the weather forecast was for brilliant sunshine and I wasn't going to waste such an opportunity. My mission was to try and attain my first ever images of the Little Owls at my site No 188. They are usually pretty easy to see albeit at distance but for some reason they have evaded me getting any form of an image. 

I was there at first light,  I opted to park in such a position that it allowed me to cover a variety of near and distant perches, surely today was the day? 

I'd been waiting patiently for something to happen for around an hour, the deathly silence was then shattered with the shrieking calls of two owls, one either side of me. They were both obscured from view but surely this was the chance for the final part of the jigsaw to fall into place? Then right on cue, one of the owls duly obliged and showed itself, and what luck it landed on the nearest post right in front of me.......get in there!

Over the next 30 minutes I had some great views as the pair of them fluttered from post to post.

Time for a quick snooze.  

This is a full frame image (no cropping) only about 10 feet away! The owl couldn't see me as I was masked behind a camo sheet, I think it is the sound of the camera shutter that makes them inquisitive? 

The images on this perch are my favourites from the day, the low but not too harsh sunlight really brings out the complementary colours of the rustic perch and the diffused background.

The owl then moved around to the other side of my car, good views still but the light was now coming straight at me which allowed for these two back lit images.

Once I'd nailed a few perched images I then concentrated on trying to get some flight shots, the light allowed for high shutter speeds so freezing the action wasn't a problem, but getting the owl in the frame was!

And the final two images are of "nearly shots" on both occasions I wasn't prepared enough for the owl taking flight and clipped the wings off. Normally I wouldn't upload images of this nature but as they are pretty sharp and a little different from the normal "perched" images I thought I'd share. 

Sadly my time with the owls came to an abrupt end, dog walkers and horse riders put paid to that, but it just goes to show that it is the early riser who gets the worm........or in this case the owl ;-)

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Fair Share

This winter has been brilliant for over wintering SEO's (Short Eared Owl) in Britain, and here in Leicestershire we have had our fair share too!

I urge anyone living in the Leicestershire area who has yet to see one  this year to do so........and fast! Its hard to say just how much longer they will be with us before they start heading back to their northern breeding grounds, but it won't be long?

The ideal location to see them is in areas of rough pasture, they can be seen "floating" about on their massive outstretched wings hunting for voles. Early morning and late afternoon is normally the best time, and if one stands still adjacent to some suitable habitat it is amazing just how close they will come!

This winter I have had the privilege to see them at 5 different Leicestershire locations, but there has been reports/sightings from at least 9 different sites. Unfortunately one of these sites is on private land and needs to stay undisclosed but the others that have been disclosed are as follows.

Location/Peak Numbers.

Burton Lazars - 6
Hallaton - 14
Cossington Meadows - 4
Hicks Lodge - 3
Eyebrook Reservoir - 3
Rutland Water - 4
Cold Overton - 5
Longmoor Lake - 1
Undisclosed - 3  

I used the LROS (Leicestershire & Rutland Ornithological Society) news page to collate the majority of the reported sites and bird numbers, you too can keep tabs on what birds have been seen and where by clicking here LROS

This latest image was taken at Hallaton, (my 5th site) and thanks must go to John Turner for pointing me in the right direction.

So come on the folk of Leicestershire, get out there and see one for yourself before its too late, I'm sure you won't regret it......

Friday, 17 February 2012

Boxing clever?

After many evening sessions over the last couple of weeks the new batch of owl box making is reaching its conclusion, only the wood preserve to go! Then the good bit starts soon with the siting of the boxes, then the continual monitoring will commence to see if anything takes a liking and moves in?

The chances of getting any new breeding residents this spring has been greatly reduced because of how late they will go up, but unavoidable circumstances like no cash, lack of time and no where to build put paid to that! However, 21 new ones have been made and once up it will bring my overall tally to exactly 100 boxes.

This year has seen a slight change in the design with the Barn & Little Owl boxes and my first ever Tawny boxes will go up too. All three designs have been manufactured from the same size carcass, the major differences being with the fronts, the reasoning was to reduce manufacturing time and costs.

All the boxes have been manufactured using 12mm red faced ply (higher quality than previous years), and battened internally with 25mm box for additional strength. All fixing have been screwed (no nails!) they all have a side sloping roof and entrance door for cleaning/ringing on the right hand side.


Slightly larger than in previous years but basically the same design apart from the now included external landing shelf. It still retains the internal tunnel that the Little Owls love but it is taller thus allowing the owl to stand up inside the bow whilst viewing out of the hole.


I have moved away from the traditional type "A Frame" box this year, although the internal dimensions are very similar. The 5" x 6" entrance hole is located up towards the top of the front so as to keep the juveniles in for longer, Barn Owls are renowned for being over enthusiastic and falling out! The entrance hole has been framed so as to help prevent draughts.  


Identical to the Barn Owl box apart from the larger and lower entrance hole (6" x 7"). Research has proven this type of box to be far more beneficial then the traditional "tube type" box that are associated with Tawnies. The "tube type" makes it difficult for the birds to gain purchase on the sides when getting in or out and damage to the wings, eggs and chicks has been recorded. The other problem with the old style is there is hardly enough room for the adult owl let alone 3 or 4 juveniles too!

Apparently the juvenile Tawnies will remain in the box until just before they are ready to fledge if they can see out of the box, hence the lower entrance.

So now over the next few weeks the boxes will go up in well considered locations, all that now remains is a resident or two...............PLEASE!


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Old friends new ones and potentials!

After a good week or so of below freezing temperatures the big thaw is now into full flow here in Leicestershire, yes it was more pleasurable to be out but the inevitable cloud cover made for a real grey and dull day, not good for photography?

So rather than concentrate on owl watching and trying to obtain images this morning I opted for a bit of "patch work" and check out some of my Barn Owl boxes that I erected last year.  

As I pulled up at the first Barn Owl site of the day I heard a Little Owl call, a quick scan of the distant trees from where the sound came from didn't produce any sighting, maybe I was too far away? As I was already at the entrance to where the Barn Owl box was located I carried on with checking that out, it was good news, pellets everywhere! Whilst there I also bumped into one of the farm workers and he confirmed that the Barn Owls are being seen in the evenings on a regular basis, fantastic news and looking very promising for the spring.
Right it was now time to find that Little Owl, this is my site No 27 and I haven't made a sighting here for nearly 2 years! I'd always had my suspicions that the nest tree was a battered old Ash Tree, so that's where my search started.

The tree is riddled with holes that are all potential nest cavities, and sure enough an owl was located sitting at the entrance to one of them, can you see her?

Once I had nailed a couple of distant images I manoeuvred the car to a more advantageous position to attempt a better image. As I approached a second owl was spotted perched a lot lower down, it was very tolerant of my presence, again the camo netting up at the window proved sufficient enough to make me invisible.

Not the best Little Owl image I have ever managed but considering the dull conditions it is OK, but what makes it that extra bit special to me is it is my first usable from this site.

It was good to catch up with the owls at my Site No 27

At the next Barn Owl site I checked out it was good news again, although I have NEVER seen a Barn Owl here! On my last visit in December there was a couple of pellets inside the barn which lead me to believe that it maybe being used as an occasional roosting site. But today I found 109 pellets on the floor!!!!!!! Judging by the number this MUST now be a potential breeding site, and only a mile from my home!

On the way back I stopped off at another potential site, only this time is was Little Owls. My mate Daz said he saw an owl here a couple of weeks ago so I thought what the hell lets pull over and see whats about? I hadn't even had time to put the camo netting up at the window when I made a positive ID, yes you have guessed it Little Owl..........and two of them!!!

A big pat on the back must go to Daz, he was right, I never doubted him!!!!!;-)

Again the light was utter rubbish for a decent image but who cares it another new territory......get in there site No 203!!

I'm sure it won't be long before I can get some "quality" images from this new site, it's only about half a mile from where I live!!!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

All the comforts!

Due to the increasing demands of the local would be "Owl keepers" the box making production line has kicked started back into action again. But unlike in previous years where it was all done in the cramped conditions of my small garage we are now working in 5 star luxury!

My mate Carl kindly offered us the use of his purpose built workshop, and oh boy what a privilege it is too! There's absolutely loads of space, proper tools and saws, a marking out/assembly table and to keep us warm Carl has just installed a huge cast iron log burner......ooh lovely!

The workshop, and Carl the poser!

The wood pile starts to mount up, pre assembly.

Carl again, doing his bit on the circular saw.

Yes its him again, he always fancied himself as a male model!!

His best male model pose!

This is the first box off the production line, designed specifically for a Tawny Owl. Over the coming weeks we will be burning the midnight oil until a planned 20 further boxes are made.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Turning Blue!

I'd been waiting and hoping for a few weeks that it would come and on Saturday night my wish was granted and a good drop of it too..............SNOW!!! We don't get a great deal of it here in Leicestershire so when it arrives it's a bit of a novelty, it normally comes and goes within a day or two so the opportunity for really "wintery" images are very limited. 

To my delight on Sunday morning there was a pretty good covering, a good few inches I reckon? I needed no further encouragement, it was time to unleash the beast!! The beast being my trusty four wheel drive Landrover, just perfect for these conditions.

Upon arrival two reasonable close owls were located, trouble was they weren't flying around as I'd wished, they were roosting on the ground!! The next hour was spent waiting for them to take off, but they didn't want to play ball. It was starting to get very cold (and boring!) so a change of plan was needed. I decided to see if I could get some shots of them on the ground. So as not to unnecessary spook them the tactics I employed was to get low and creep slowly through the grass.

All in all I was laying and crawling in the snow for around 30 minutes, absolutely soaked to the skin but elated that both of the birds held firm and allowed me to get within 20 feet or so of them, it was utterly brilliant to be so close to such majestic birds. Every movement I made was done painfully slow, but it worked as the birds didn't flinch and I was well rewarded with some "different" wintery SEO images.

On the way home I located my first new Little Owl territory of the year, site No 204! It was sheltering inside a hole in a roadside tree. Sorry it's a pretty boring image but I wasn't going to hang around and wait for it to do something different, I was far too cold and only minutes from getting frostbite!!

A new bird and a new site, I will return to study him with more vigour on a warmer day!.

Further on from the new Little Owl site and nearer to home another roadside owl was spotted sheltering amongst the ivy at my site No 34. Although my fingers were numb and turning blue there was still just enough feeling in them to grab this image.

Crawling through the snow in "normal" outdoor clothes is not something I would recommend doing, but the cold and uncomfortable feeling from that day are now just distant memories, unlike my images they will remind me of that day for a long long time to come!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A bit of company!

Part 2 Saturday.......

After I'd warmed up and re-filled my flask it was off out again to another local Little Owl site, No 127. I hadn't seen any owls here since August 2011 so a visit was well overdue.

Permission was gained from the local landowner for me to park up next to the tree where I used to see the owls. Unlike earlier in the morning the skies had now clouded over and the light was rubbish for photography. The wind had also got up so I wasn't very confident of seeing any owls.

I was sitting watching this owless tree when "pop" this chap appeared from nowhere! He'd come to check me out, well not me because I was behind my camo screen it must have been the car that intrigue him?

I sat and kept him company for a couple of hours, in all that time his mate was never seen!

It was a pretty boring visit really, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. He did however burst into some territorial calling for a few seconds, as can be see on this film footage below, just click on the arrow and don't forget to turn your sound up!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A quick pit stop

Last night I had an extraordinary evening in comparison to my "normal" Friday night out,  the beer monster in me didn't materialise and the consumption was very much on the lean side!! Hooray no hangover this morning, more money in my pocket than expected and feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed too.

From my experiences one of the very best times of the year to see Little Owls is on a bright sunny winters morning following a bitter nights frost, and they were just the conditions we had today. So not one for wasting an opportunity and because I was feeling so good and clear headed it was off out at first light to see what was about.

I made a bee line to one of my favourite but not very often visited sites near to the village of Gilmorton. The reason I don't visit that often is because I know from old that it is a site that really lends itself to an early morning shoot (not something I often do!) because of the light direction. In addition to that and possibly more importantly one can observe and shoot from inside the car whilst keeping relatively warm, definitely a requirement for today!

After a while waiting an owl eventually appeared, trouble was by then the frost had already been zapped by the sun which took away the "wintery" effect I was after.

So now I have had time to pop back home and warm up, update my blog and make another flask of coffee its off out again to see what else we can find........

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Only a few words and some recent Little Owl images.........

Site No 11

Site No 11

Site No 107

Site No 107