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!!!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

EX62412

Following the sighting of my second ever ringed Little Owl out in the field (see previous post) I wanted to investigate things further to see if I could determine exactly where and when this owl had come from?

What I needed to do was go back and spend more time at the site where I saw her and if possible read the seven digit number on the ring. If those numbers could be sought then they could be crossed reference with the ringing records from the two previous years and hopefully it would prove she WAS one of my owls.

Anyway, this morning I was processing some more images of the owl in question (below) that clearly shows the ring on her right leg. Hang on a minute, if I zoomed right into the ring could I tell what the numbers where?


This image (below) is a very heavy cropped portion from the above image. Not good quality but the most important factor is four of the digits can be read........X624.


I then painstaking searched through a load more images and zoomed into the ring to see if any more of the required seven numbers could be read, and on this next image they could! The ring had turned around just enough to make out the numbers 2412.


So now I had the sequence of numbers......X62412, a few text messages were pinged off to Andy Smith and he came back to confirm.......Ring Number EX62412 was attached by him to a Little Owl (1 of 2) on 6/6/2011 at my Little Owl site No 68 near to the village of Peatling Parva.

Brilliant news, the mystery had been solved!

So I can now confirm that the hen owl (top image) who now resides at my site No 127 was one of two juveniles ringed on that day at site No 68. She had moved 1.5 km from her natal site to pair up with what must have been at the time a solitary male owl.

I then went back through my archives and found some images that I took whilst ringing at that site on that very day, see below. Now the problem I had was which one of the two juvenile owls that we rung is our owl? 


Hang on wait a minute, I can just make out the ring and some of the numbers in this image, mmmmm I wonder if I took a closer look could I make out the digits?


And what this last image concludes is just which one of the two juveniles it is, the last three digets can be made out, 412........yes its her!!!!!


I hope you enjoyed reading this last post as much as I did doing the investigational work???   

Friday, 30 March 2012

1st & 2nd ??


As the title suggests, I managed something for the first time and second time on Thursday evening. The first was something I have witnessed on many previous occasions and luckily have captured images of it occurring, but never on video!

Let me explain........

I was staked out at my Little Owl site No 127, the male owl was sitting out in a pollarded willow tree and posing nicely for me (image below). The late evening sun was definitely in my favour, what spoilt the images was the horrid "messy" background of the twigs and branches.


Then the hen owl made an appearance, she was a little deeper and higher up in the willow than that of the male, but as this was the nearest I had ever been to her I had to get some images.

I wasn't very hopeful that I would get any "keepers" of her as she was in deep shadow, but how wrong I was! I am actually very pleased with this image (below) I really like how the slither of sun penetrates through the branches to highlight just her face, a bit mystique I think?. 


The hen owl then dropped down onto the same branch as the male allowing me to get picture of them both together.


I was so busy messing about with my camera settings I nearly missed what happened next, the male starting to get very vocal and the hen replied with some calls of her own, they were getting agitated and excitable! I'd seen this behaviour before............!

I quickly changed my settings and for the first time ever caught Little Owls mating on film. This clip (below) is just a short extraction of a very extended session!!


I stayed with the owls until it was dark, that is when I managed this image (below) with the aid of the flash. This is definitely my favourite image from the night, an uncluttered and diffused background.....just how I like it!


Well you have read down to this far and I haven't yet mentioned the "second" thing I witnessed, but I have published an image of it, did you see it? If you go back up to the "mystique" image of the hen owl (second from the top) you will see she has a ring on her right leg! Now there is no one else for miles and miles who rings Little Owls so she has to be one of mine!!!! Only the second owl that I have encountered with a ring on.

I first located this site (No 127) on the 23rd September 2010, so it is impossible she is a juvenile that was rung from 2011, therefore she is a 2010 baby, the first year I started to ring owls. From that year we ringed owls at five different sites, the nearest being 3.0km away and the furthest 6.75km away! One would assume she is from the nearest ringing site from that year, but who can tell?

I will now try to study this site on a more frequent basis with the aim of reading the numbers on her ring, not sure how the hell I will manage it but until I do her natal site will remain a mystery! 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Barn Owl

Went over to the "Barn Owl Nest Cam" site last night, I wanted to witness again the male owl coming out for his supper!

Around 30 minutes before sunset I concealed myself away in an advantageous position so I could see the new "feeding" station. Once I'd been lying in wait for a while and the light had all but gone the landowner, Glyn came out and went through the same routine he has been doing for the last month or so, two dead day owl chicks were put out on the feeding post.

Glyn had only just shut the kitchen door of the farmhouse behind him when whoosh, in came the male owl for his feast.  He'd been waiting for his grub, just as Glyn said he would be!    


I am hoping that by the time there are chicks in the nest the adults owls will come out to feed a little earlier, I will hopefully then be able to get some images without the need of the flash.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sneaking in?

After not getting out owling for the whole weekend I was just chomping at the bit to get out this evening, and lucky me the weather was just glorious. The sun was still pretty strong and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, ooh just perfect! As time was getting on I didn't want to waste too much time driving around, so I opted to visit my site No 10 in the adjacent village of Cosby.



Upon arrival I surveyed the area from distance, it wasn't a surprise to locate the resident owls out on top of the barns sunning themselves. Trouble was how was I going to get close without spooking them? As I was pondering over what tactics I should employ to get close to them the local farmer came up trundling up the track in his tractor. Now the owls here are use to the coming and going of the local farm traffic so as he passed me I tagged along behind him.  We went up the track in convoy and as soon as I was parallel with where the owls were I peeled off and parked. This worked perfectly, they didn't even give me a second glance!

The male owl was the nearest of the two, so I grabbed a few shots of him first. Shame I could only see his head and shoulders. 


I then turned my attentions to the hen owl, she was a little further away and sat motionless on the barn roof. It took a whole five minutes before she turned and faced me for this image. 


Whilst with the owls they seemed very relaxed and appeared to be totally oblivious of my presence. I think the combination of sneaking in behind the farmer, being ultra quiet and having the camo netting up at my window worked perfectly to stay undetected.

During this time the male owl did move about occasionally, as the light levels were just brilliant for higher shutter speeds I had a go at capturing some "action shots", something you don't often get with Little Owls!

Take off!  


Fly past!


As any long time followers (sufferers) of this blog will know, I have been attempting to get some "decent" action/flight shots of Little Owls for a few years now. I am very pleased with this evenings results, definitely up there with my best.........I think?



Thrice nice!

Nothing to report on the local owling front from this weekend, I wasn't able to get out!
However, there is some good news from the breeding Barn Owls where I can observe all that goes on via our camera, take a quick look at the video to see.

Just click on the small arrow to view....

video

For some reason the short clip gets a bit distorted at the end, maybe you didn't make out the three eggs? I'm a bit pushed for time right now as I need to get off to work, I'll have a look later to find some improved footage.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Ooooooo what's that?

We have been promising "live" as it happens footage from our Barn Owl nest box cam for you all to share, but due to technical difficulties only still snapshots have been possible so far!

Glyn (the guardian of the owls) has been working tirelessly to resolve the problem, he isn't there yet but a massive leap forward has been made. We are now able to upload recorded footage rather than "live", still not where we want to be but a massive technical advancement I think?

The first short clip of recorded footage (below) was taken just before, during and after the hen owl laid her first egg. She appears to be shocked when she turns around and looks at what she has produced, well you will know what I mean when you watch the clip.

 
video


This second clip is a bit x-rated, it catches them at it!

What surprises me is the amount of times the male comes in and mates with the hen, (and on top of the egg too) he's in and out all night, what stamina!

video

I thought they copulated just the once and that was that, I guess he must need to fertilise each egg individually as they are developed, either that or he must just like it!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

14:36:36

There was months of planning, then a bit of grafting and then a lot of waiting...................

Then on 21/03/12 at 14:36 and 36 seconds precisely it happened, the owl where we have the nest box camera laid her first egg!!!

This screen shot (below) was grabbed a whole 1 second after the egg was laid just as the hen owl stood up to glance around at her handy work.


Sadly we are still not able to share the live footage of the owls through this blog, but its not for the lack of trying! Somehow we will find a way of bringing it to you, but for now the occasional still image will have to suffice as an update of any developments.........sorry!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Longer days.

After what seems an age of horrible dark dismal days with terrible light that offers limited photo opportunities the conditions are now improving some what. The days are now starting to draw out which gives me the opportunity to get out after work to see whats about? Lucky for me, today was the warmest day of the year so far and as the evening sun was setting it brought out the owls!

Site No 135. 


Site No 154


Site No 120.


Although the "window of opportunity" to grab some decent images in good light is still limited it was still a a very productive evening for seeing owls as the light faded. In the 2 hours I was out 8 different Little Owls were seen across 5 sites, gotta be a good omen for things to come? 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Shafted!

It was just going to be a normal Saturday morning of late, more owl boxes required putting up, so myself and my 10 year old son Joe went over in the Landrover to pick up Col. En route to our first location there was a massive bang from underneath the Landrover!!!???

Oh my god what was that????

After pulling over as safely as possible (with no brakes!!) the underneath was examined, there was fluid leaking out onto the road from all over the place. Dam and blast the prop shaft had snapped, in doing so it had ripped out all the electric wiring to the rear and severed the brake pipes. This Landrover was going nowhere! Stranded about 10 miles from home there was only one option, ring for breakdown assistance.

A lonely sad sight (below), my beloved Landrover dead at the scene of the incident.


Colin looking out for the breakdown lorry, "I still can't see them mate!"


To be honest we only had to wait around an hour before the breakdown guy arrived.


All aboard, all loaded up off we went to the repair garage.


I am now awaiting an estimation for the cost of the repairs, there is a good chance that it may not be worth getting it back on the road and could well be scrapped! So this could have been my last trip out in my trusty mobile hide/owl box veichle, if so it is going to be sadly missed........


 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Neighbours

Sunday morning was possibly the brightest and warmest day of the year so far, shirt sleeves and shorts were almost mandatory in the near sub-continent climate.

I didn't get out as early as planned, yes you have guessed it too much alcohol the night before.......again! However, it was still a pretty early start, I was armed with fully recharged camera batteries and loads of blank memory cards, I was going to make the most of the brilliant light levels and get loads of cracking owl images..........yeah righto!

My owl prowl wasn't really going to plan after the first two hours and 6 different sites visited, only 1 owl was seen, and that was too far away for an image! Things had a turn for the better late morning though as the resident pair at my site No 92 were out sunning themselves in their nest tree. Due to how many branches were obscuring the second bird an image was impossible. And this image (below) was only possible with the aid of a bit of flash fill, the branches above the owl were causing some horrid heavy shadows. 


My run of owl sightings continued to improve when the male owl at my site No 34 was located perched in nice light on a hedgerow. Cracking colours and a nicely diffused background add to the overall ambiance of this image, shame it was a too far away to pick out a bit more detail.


Whilst watching the "hedgerow" owl I could hear another owl calling from not too far away, presumably it was his mate? But then things got confusing, the hedgerow owl flew to a nearby tree to join his already perched up mate!!?? As I grabbed an image of the pair (below) I could still hear another owl calling?   


The sound of the third calling owl didn't seem to be too far away, I listened intently and eventually came to the conclusion it was coming from a group of trees that were no more than a hundred yards away, this needed further investigation......

Luckily the group of trees where the calling was coming from was right next to the road, this allowed me the relative obscurity of the Landrover as I slowly drove towards them. I pulled up, poked my head out of the window and directly above me was a pair of Little Owls!!!

Due to the angles, height and obscuring branches involved it was terribly difficult to get a decent image. I couldn't hang around either because if things weren't tough enough I'd pulled up in the middle of the road and on a blind bend! I was just about to fire off a few images when "pap pap" oh dam a car wanted to get by!

As I pulled over to let the car behind me by I noticed a grass verge that was just about wide enough for me to park on, OK it was time to put plan B into action. I drove up the lane until a turning point was located, turned around and went back. A bit of shunting back and forth and loads of engine revving but I was on the verge, surely all the noise would have spooked the birds away? I tentatively peered out of the window and the owls were still there!!

So after all that fuss and commotion I finally got my first image of the owls at my NEW SITE No 205!!!


Whilst with my new owls I managed to grab a quick video of them, loads of distracting background noise with passing cars and an overhead microlight, but at 18 seconds playtime you can actually hear the owls calling at the nearby site No 35, but you will need to turn up your volume!


To summarise, it just goes to show how close neighbouring Little Owl territories can be. If all the necessary requirements are there, ie nest site, food source etc they will tolerate each other. I wonder how many other sites I may have missed because of the close proximity of two territories?



Sunday, 11 March 2012

An apology!

Due to circumstances beyond our control the "live" Barn Owl nest cam that I promised would be up and running on this blog for all to share now won't be, well not in the foreseeable future anyway? The problem lies with the low broadband speed at the location of the nest site.

However, Daz and I are still able to watch the birds live from the comfort of our homes, and the latest screen shot that I took this evening shows the pair of owls mating.


So if any of you technophobes out there have got any ideas on how we can stream the live images via my blog with only 2 meg of broadband speed I sure would like to hear from you..........

Slow to show!

Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous, very "spring like"  and real pleasure to be "owl n about". My plan for the day was to get around as many Little Owl sites as possible trying to confirm if there were pairs in residence prior to the breeding season. The day didn't really go to plan though as my entire time was spent at only two sites! Although the weather was absolutely perfect for owl watching they obviously didn't see it that way?

At my site No 105 some great views and photo opportunities were had....... eventually!

Male owl calling.




A tight squeeze getting out of this hole!


The exact nest location at my site No 14 has eluded me for the last four years, I knew roughly where it was because  I've seen the adults & youngsters flying around in the same area, but the nest cavity has remained a secret......until today!

The local landowner informed me he had acquired some more fields adjacent to his existing and I was free to have a drive around and explore, no further encouragement needed!! This meant that for the first time I could view the suspect nest trees from the other side. A slow drive past revealed two very "owly" looking cavities, problem was they were in different trees about 25 metres apart! The only way I could observe them both at the same time was to park up in the middle of the field and view through my binoculars.

After a bit of scanning two owls were seen out sunning themselves in the tree to my left, as I moved in closer they became nervous and disappeared into a cavity, and yes it was one of the two I'd been watching! I parked up, got the camera out and waited for them to emerge........ 

A 2 hour and 45 minute wait was finally rewarded when the first owl popped out!


Closely followed by Owl No 2.


The nest tree at my Little Owl site No 105 is situated right next to a small stream, occasionally whilst watching the owls (or in today's case waiting) I see a few different species of birds that are attracted to the water. The odd Kingfisher is seen flashing past but they don't hang around long enough for me to get an image. Whilst there yesterday this chap (below) was spotted feeding in the margins, a rare sighting indeed to this area, and what made it all the more memorable was the fact I managed to grab an image of it 

Common Sandpiper

Thursday, 8 March 2012

OWL CAM!

After months of planning and a bit of begging, stealing and borrowing we are nearly there!

Let me explain........

Last year I was very fortunate to able to monitor a local pair of Barn Owl's that had occupied a nest box inside an old outhouse. The landowner (Glynn) very kindly gave me permission to set up my hide (from a safe distance of course) and observe the pair as they went about their business. After weeks of observations the parent owls where then seen taking food (dead rats & rodents) into the barn for what we could then only presume was for their chicks?

After a week or so of continued food deliveries there was no doubt there was chicks in the nest as they could be heard begging for food, but at that time the numbers were unknown? Then one evening we waited until both the parent owls were out hunting before we went up to take a quick look, oh yes five healthy chicks!

A week or so later the local ringing group were invited over, the chicks were all removed from the nest, weighed, rung and quickly returned. Four weeks after this two of the juveniles were observed poking there heads out of the barn window, very healthy looking too!

Daz then came up with the idea of fitting a camera in the box so we could make better observations during the next breeding season. Well after months of planning the task was finally put into action a couple of weeks ago. Daz, Glynn and myself went about the task of fitting a camera in the box and then running a 100 meter lead from the barn to Glynn's house.

Last night we went LIVE for the first time, and hey presto and perfectly on cue one of the Barn Owls appeared in the box! This image below is a screen shot from the live footage as we all sat in our own home watching via the Internet, technology or what!!!! 


At the moment we are not able to stream the live footage as there are still a few technical hitches that need to be overcome, but I am sure it won't be long before it will be embedded into my blog for all to follow?

A big thanks much go to BLABY AUDIO VISUAL for their help with supplying some of the equipment and technical support.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Still there!

During last weekend I located my 205th Little Owl site, a revisit found the pair hanging around in the same area as before. Some great views where again had of the pair and the glorious sunlight offered some nice photographic opportunities.

 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Drowned Rats

After weeks of cutting, sawing, hammering, screwing and painting another load of owl boxes are now ready to find new homes. Carl (Tubbs Tyler) Colin and myself were the hard core team up for the task of erecting.  Although the image (below) only shows 12 boxes we have actually made 21 in this latest batch.


As the day progressed the atrocious weather just got worse, but the "team" knew the job had to be done so they just got on with it without moaning. There was however talk of mutiny at one stage, but the refusal to give them a lift home soon stopped that!

 Little Owl box in it's new home, won't be long I'm sure before there is an enquiry.


Tawny box among the ivy, totally irresistible....to an owl that is!


It has become a long running joke (especially with Daz) that yours truly never does anything when we are out erecting the boxes! He just does not realise how difficult it is to be the director of operations and to hold the camera!! Well Daz, just take a look at this image (below) that was taken between the showers and before you ask no it is not an optical illusion and nor has it been digitally manipulated.


Good job Col, another Tawny box in situ, and maybe a lift home!

 
Poser Tubbs, admiring yet another quality erection!


Cold and damp, but Col soldiered on......whilst I watched! 


This image of Tubbs was taken from the moderate luxury of my Landrover as I waited for them to finish, well I have to try and keep the camera dry!


Unfortunately we ran out of time and one box didn't get put up, something to do with Col going to watch a rugby match........yes I agree a lousy excuse. I don't know you can't get the staff nowadays?


Saturday, 3 March 2012

A good day got better!

Saturday morning proved to be a really busy one, I hadn't got all day because I was being picked up by Daz at 12.30pm to go up the footie and watch the mighty Leicester City in a local Derby against near rivals Coventry, boo hiss!.

Therefore I was up and out early, the morning light was good, but it was forecast to get dull and wet so time was of the essence! My main aim was to check as many local sites as possible for confirmation of pairs in residence, any sites that do have pairs then become priority for monitoring during the breeding season.

I started off by visiting the nearest Little Owls to where I live, site No 101. The owls at this site have been very elusive of late, but I needn't of worried as the resident pair were soon located in the nest tree. I was hoping for an opportunity to get an image of both of them together, it didn't happen so I had to make do with just the single bird, below. 


The next destination was my site No 58, only a single owl was noted here but at least he posed for a few seconds on top of a post for an image.


On my travels owls were also noted at my site No's 12, 21 & 22. No images were possible because the owls were too far away and I hadn't got the time to sit and wait for them to get closer.

At my site No 19 really close up views were had of the resident pair as they sat cuddled up together in a crevice, I am very pleased with the image (below ) but more importantly after making dozens of visits this is my first sighting of the owls here since April of last year. 


During the morning I also had some good news, whilst driving across some fields I chanced upon a brand new pair of Little Owls, site No 205! I've driven down this particular track on dozens of previous occasions and never seen an owl here before! I can only assume they are last years juveniles that have paired and set up a new territory? The tree I saw them in is very near to a couple of nest boxes that I erected last year, here's hoping they find one of them suitable and set up home.


Not a bad few hours really, in total 11 owls were seen, 4 pairs and three singles across 7 different sites. To then top off the good morning the afternoon was just as good, City won 2-0.........time to have a celebratory drink I think!