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!!!

Monday, 30 April 2012

Barnie Babies...

The weekend was a complete washout, high winds and driving rain kept me firmly indoors. This gave me a great opportunity to catch up with the Barn Owls where we have a nest box cam.

I sat and watched the goings on from the comfort of my warm and dry office, although there wasn't much to see really as the hen owl just sat there not moving. So during this period of total inactivity I went back through some of the recording from earlier that day. All the recordings were the same, the hen owl just sitting there static! Then I started viewing a recording from 4.48am and to my surprise the hen owl wasn't to be seen, but look what was then in view.....3 chicks!  The screen shot below shows what appears to be a clump of white fluff in the middle, but be assured there is at least 3 chicks there and a yet to hatch egg.

I now understand why she hasn't been moving, she was keeping her little brood warm. Although the weather conditions certainly don't favour the Barn Owls in their hunting at the moment they seem to be doing OK.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Jewel in the crown.

I have been a bit lazy of late, maybe the longest I have gone between posts on this blog? For good reason though, rain rain and yet more rain! It has made it almost impossible to get out after work unless that is one is equipped with a frog mans suit!

Anyway, today (Saturday) it was time to brush off the cobwebs and get out there come rain or shine, and guess what? Yep it was the former! 

Several owl sites were visited and nothing seen, maybe my snorkel and flippers had put them off! The day wasn't all doom and gloom though, as I was flitting about from site to site on the  Leicestershire/Northants boarder when I chanced upon a small passage of Wheatear. Difficult to say just how many there were because they wouldn't stay still long enough to get an exact count but a conservative guess would be eight, or was that nine, maybe even ten.....?

Of the group two of them seemed to be more confiding than the rest, it was these two (below), a male and a female of which I managed my best and closest images. At first I kept driving along the track that was parallel to the field they were in, this worked to a certain extent but they were a bit flighty and the quality of the images were poor!

A different approach was then employed, I parked up and waited for them to come to me, it finally worked but it was a longer waiting game than I anticipated! I am really pleased with how my efforts turned out, they are by far the best images I have ever achieved of this species.

Wheatear - Female

Wheatear - Male

Wheatear - Male

Wheatear - Male

I was about to call it a day when I remembered that my "team" Leicester City were playing their last game of the footie season away at "Dirty Leeds". I tuned in the radio to the live commentary of the game, this relieved the boredom somewhat so I decided to stay put a while longer with the Wheatears.

And what a great decision that turned out to be as another "quality" species (well for me it is anyway!) and the jewel in the crown of the day was spotted skulking around in the undergrowth........a Whinchat!!!!!

I have only ever seen a Whinchat on a handful of previous occasions, and this was the first that I had located myself. The single bird, a male seemed far more nervous than the Wheatear and didn't come as close. However, I was thrilled to have found it and very pleased to have got my first ever image of one, albeit distant.
Whinchat - Male

A cracking mornings birding and unbelievably not an owl seen! It was then made all the better as my beloved Leicester City beat Leeds 2-1..........get in there you blue boys!!!!!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Wasted weekend...

There wasn't much time to get out and about over the last weekend, I'd been tasked with finishing off all the DIY projects that had been started and not finished during the last few months, well last few years if I must be honest......its a bloke thing!

Anyway, after being a good boy I rewarded myself with a few free hours late on Sunday afternoon to go out. My first stop off was to see if the local Redstart was still hanging about? A three hour wait in my hide nothing was seen, I was resigned to the fact it must have moved on so with only an hour or so of light left I called it a day and decided to go and see if any owls were out.  

I flitted from site to site and saw nothing, then to save the day and to get my "owling fix" I located the resident pair at my site No 107. The male owl was basking in what little sun was left on top of a haystack and the hen owl was caught coming out of the nest cavity.   

I am hoping to get out and do a bit more owling in the evenings during the coming week or so, that is if the "inspector" passes off my DIY projects..........Mmmmmm what are the chances of that?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Redstart re-visited!

Couldn't resist going back for another look at the male Redstart, better conditions today!

Friday, 13 April 2012


The Leicestershire birding jungle drums were beating soundly this afternoon, a real gem of a bird in the form of a Black Winged Stilt had dropped into Rutland Water, although an excellent tick for most county recorders I wasn't able to make the 20 or so mile trip to see it!  

Then another text messages came through with news of a male Restart that was showing well at the village of Froelsworth. Now normally I don't go pursuing "other peoples" birds as I prefer to find my own but as this was very local I was compelled to go and have a look.

After a bit of a mix up and some wasted time as to whether the bird was north or south of the identified location I finally latched on to the three other birders whom were looking for it. Finally we re-located it and I got some superb views. 

It was certainly a handsome bird and although not an owl I really enjoyed watching this little beauty feeding avidly around a pile of horse manure.

I have been lucky enough to make at least an annual sighting of a Redstart in Leicestershire over the  past 4 or 5 consecutive years, the last time was back in August 2011 where a chance encounter was made whilst photographing a pair of Little Owls, see below.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Better than pathetic??

I went back over to my latest new site last night (No 209), my purpose was to improve on the first image I managed (see previous post) which was to say the least poor!

The condition weren't really any better, overcast, drizzly and the owl was still in heavy shadow but rather than take the image from distance like last time I made the most of being allowed into the field which hosts the nest tree. The Landrover was positioned around 20 feet away and then the waiting game commenced. The male owl was high up in the tree and no images were possible, but eventually the hen owl popped out of the nest cavity to have a look at me which resulted in the image below.

Still not the image I am after but much improved on my first pathetic attempt!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Good light and bad!

It has been just over 4 years now since I picked up my first digital camera, it has been a massive learning curve and almost every time I take it out I learn something new. But there is one thing for sure, good light goes a long way in making and average image a better image.

Therefore when ever I am out I will always take time to work out where and when would be the best positions so as to make the light work in my favour. Sometimes getting into a better position means a longer wait and maybe no images at all, but it is a gamble of which I am prepared to take as the final outcome is nearly always more rewarding.

A typical example of this is the two images below, both were taken this evening and believe it or not within 30 minutes of each other. In the first image almost everything was perfect, light, background and the closeness of the owl. The only other major variable that could spoil such an opportunity was the camera operator! I knew I could have positioned myself at this owl site where there would have been far more chances of getting an image but the light would have been coming from behind the owl, something I didn't want. So in this case  I worked myself into a position where I knew there was not going to be too many chances of getting a decent image as the owl didn't land on this particular perch very often, but today the gamble paid off as the owl obliged for a few fleeting seconds.   

The second image was taken at a brand new site, No 209 near to the village of Newbold Verdon. My mate Hoodie gave me the heads up on this particular site a few days ago, cheers mate! I know he perhaps won't believe me but I have stopped and looked in this tree on many previous occasions, well you have to with a fantastic owly crevice like that.

Anyway, the light levels were still pretty good when the new owl was spotted, but due to the sun being in totally the wrong direction it was in complete shade. They were really horrid conditions to get decent image let alone a record shot. I had to bump up the ISO to 1600 which allows for a lighter image but then the image gets all nasty with a grainy effect, as you can see for yourself?

But as they say beggars can't be choosers and tonight this was all about getting my first image of an owl at a new site.  

I have now studied the site and worked out what time of day would be best for photography purposes, but what this meant was I'd have to be in the adjacent field! Then my task was to find out who owned the land and could permission be obtained for access?

After a bit of networking I met Tom and his Dad Dave, and may I say a couple of very hospitable gents they turned out to be! Access was granted, for me and for my Landrover.......what a result!

But then things got even better, a second Little Owl was seen, brilliant a pair! But that's not where things ended, it turns out that Dave has had breeding Barn Owls in his back garden too, so a deal was struck. Dave will allow me access to his field (and he gave me a key to the lock!) and in turn I will be putting him a brand new box up in his barn...........a good deal or what?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Bank Holiday........Part 2

I had planned to make the most of this Bank Holiday Monday and have another owlathon, but I had second thoughts as a couple of blog followers were kind enough to pre-warn me that the weather was going to be awful! So with that in mind I sneaked out over the weekend instead, here are a few images I was lucky enough to capture whilst out......

Little Owl in flight, a terribly difficult piece of action to capture, I'm pretty pleased with this effort though!

A re-visit to one of my "newer" sites, No 205 near to Gilmorton found both the resident owls sheltered up in a hollow tree. I was able to get the Landrover very close without spooking them and this image (below) was the result.

Although the owls at my site No 154 were out and very active I couldn't get very close to them! So I offer this "arty" image (below) of the hen owl sitting in a hollow tree trunk. 

I try to avoid "back lit" images when ever possible, highlights and defining shadows are lost leaving an image looking "flat". Although it wasn't sunny it was still pretty bright and coming from behind the owl (below) at my site No 135.     

I have found that Little Owls don't like the wind, so when it is windy searching for them is made all the more easier if you look on the sheltered side of trees and hedgerows. Employing this method the Little Owl at site No 136 was found with ease. He was roosting on the topside of a small crevis and all fluffed up to help retain his warmth.  

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Bank Holiday, part 1.......

Yippee, a whole day off work, the weather was reasonable and I'd got my Landrover back! There was nothing else for it, an owlathon was on the cards. I hadn't been over to the eastern side of my monitoring area so far this year, so that is where I headed.

First stop was at my site No 169, the roadside nest tree normally makes it quite easy to locate the owls, but not today! A bit of searching soon had the first one within my sights though, it was in the next tree along sheltering out of the wind. From my position I wasn't able to get an image so I drove off down the lane, turned around and then pulled up on the opposite side of the road parallel with the owl. It wasn't spooked, it just sat there seemingly quite content to be tucked away out of the wind. 

The male owl then put in an appearance, he'd landed on a gate post a little further down the lane. From the angle he was at the camo netting I had up at the window wasn't  concealing me, he was giving me a proper stare! A couple of shots were rattled off and then that was that, he was gone!

Next site was my No 176 near to Launde Abbey, only a single owl was seen here and he was dead easy to find! He was on the same branch and in the same tree he is always to be found in. I spent a good 30 minutes parked up underneath him and in all that time he didn't budge!

At site No 186 some brilliant close up views were had, it took a while for the owl to show though. From previous visits I knew the owls favour two different trees to perch in, and in between them is a solitary post that they used. Near to this is where I positioned myself and eventually my patience was rewarded.

And to cap a pretty good day another new site was located, No 208! I was venturing along a lane  that I don't recall going down before near to Launde Abbey and then into view came a roadside tree that just oozed Little Owl. It had all the attributes required, isolated, mature, riddled with holes, some nice low down hunting posts and nearby pasture.  As it was time for something to eat I pulled up, started to fill my face whilst watching the tree.

Barely half of my sausage roll had been consumed when an owl appeared!!! Well at least I think it was an owl, it was a very fleeting glimpse on the far side of the tree and nearly 90% obscured by the branches. I needed no further encouragement, the picnic was put on hold and the Landrover re-positioned into a nearer gateway. After that I lost sight of the owl, unperturbed the camo screen was erected and my camera was at the ready, the waiting game was now on!

The next hour passed without occurrence, nothing was seen or heard, I was beginning to doubt if  what I saw earlier was an owl? A call of nature was now becoming a pressing requirement, I dare not get out of the Landy as that would deffo kill any chance of the owl showing itself. I weighed up the options and I decided it would cause less disturbance by driving off, seeing to my needs and then returning.

I was only gone around 5 minutes and on my return the owl was there!!! Firstly it sat perched in the tree and then on a wooden fence, I managed to capture images of both the used perches (below) before it again disappeared. 

Yep it was a good day, and what's even better is another bank holiday is with us this Monday, bring on part 2.......

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Harris Hawk?

Driving back home this afternoon I saw this..........

After studying the image and trawling through the Internet, my conclusion is it is a Harris Hawk? Definitely not a UK species so what the heck was it doing in a roadside tree in sleepy Leicestershire???

My only conclusion is it must be an escaped bird, especially when you look at the suspicious looking branch in the lower left part of the image, a leather Jessie maybe?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Catching up!

A quick catch up from last weekend & Monday night.......

The male Barn Owl continues to come for the "free offerings" at the box cam sight. The hen owl now sits tight on 5 eggs, we were hoping for six but I don't think that is going to happen as it has now past the expected laying of an egg every other day!

Over at the village of Leire the male Little Owl at my site No 188 was located out patrolling the perimeter of his territory.

At times the light levels were excellent which allowed for higher shutter speeds that then enabled the capture of this flight shot.

At site No 91 the Little Owls were distant (below), but it was good news as the resident pair are still holding their territory and still using the box that that I put up for them which they have so far successfully raised two broods. 

On a more sour note, the local land owner informed me that the two Barn Owl boxes that I have made and erected at this site don't look like they will be used this year? He found a dead Barn Owl on the side of the road, a casualty of a collision with a car!

The Little Owls at site No 14 took some finding, but they are still there! They have re-located to a new nest site across the other side of the field. Only the male owl was seen (image below) so I now suspect that the egg laying has started? 

A couple of new sites have also been located recently.
Site 206 near to the village of Hallaton was located a week or so ago although I forgot to mention it!
This was a double referral site from Dick Jones, a local birder and "Mr T" (John Turner) who both kindly informed me of a Little Owl sighting whilst they were watching over a Short Eared Owl site, thanks guys.

So at the earliest opportunity I went to have a look for myself, the owls were easily located, just where I was told they would be! Sadly no images as they were too far away, but I am sure it won't be long before I capture a picture or two of them as they are now high up on my list of sites to re-visit? 
New Little Owl site No 207 has also been tracked down, thanks must go again to "Mr T" who pointed me in the right direction. A pair are in residence here too and they didn't take much finding! I was surveying the general area and a single Ash Tree in the corner of the field captured my attention. It was situated near a small carrel type area with some nice posts and an adjoining hedgerow.


This was the closest view (below) during the time spent there, poor light and rain didn't help in getting a decent image, nice posture though.