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, 30 June 2012

Fir tree owl.

Pretty pleased with this image and the latest header, (above), a very different setting to "the norm". The owl was soaking wet after a downpour, hence the scruffy look!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Born free!??????

After the minor setback (see previous post) I chose to ignore the idiots and resisted the temptation to respond, so instead I went out to find some WILD owls!

Two sites were visited this evening, firstly I went to my "star site" and surprisingly they weren't as co-operative tonight? Early on things were pretty much the same as on previous visits with the parent owls flying to and fro from the feeding area and then back to the nest. Things then got rather noisy over at the nest tree, the two juveniles had fledge the nest. The parents were then pre-occupied trying to chaperone them to a safe location, but the youngsters were having none of it! They were both sitting out on bare limbs squawking and begging for food. The parents could obviously sense their vulnerability and that they were sitting ducks for any would be predator. The next hour or so made for quite interesting viewing (no images though they were too far away for my 300mm lens). Both the parent owls sat on a grassy mound next to a disused rabbit burrow, they were calling frantically in an attempt to coax them down to the safe haven. I know this to be the case as last year at this site this is where the juveniles (4 of them) spent their first few weeks once they had fledged.

Although I was a good 30 yards away from all the action it then dawned on me that maybe the presence of my Landrover was causing the juveniles to be hesitant about coming down to the ground. With this thought I made a hasty retreat and left them to it, consequently only a couple of images were captured here today. 

The second location I visited, site No 45 was only just up the road, on my last visit here I strategically positioned and old spade with the hope that one of the owls may use it as a perch and one of them did, great when a plan comes together! Only the single owl was seen here although I could hear at least one juvenile begging but couldn't locate it.
I arrived here too late really, even though the light was good most of the area was soon in shade, so for once I called it an early night, well the football was on, and that proved to be a complete let down!

I have named this owl Doug, get it?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Personal Attack!

Following a couple of received emails I would just like to put the record straight!
EVERY owl image on my blog is of a wild owl, living their lives out in the countryside and free to come and go as they please. They are not tame and not my pets, (as suggested) and nor are the images taken of captive birds. I am not trying to "pull the wool" over people's eyes and conning them with phoney information.
This accusation is hurtful, disrespectful and dam right outrageous. I don't know the people involved and their reasoning for such claims, is it jealousy, spite or something else? I am committed to my subjects and after all the hard work and countless "out in the field" hours I put into my owls it is pretty damming that folk out there think I am a fake.
How many more think the same way as these two who contacted me?..............None I hope!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A local bonus!

This evening I was fulfilling a long standing promise I'd made to yet another friend who has been desperate for some close up views of Little Owls, a good evening was had too as in total we saw 13 different Little Owls, 6 adults and 7 juveniles. He was well pleased with the viewing and stated the 12 month wait was worth it, .........sorry mate but we did finally get there!

Once I'd honoured my promise and dropped him off a happy chappy I was off out again, the light was still good and there was enough time left for me to go and do a bit of photography. I'm glad I did too as some super views were had.

On my way back and only 5 minutes from home I had a really nice surprise, a new Barn Owl site. I'd always had my suspicions that they were in the area, hence the erecting of 4 nest boxes close by but I'd never seen one, until tonight.

It was located sitting at a cavity entrance that I always check whenever passsing out this way, I was actually hoping to find Little Owl but this was a much better find!  When I spotted it I didn't stop, I kept driving until I was able to pull over and get the camera out. All the camo was re-positioned at the windows and then I reversed back up and parked next to the tree. After a 20 minute wait the Barn Owl re-emerged at the entrance, by now it was nearly 10pm, although you'd never guess that judging by the image, below. ISO was at 2,000 and a shutter speed of half a second, thank goodness I had my bespoke camera clamp with me!

And you know what, the nest boxes that I have erected near to where this owl was seen haven't even been checked this year yet! It's not easy though when I have nearly a 100 boxes to monitor, getting around them all takes time, a lot of time!! I suppose I need to get my act together and make the time, guess what I am going to be doing soon?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

We got there in the end.

As per my previous post, Ben Andrew was visiting Leicestershire today, he was desperate for some Little Owl images and I was the man to help him...... apparently!! It was agreed that Ben would be at my place for 7am, not the earliest of starts but I was pretty confident that my star site would produce the goods no matter what time we visited.

Ben has been waiting quite a while to visit and I think he was really chomping at the bit because a late text message on Friday asking if it was OK if he came earlier!!! I was OK with that and we re-arranged for 6am, surprise surprise Ben was even early than that! After a quick catch up and a sweet cup of tea we loaded up the Landrover and off we set.........NOT!

The beast was dead, no matter what we tried she wasn't going to start, the battery was good and dead!Ben was holding up but I could sense his disappointment, if I'd have been going out on my own I would have gave up and gone back to bed, but beings as we'd had this day planned for such a long time I felt compelled to keep trying. As a last resort we drove up to the local retail park where I bought some new jump leads and just in case a bit more fuel. Finally the beast came to life, but it was now 7.30am.......so much for the early start!

Anyhow, after that duff start things got better, the owls at the "mega site" came up trumps and a good two to three hours of excellent views were had. 

Ben took that many images I was amazed, I am not kidding his camera sounded like a machine gun going off at times (it didn't bother the owls though). I reckon I took around 200 images, I reviewed and deleted any rubbish as I went along. Ben deleted none, he was far too busy snapping away and I wouldn't be surprised if he took over 600 images. Not sure if he had any keepers (surely so after taking that many) because we didn't have time to review what he had captured as he needed to go once we had finished as he was going to a gig in the evening.

At the time of writing this post I still haven't gone through the "small" amount of images that I took, but here is a selection that have been processed so far.........

I am very please with what I captured, Ben must have dozens of quality images, it's the rule of averages! I expect it will take him a good while to go through them all but I am sure he will do so as quick as he can and then post them on his blog/website.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Keeping a clear head.

Friday night and for a change I didn't go to the pub!!!!!!!

Instead I went to check out a few owl sites in readiness for the visit on Saturday of Ben Andrew, a very talented bird/wildlife Photographer who pushes the boundaries when it comes to the composition of his images, some of them are really away from the norm, and I'm a big fan!

Ben has been waiting for over a year for me to invite him to Leicestershire to come and have a go at some Little Owl shots, so after waiting all that time I couldn't disappoint him could I?

Again I visited my favourite site No 87, the light was poor most of the time but the owls were showing and a few images were captured when the clouds cleared.

Here's hoping that all my ground work will pay off and Ben will have a good day, only time will tell.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Playing the long game.

Yesterdays evening weather was by far the best we have had in ages, clear skies, no wind and golden light, getting out owling was a must!

There was really only one location for me to visit, my site No 87. I have been "working" this site for over 3 years now and the resident owls have become very tolerant of my Landrover. Dozens and dozens of visits, firstly at distance (100 yards) and as the months rolled by I worked myself nearer and now I can regularly get with tens of feet of them, the slow deliberate tactics are now definitely paying off.

The owls share the field where they live with dozens of sheep, a few cows and a couple of horses. I'm convinced that they just see the Landrover as a very large and somewhat noisier four legged cousin of them? In order to have good views and in turn get close I must drive around ultra slow and stay concealed/hidden behind the camo net curtains (that are up at every window) at all times, not letting the owls see me or any dodgy looking shadows is the secret to the close encounters. Getting out is an absolute no no, not even at distance as if they associated humans with the Landrover it would immediately scare them off and all that time gaining their trust would be lost........forever!
Once I was in position the owls were soon showing, and better than usual. The male owl is normally the bravest and comes the closest but the hen owl was in on the game tonight too! They were coming very close at times, just perfect as I'd got my new 300mm lens with me again, not really needed in these brilliant lighting conditions but opening up the aperture to F2.8 gives that super out of focus background, albeit the images do become a little softer but a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

Its not very often you get a chance to photograph a pair together, especially on the ground!

Once I'd bagged a few portrait images it was time to try and nail some "action" shots, it's time consuming and very frustrating, there was lots of failures but very satisfying when an "acceptable" one is captured. Actually "acceptable"is a terrible underestimation, incredibly rewarding and a loud yeeeeehaaaaa is more appropriate!  

I think this "frozen action" image (below) is my best yet of a Little Owl, no blur, in focus, good light, no noise and a nice uncluttered and defused back ground, bless my new lens!

All the above images have been cropped somewhat, but I was beginning to get the hang of it and in this final image, below (click on it for larger view) I zoomed in from 150mm to 300mm and caught it completely in the frame, IE.......no cropping!

Oooooh was that skill or just plain luck? 

Who cares I got it!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Little Owls in flight.

Ever since I got hooked into this owling/photography lark I have always had a Little Owl flight shot high on my priority list. Countless times the opportunity has been presented right there in front of me, but there is always a reason (excuse) as to why it wasn't nailed. Although I have managed loads of LO flight shots I have never been completely happy, either too distant, a lack of detail, wings blurry, slightly out of focus, my camera kit is not up to it, or maybe the most likely, I lack the skills.

Unlike flight shots of Short Eared (SEO) or Barn Owl (BO) which are dead easy in comparison where for starters both those owls are much bigger than the LO, they glide effortlessly whilst out hunting allowing time to "lock on" before the image is captured, the Little Owl (LO) is like a mini missile so things are already harder. The SEO has a huge wing span, at least double if not treble the size of the LO, hmmm getting a lot tougher now. But it doesn't end there, both the SEO and BO normally float around well clear of the ground offering better contrast and are easier to pick out, the LO flies low and very close to the ground. Both of the larger owls tend to fly in a straight line, the LO has an undulating flight (up and down). Both the SEO & the BO tend to be predictable, what I mean by this is once up and flying they can stay up for quite a while, the LO only flies in short bursts so knowing when it is going to take off is very much a waiting game and when it finally happens it is all over in a matter of seconds, are you still with me?

So lets just recap before we continue, Little Owls are smaller, fly faster, fly lower, have an undulating flight, blend in with the background and are very unpredictable, easy hey!

OK, lets get back to my venture out on Saturday morning, I have been watching a certain LO site for some weeks now, and to be fair at the expense of visiting other sites. I have persevered with the birds here because a situation has arisen which I believe will offer me the chance of that dam elusive flight shot? The pair here have bred quite successfully over the last two years in the same tree, but for some reason this year they have moved to a different nest tree. In the new tree there is a nice cavity of which I have seen at least two juveniles poking their heads out, but the adults are still using the old nest tree for roosting purposes. The two trees are around 30 metres apart and obviously there is a lot of flying activity between them as the adults feed their growing brood. On each visit I have been painstakingly moving my Landrover nearer and nearer as to gain the confidence of the owls, I have now got to the stage where I am parked right in between the two trees and the owls just fly around me! I got to this stage around a week ago and the flight shots were attempted, with glorious failure! I thought the missing link was not having a quick enough lens to pick them up in flight as they came towards me, but that is not the case with the F2.8 lens, they are still just too fast! I even tried pre-focusing on a certain area and as they flew into the "zone" rattle off a few shots. This tactic works to some degree but they are always slightly out of focus, the depth of field (DOF) is too shallow. OK I can increase the DOF and have a better chance but at the sacrifice of shutter speed, I just can't win. I am sure if I persevered with this method, especially in better light I would sooner or later get a decent image but it is a long shot, I needed a different plan.

After many hours whilst waiting for the owls to come out I had plenty of thinking time on how best to improve my chances, and what I came up with was plan "B". I was going to position a perch in between the two trees, Little Owls love perches and could I tempt them to land on it?

On my next visit (Saturday) plan "B" was put into operation, I'd got my eye on a piece of farm machinery that I drove by every time I'd visited. Apparently it was part of a combine harvester, it was free standing, bright red, around 3 feet high, made of steel and was very heavy, it was just perfect!

The perch was placed between the trees and I then retreated and parked up the Landrover at a comfortable distance for my 300mm lens. Whilst I waited for the owls to go on a feeding spree I set up for "the shot". Manual mode was selected, I wanted a shutter speed of 4000 of a second, this would freeze the wings without any motion blur, F6/7 was preferred so as to give enough depth and allow for the whole bird to be in focus whilst defusing the background and as low ISO as possible, well that was what I wanted!!! It started to cloud over and the rain shortly followed, brilliant! Sacrifices had to be made, although the light was constant it was poor so my settings had to be adjusted accordingly, I finally compromised on 3000 sec shutter speed, F4 and an ISO of 800.

After a few hours of waiting they were out, flying too and fro, over and around my perch but not on it......dam! Surely they couldn't resist the temptation to check it out? Eventually the male owl DID land on the perch, on and off in a flash, I missed him but never mind my plan was coming together. The ultimate shot was to capture him just as he was coming into land, I pre focused just before the post and waited for him to land again, and he did..........time and time again! 


A lot of rubbish was captured as it was hit and miss to which angle he would approach the post, but I got some "keepers", isn't it just brilliant when a plan comes together, I am over the moon with some of the results.

Can't wait to go again when the light is better!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Barn Owl Ringing

In the week it was decided that the Barn Owl Chicks where we have the "owl box cam" were at just about the right size to be rung. So on Wednesday evening we met up with Andy Smith and his young assistant, Lucy to perform the task.

Originally five eggs were laid with the first hatching on March 21st, the other four hatched over the next few days and at that early stage the difference in their size was quite obvious. Sadly along the way one of the chicks (the fifth) was seen lying in the corner of the box, there was no sympathy shown by the mother as she ripped it to bits and fed it to the remaining chicks! However, as time passed by and plenty of food offerings by the parents (mainly the male) the smaller of the chicks soon caught up and now there is hardly any size difference in the four of them.

Lucy holding three of the chicks just after they had been rung.

A nice close up of all four together (below) before they were safely returned to the box. They were all very well behaved and the whole operation from start to finish took around 15 minutes.

We will continue to monitor their progress via the "owl cams" and it is my guess that in only a couple of weeks from now these beauties will be off on their own gracing the countryside of south Leicestershire, here's to wishing them well.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Boulders and babies!

Once I'd finished work today I was undecided as whether to go out with the camera gear or stay in and watch the footie, Ireland were playing Spain? A quick check on the weather forecast and would you believe more rain was due in a few hours time and then all day tomorrow. I wasn't too bothered about the rain tomorrow as England are playing and I am certainly not missing that game against Sweden, so that was it my mind was made up, birding tonight and footie tomorrow.

The new 300mm F2.8 was with me again, I'm getting use to it now although a little extra reach would be useful at times, but that would empty my pocket of at least 10 grand so we'll just have to make do for now! I am having to employ a bit more field craft now to get nearer to the subjects than I did when I was using the 500mm, otherwise they really are dots in the distance! Still cropping my final results too much so a bit more stealth and patience is required to get nearer and some full frame images.

A couple of Little Owl sites were visited and a waiting game resulted at both of them. All the time I was waiting the weather continued to deteriorate and finally the wind got up and the rain started to come down. The wait was worth it though and I was rewarded with the male owl (at the first site) showing for around 10 minutes and he used some nice unusual perches.......rocks!!

Every cloud has a silver lining as they say and that certainly is true when it comes to the new lens, the large F2.8 aperture comes into its own when the conditions are not so favourable. The light gathering capabilities are unreal, the images taken tonight would not of been possible with the old 500mm F6.3 as it was too dull. The last image (above) of a juvenile Little Owl at the second site was taken at 9.30pm, not bad considering it was tucked right underneath the branches of tree, nearly dark and raining.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Still trying trying to get the grip of my new 300mm lens, a few images from last night.......


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Pied Beauties

No owling was conducted over the weekend, instead I took a break from the little hooters (well screeches really if you want to get technical) and headed off over to mid Wales. The intended quarry...............Pied Flycatchers.

I have never manager to get up close and personal with these gems before so when an invite came in from Mick & Kev I jumped at the chance. I first met Mick at the Birdfair in Rutland a couple of years ago and since then the odd email has bounced between us. Until the weekend I'd never met Kev but we often comment on each others images that are posted on the Birdguides website.

We arranged to meet at the private location on Sunday morning at 7.00am, it was a three hour journey from Leicester which meant setting off at 3.30am! Lucky for me Daz was coming along and he offered to drive, oh yes!

Upon arrival Daz and I were in awe, the setting was simply stunning, high mountains peaks, deep wooded valleys, flowing streams everywhere and in the middle of it all a welsh long house. Mick has been the guardian of this gorgeous site for a number of years and the nest box scheme he runs gathers momentum year on year. The boxes he has erected are being used mainly by Common Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers and lucky for us at two of the boxes there was plenty of activity because the Pieds chicks had just hatched.

Mick was very prepared for our visit, two hides had been erected the day before at each box that had the chicks in them. Daz went into one and I the other, after an hour Mick came and collected us both because whilst we were busy getting our first batches of images he was cooking us breakfast!! The local bacon and the leek and apple sausages were just yummy. Just as we were wiping our plates clean Kev arrived, we chewed the fat for an hour or so before getting back down to the business of bird photography.

During the day we swapped around and took our turn in the different hides, the weather was OK and I was really pleased with some of the images I managed with my new 300mm lens. The males seemed to be the bolder birds, they got use to the hides very quickly and would perch up a lot around the box. Although the females still made regular feeding visits they didn't hand around and pose like the males.

Pied Flycatcher (male).

And finally a female perched long enough for an image too!

Many thanks to Mick & Kev, you guys looked after us very well.........top blokes!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Micro Adjustment

If ever there was a day when I should have stayed at home and done some DIY rather than go out owling, yesterday was that day! I am pretty sure that most of the UK got similar weather to that here in Leicestershire.........bloody awful!

But I needed to get out, no not to find more juvenile Little Owl's but to try out my new lens, again? Having tried it for the first time the day before yesterday I found that going back through my images that every one of them was slightly out of focus or a bit fuzzy, not something you want with a new bit of kit. OK the conditions were bad and the howling winds were not conductive for pin sharp images but every one of them to be like it?

So, was it down to the conditions, my technique or was there something wrong with my camera/lens combination? I set up a test at home, good light and no wind so the poor conditions were totally eliminated out of the equation. After dozens of test shots at varying focal lengths between 120-300mm @ F2.8 I came to the conclusion the the lens/camera combination was front focusing, which basically means the focus plain was nearer to me than the subject I'd locked onto, resulting in slightly out of focus subjects.

Luckily my camera body, the Canon 7D has a micro adjustment facility, so more test shots were conducted and finally I was happy with an adjustment of +12. Every image came out pin sharp at exactly the point I focused on. I then went through all the test shots again only this time with the 2 x converter attached (taking the lens to a maximum 600mm @ F5.6), this combination seemed OK so no adjustment was necessary.

Although I mentioned earlier I didn't need to test the new settings out on Little Owls I thought I'd try and find some as they are my main subject and it would give me some good comparisons to previous images.

Now remember, my lense does not have a image stabiliser so the howling wind that was buffering the Landrover has to be taken into account as does the low light and slower shutter speeds. This juvenile Little Owl (below) duly obliged for some test shots and sat motionless. Focused on the eye and shot at 300mm/ F2.8 and only a very slight crop. Much better results than before, I was now a happy man! 

The adult owl came and landed on a low down post, again it sat motionless whilst I attained an image. Shot @ 300mm/F4. A slightly heavier crop than the first image but still pretty sharp I think? Shame about the gate in the foreground!

The same adult owl with the same settings as above but a different post. Further away from me this time hence a much heavier crop, not quite so sharp but I am still happy!

And finally, a different subject (Brown Hare) and with the 2 x converter attached, focused on the eye and shot @ 443mm/F6.3, pretty good now!

So when the better weather finally arrives there are NO excuses..........not any more!!!!!