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, 17 December 2012

Tawny Owl

I have been waiting an awful long time to get a Tawny Owl image in the daylight, the conditions were challenging but I am well pleased with the results from the one and only opportunity I've had in 2012!

There were two of them tucked up inside this hole, now I know where this site is I'll be heading back next weekend, cheers John!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The morning after.

No birding of any sort was conducted on Saturday because it was an out and out boozing day. We were celebrating Daz's 50th and needless to say we were going to do it properly! We "got on it" at midday and come 8.00pm we were all done for! There'd been countless pints of lager sunk and in between we sampled a few glasses of red wind and towards the end of the day we went up to the top shelf and finished off with a few tots of rum.

Ooooh my head was hurting this morning, but regardless of the suffering Daz and I ventured out into the fresh air to do a bit of birding. First up I treated Daz to his first ever Waxwing encounter, the local site that I have been keeping a vigil on produced the goods again with 10 birds showing well.

There was no excuses about the conditions, it was almost perfect and loads of images were taken but with my shaking hands most ended up being fuzzy!

Also during the morning an hour was spent checking out a local Barn Owl site, the Barn Owl didn't show but as a consolation the resident Little Owl put in an appearance. It just popped out of a hole in the roof where a slate is missing, looked around and then just as quick disappeared again! 

To round the day off we checked out a few other likely looking Barn Owl sites but none were seen. Our final destination of the day was the site where the newest Barn Owl box was put up, see previous post from Dec 3rd "another owl box".

We walked down to the box to check it out (more in hope than anything else) and there in the grass directly beneath the entrance we found a single owl pellet! We quickly moved back to a safe distance to observe. Then just as it was getting dark a pure white face appeared at the box entrance, yessssss a Barn Owl!!! It was far too dark to take any images but it didn't matter, this was just the tonic we needed to take away our hangovers, and to think that this box was only put up 13 days ago, knowing that it has been occupied already was very rewarding.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Wonderful Norfolk Barnies.

I made the most of my day off of work yesterday by re-visiting the north Norfolk coast. I was on the road for 5am with the intention of being there for first light. Barn Owls were the initial quarry and if everything went to plan I was hoping a hunting bird could be located before it got too bright? 
I'd recently been in contact with Doug McFarlane regarding the Norfolk Barn Owls as he is a frequent visitor to the area and knows it well. For some reason the local Barnie's tend to be seen out hunting in the daylight hours on a more regular basis than here in Leicestershire? Doug had very kindly given me the heads up on some likely locations (cheers mate) so after plotting them all on a map off I went. The roads en route were empty and good progress was being made, the sat nav was telling me that I was due to be at the first site a good 30 minutes before dawn, excellent that allowed me enough time to stop off for a hearty, (but not very healthy) breakfast!
I was in situ at the first location just as the sun started to creep over the horizon, although chilly it looked as though the light was going to be in my favour first thing.  Wow, the area looked just perfect as the early golden light lit up the whole area, there was lots of waste/scrubland, a meandering river and total solitude, all that was needed now was a Barnie!
I'd been there huddled against a hedgerow surveying the area for around 20 minutes and no owls were seen, although by now it was very bright and excellent for photography it was also bitterly cold. The wind was harsh and cutting straight through me, I needed to warm up so it was back to the car for some shelter. It was at this point that I reluctantly gave up with this location and moved on to another of Doug's referred sites. The story was the same at the second, it look great but no owls? Maybe the high winds were putting them off? On the way to the third site I took a wrong turn, and how fortunate that turned out to be! As I was conducting a three point turn in a gateway my first Barnie of the day was spotted. It was distant but looking a the terrain I calculated that if it continued to hunt the marginal edge of this vast field it could make its way around to me? I got myself prepared and again I crouched down low in the hedgerow and waited. Everything then worked to perfection,  the owl got nearer and nearer and eventually it was with range of my 300mm. It was so pre-occupied with hunting for prey it didn't even give me a glance as a few shots were rattled off!

Its next move was to go up and over the adjacent hedgerow, a tentative glance around and I could see that it had landed on a post right next to where I'd parked my car. It perched there for a few minutes whilst scanning the nearby scrub for prey, I hesitantly moved very slightly and crack, a twig broke under foot, instantly it turned its head and looked straight at me. I didn't try to get any nearer for fear of spooking it so I settled for this distant shot, sadly it was in the shade, doooh!   

It didn't seemed bothered about my presence and carried on surveying to ground around it, I think me being backed into the hedgerow helped? Eventually it took flight and came back into the field I was in and continued to hunt the field margin. It was now flying away from me but after 10 minutes it made its way around the whole perimeter of the field and now a second pass by was on the cards. Only this time it came even closer and just as it came within range it lifted up a little higher and turned midair, it caught the golden sunlight just perfectly.


It was an all but too brief encounter really but excellent whilst it lasted. Seeing these magnificent creatures out in good light is a very rare occurrence in deed, especially where I live in Leicestershire! Another "daytime" hunting owl was located later in the day at a different location but before I could nail any images it drifted too far away. I will deffo be making a re-visit to Norfolk and these two new sites as soon as circumstances allow, its just brilliant!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

More Jays

A number of posts ago I mentioned that I'd been working on a couple of other projects away from the owls, the first being Kingfishers and the second being Jays. The Kingfisher project has yet to produce any results but after a very slow start the Jay project is now gathering momentum.  Originally I selected a secluded location that had the most important requisite.....OAK TREES. The next part of the plan was to create a "feeding table" and this would be topped up every couple of days with a variety of nuts.
Up until yesterday all that I had seen there were Magpies, Crows & Squirrels. I was en route to an appointment and did my usual quick stop off to keep the feed topped up, and to my amazement as I was driving off a Jay appeared! That was it, an early lunch was to be had and I parked up the car and waited. I didn't have long due to other commitments but that wasn't an issue, the Jays came back down to the feed almost straight away. There was three in total and they must have been hungry as they demonstrated a bolder approach than I have ever seen before. The light wasn't very good but hey I am not moaning as these are by far the best Jay images I have ever captured. I did do a quick post with a few images late last night but I didn't have much time as I was off to the pub! So this morning I have had time to go through the other images and here they are. 

It was a very exciting ten minutes for me, absolutely brilliant when a long term plan comes to fruition, OK lets go and get some Kingfisher images now!

Friday, 7 December 2012


Most of us "birding types" have that certain image of a particular species that in our minds eye we would love to nail a picture of, in my case the Jay was my quarry. It has always been a mythological bird in my life, you hear that it is an easy bird to see if you go to the right place at the right time of year, but so far it has kept its distance from me! I have been very fortunate to capture thousands of owl images that the every day folk would die for and I'd gladly trade some of those encounters for seeing some Jays. After five years of trying to get get close to them they have always proved to be elusive. I have tried on many occasions to get a "record shot" of this "shy away from the camera" bird and failed every time, but I wasn't going to give up that easily!
This year we have been graced with a continental influx of them into the UK, so no better time than now! A few birding friends have beaten me to "getting up close and personnel" and achieved some stunning images (well done guys) but this has only given me more encouragement.  After countless visits and thirteen quids worth of peanuts at my feeding station at last it had a few visits, and believe it or not whilst being graced with their presence I had my camera with me!  The light wasn't brilliant as it was late in the day but these are by far the best images I have achieved to date.  

I will no doubt be visiting these gems again over the next few days,  I know it is a long shot but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some better light and hopefully some better images?

Monday, 3 December 2012


I gave in, I wasn't going to bother with them this winter but beings as there are so many in Leicestershire at the moment I went to have a look. The light was for ever changing, but I am happy(ish) with the results.
It was a real challenge but I wanted some flight shots, they were a little too high which resulted in heavier cropping than I would have liked, but my first ever proper in flight images of Waxwings.
And no set of Waxwing images should be without the customary "berry shot".
On the way home a new Barnie site was located, a couple of very shoddy record shots were achieved, the light was atrocious!


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Another Owl Box.

A couple of weeks ago whilst erecting a Barn Owl box at a private location I chanced upon a pile of 50 x long wooden boxes, there approx dimensions were 2 feet square and 12 feet long. They looked absolutely perfect for being adapted into more owl boxes, trouble was they weren't mine!
So after a bit of of down on my knees groveling with the land owner I was told to take what I wanted, yesssss! Due to the size of them I was going to need a large undercover workshop/area for storage and working on them, it also needed to be as close to home as possible? So this is where my mate Norman comes onto the scene,  Norman has his own steel fabrication business only a mile from where I live, and he kindly offered me the use of his premises.
So one evening last week I made a trip over there with Norman in his flat bed lorry (he's a handy guy to know!). We were going to take several of these boxes back and store them at his premises. I would then go back in the evenings and at weekends to start adapting them into loads and loads of owl boxes. The trouble was we just couldn't lift them, we didn't realise until we inspected them closer that they were made of 1 1/2" ply with two 2" x 3" hard wood bearers that ran the entire length of the box, it also had a 2" ply board false bottom and 8 steel lifting lugs, believe me they were HEAVY and going nowhere!! So our original plan of taking a lorry load of these boxes back to Norm's was discarded, instead we decided to saw one box in half to reduce the weight. Now that was easier said than done, we took it in turns with the hand saw and eventually we got there, it only took us an hour! We were both knackered, but we did have enough strength to load the two halves onto the lorry, just!
So that brings me to this morning, Col Green and I went over to Norms to take a closer look at the boxes and work out the best way to adapt them into owl boxes. When Col saw them he wasn't very impressed, the simple and quick task of converting them into owl boxes was far more complicated than I'd made out, oh no I was in trouble! 
Anyway after Col had given me a bollocking we got on with the task in hand, he can be seen here using Norm's fork lift truck to manoeuvre the heavy timber. Not the wide angle shot that I'd have liked but I forgot to take my camera with us so these images were taken on Col's phone (he doesn't look very happy does he?).

It took us far longer than anticipated and sadly a lot of the timber was wasted. It wasn't just a case of sawing the long box into segments and then adding a side and an end. We had to completely strip it down and then discard the false bottom and hardwood bearers before re-assembling what was left, but with Col's expertise we did it! Even though the box size was now 30% smaller than we originally planned it was still dam heavy, we reckon double the weight of any other box we had ever made. Normally we are able to take a box up the ladder before fixing it into position, there was no way we could possible do that with this box, but fear not I had a plan!
I made a quick call to the land owner where we wanted to site the box, I explained our dilemma and asked for his assistance, he was only too willing to help. He knew that if the two Barns Owls he'd seen recently around his farm were to remain we had to act fast.
And here is the secret weapon, it made easy work of getting the both of us up to the correct height so we could mount the box, it made Col a happy chappy too!  
And finally, our newly designed box in it's final resting place, do ya like it?

I will be returning to the box very soon to put on some roof felt to help protect it from the elements. Apparently it is the kind that adheres with the use of a blow torch, but that's another story and another mate that's been hoodwinked into helping me!