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!!!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Squeaking them in......

Hi all!

I know my updates have been a bit thin on the ground just recently, it has not been a case that I can't be bothered to do a post its just a case that I just haven't got anything to report. Crappy weather, crappy light (before & after work) and what with the Landrover being off the road they have all contributed to not going out! 

However, last week I did make an effort to have a drive around, it was a drab and very dreary day, not that conductive for owling you would think? But because of the fact there wasn't a breath of wind (very rare nowadays!) I suspected that there could be a Little Owl or two to be seen, and there was!

I stopped off at five known Little Owl sites and sightings were made at all five but they were too far away for any images though.  I suppose I could have made more of an effort and got out of the car and got closer but as the conditions were terrible for photography so I stayed put! There is no doubt about it, a windless day is perfect for owl watching, it just seems to bring them out to play.

Later in the day I made contact with owls at another two sites, this time I made an effort to take some photographs as I'd never seen an owl at either location before, they are now my new sites No's 238 & 239.

The owl at site No 238 was firstly heard before I saw it, I was at a very well know local reservoir just doing a bit of general birding when I hear a call come from a scrubby area to my left. It only called  the once and lasted no more than a second but it was undoubtedly a Little Owl. It wasn't going to show whilst I stood there on the bridge so I returned back to my car, wound down the window and poked the camera out of the window. It then took about an hour of waiting before I got my first glimpse, it was perched up deep in the undergrowth and no chance of a shot!  I did my mouse impression (a sort of kissy squeak) and that got its attention. It emerged from the relative security of the scrub and rose high and landed on a bare branch, it stared straight at me for a few seconds before flying off, I did however managed the image below during its fleeting show.

Little Owl site No 238.
On my way home I stopped off at an old farm building where I have on the odd occasion previously seen a Barn Owl. As it was now starting to get dark I was hoping the timing would be about right to see one yet again? I pulled up and opened the window, again it was time for my secret weapon, "the kissy squeak". Unfortunately it didn't attract a Barn Owl, but instead a pair of Little Owls were attracted! I couldn't believe my luck when they flew in and landed on top of a small bush. Luckily I already got my camera ready so capturing a couple of images was done so with ease.

Little Owl site No 239
I think that "squeaking" them in worked so well because there was no wind and the sound carried so much further than normal. As you can see from the quality of the images the light levels were terrible and not conductive at all for good photography. Never the less, it was still good to find a couple of new sites and a perfect reason for me to make a re-visit when the weather is better.

Thanks for stopping by and hopefully we'll catch up again soon.........

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Worth a go!

Early last weekend I picked up a voice message from June, an elderly landowner (I am sure she won't mind me saying that!) from over in the village of Leire. I have known June for a few years now, initially meeting her through my owling escapades.  Although her message just asked me to call her back asap I could sensed by the tone in her voice that something was wrong? I immediately called her but there was no answer, so I left her a message asking her to call back again.

In the meantime I got on with clearing up the mess in the garden, we'd had very high winds the night before and there were branches and debris everywhere. I didn't hear my phone ring again but there was another voice message, it was June again. She explained that there was a huge brown owl in her outhouse and it didn't look too well. That was it, I downed tools, grabbed my camera and made my way over there.

Upon arrival June wasn't there, strange!! However, I went and explored the outhouse myself and my initial thoughts were proven correct when a Tawny Owl was located roosting up in the rafters. It didn't fly when I entered the building, which on its own was enough reason to suspect it wasn't well. I had a good look at it through my binoculars and there wasn't any obvious damage. It seemed very sleepy and only partially opened its eyes on a couple of occasions. Its hearing obviously hadn't been affected because its head would turn in my direction as I moved slowly around inside the building.

I then heard a car pull up outside, it was June. She had been down to the local garden centre and purchased a couple of dead mice! We discussed the possibilities of what had happened to the owl and where it may have come from. Was it a captive bird that had escaped from its aviary after wind damage the night before? Was it a juvenile that was struggling to find food? Or could it be injured and it had taken up shelter in the building? We hadn't got the answers but the most important thing was it seemed happy where it was so we left it alone. The two dead mice where placed on top of a wooded rafter nearby before we departed.

The next morning June called me again to say the owl had gone, the mice hadn't been eaten but she was happy that the owl could obviously fly, it had rested, recuperated and then moved on.......

Later on that day June called me again, the owl was back! Only this time it was in her back garden fully exposed on top of one of her arbors. An hour later when I arrived it was still in the same location and to make matters worse it was being mobbed by the local Tits and Robins! We came to the conclusion that it must be a sick bird. It was  acting very strangely and I thought it's best hope of survival was for me to capture it, but how?

I wanted to gauge just how alert it was and how close I could get to it. Slowly I moved around the garden and whilst I did this it's head would turn in my direction, it knew I was there!

 I moved nearer and it didn't flinch a muscle.

Even nearer still, it again didn't really open its eyes, just the odd squint.

I took my time and eventually I was inside the arbor looking up at it, I was certainly no further than two feet away! The problem I had now was there was a substantial piece of timber in my way, from the angle I was at there was no way I could have reached up and grabbed it. It then open its eyes wide and stared straight down at me, a few seconds passed before it registered what was going on and it took flight.! Luckily it only flew a few yards before it crashed landed wings akimbo in a bush, I moved in quickly and after a bit of panic wing flapping it was caught. June and I had had the foresight to prepare a cardboard box for its retainment so once captured it was carefully placed in the box before I departed. 

I hadn't got a clue what I was going to do with the owl so I went around to my parents house for a bit of thinking time. Mum kindly offered (or was persuaded)  to keep an eye on it whilst I went off out for the rest of the day. I returned later hoping that after a bit of warmth the owl may have perked up a bit, I opened up the box and it did seem a bit move lively although it hadn't touched the Corned Beef that mum had put out for it!!! I took the owl out of the box and Dad took a  photo whilst I held it.

It still didn't look well so my plans for looking after it were soon dismissed, it needed expert attention. So mum and I took the owl over to Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital., (please click on the link to go to their website and scroll down to the bottom for more info and pictures of the owl). They were absolutely brilliant at the hospital and they gave the owl an inspection as soon as we arrived. The birds limbs and wings were initially checked and all seemed well. They then checked inside its mouth for a disease called "Canker", click HERE for more details!! It appeared the owl was suffering from Canker and it was touch and go whether they would be able to treat it, the next 24hrs were going to be crucial.

Later the next day I called the hospital and it was good news!! They had administered some drugs and they seemed to be doing the job, the owl was showing signs of improvement and had even eaten two dead mice. A few days later I called again and sadly it was bad news, the owl had passed away during the night, dooough!! Unfortunately the disease had gone too far and they were not able to save it. But a big thank you must go to the team at the Hospital for at least trying, all the work they do is purely voluntary and they rely heavily on  fund raising and donations to keep going.

Yes it was a sad ending but as the title of this post suggests, "it was worth a go".

Monday, 28 October 2013

Tawny before dinner.......

On the way home from work this evening I stopped off at a local Tawny Owl site that I've been keeping an eye on for the last few months. The birds are far from predictable and only show on around one in five visits, and then it is usually too dark for an image attempt. Oh but my luck was in two fold on this latest visit, I only had to wait a few minutes before the first bird showed and when it did it was on the closest branch to me!! 

It had gone 5pm and almost dark, but thankfully my camera/lens combo can produce wonderful results in low light when the aperture is wide open at F2.8. The ISO was pumped right up to 2000 and even then I could still only managed a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second, however I am really chuffed with the results.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

An old friend.....

During the last few years I have been very lucky with my quest to find Little Owls, although my desire to find more new sites has now dwindled somewhat. It use to be the case that every spare minute I had would be spent out in the field searching for more and more new sites! Nowadays I am quite content whilst out to just stop off at some of my known sites and reacquaint myself with the resident owls. One such location is my site No 62 not far from the village of Leire, the owls here use to be quite easy to see without the need to even get out of my car. However, during the last year I haven't seen them at all which lead me to believe that they had vacated the site?

Even though I haven't seen them for ages I still pull over for a few minutes when passing by, just in case they were still there? Well it just goes to show that persistence does pay off because on my last stop off I made a sighting of one of the owls. It was only a brief sighting as it stared back at me from one of the favoured perches in its patch, but it was long enough for me to capture an image.

Considering the poor light conditions I am pleased with the outcome of the image, the owl is holding a nice erect pose and the defused and uncluttered background gives a slightly 3D effect. I wouldn't be surprised if this image finds its way into my 2014 owl calendar.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Let me introduce you to the latest edition to our family of nest boxes, it has been designed for Barn Owls has been aptly named.....THE BEAST. My good mate Col & I have now made well over a hundred owl nest boxes and this latest version is by far the biggest and heaviest box that we have ever made! 

It has been manufactured out of the thickest ply-board we have ever used and is approx 2 feet square and weighs a ton! It has had four coats of top quality Culprinal wood preserve, a felted roof, brass hinges and bolt clasp. Yes it is a bit over the top but its for my mum so we had to make a "proper" job of it.....didn't we?

My dad was "roped" into helping me erect it and it was a bitch of a job, but we did it as can be seen in this image below. We had to haul it up on ropes and then prop it into position with extra long lengths of timer which were jammed against the gate post below. I then balanced one legged on the ladder and screwed it into place.

The box has been mounted on a solitary Horse-chestnut tree that is situated at the end of my parents garden. It is a very quiet and undisturbed corner of a field that overlooks suitable pasture. The location does have some potential for Barn Owls too as my Dad saw one flying in the area, but that was a while back now. So hopefully if another owl comes flying around again it will locate the box, it will be to its liking and move in!   

Mum and dad have promised to keep a close eye on the box for me and if we are lucky enough to have any activity the news will soon be published on here............

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Field Craft........

This post wasn't planned, I'm not ready to get back into the full swing of blogging on a regular basis just yet! But.............when an new Little Owl site is accidentally stumbled upon and some images are also captured I felt compelled to share the news.

I had Monday & Tuesday off work, the plan was to visit a few local owl sites whilst getting a bit of general birding in too. My plans were almost completely scuppered on both days as all it did was poor with rain, nearly all the time! However, during my driving around there were a few breaks in the clouds and the light improved albeit only for short periods. During one of these rare "dry" periods I  was to found at my latest Little Owl site No 236. I'd only located it a few days ago (see previous post) and the images were pretty poor as it was almost dark, so my first task was to confirm the birds were still there and secondly to get some improved images in the "better light".

After a bit of searching both owls were located again, which was good news and bodes well for the future but they seemed very nervous and kept their distance. A couple of improved images were obtained but I still only consider these to be "record shots".

The slight improvement in image quality from my new Little Owl site No 236 was not the reason for this post? The reason was yet another new Little Owl site that I have managed to find and considering the poor weather I am quite pleased with the accompanying images that I managed to obtain.

I was driving along a route that I have used on many previous occasions, I do tend to slow down and give the derelict roadside barn the once over but have never before seen anything. Because this time the main road was relatively quiet it gave me the opportunity to slow right down, just as on previous occasions nothing perched up so no reason to stop. Then just as I was starting to accelerate away a movement caught my eye in the ploughed field. Because of the angle I was now out it was a very fleeting glimpse indeed before the hedgerow blocked my view. Was that a Little Owl I saw in the field?? The curiosity got the better of me so I pulled over and turned back. I pulled up slowly into the field gateway and cut the engine.

There was nothing to see, it must have been wishful thinking on my behalf, yes maybe I was grasping at straws for something to brighten up an otherwise drab and event-less day. It was nearly lunch time so I decided to have a sandwich and kill another 10 minutes watching the general area.......just in case! Then there was another movement in the field, difficult to make it out because it was really well camouflaged, the binoculars were soon on it and the culprit was identified, a Red Legged Partridge! It must have been the Partridge that I saw on my first pass by, an easy mistake I suppose?

Because I hadn't finished eating my lunch I continued to stay parked up chomping away, then a another movement from the building caught my eye, flipping heck there on the old chimney stack was a Little Owl!!!! I couldn't believe it, was this just a pure coincidence or was it an owl that I saw earlier?? It wasn't the time to go into a deep analysis of whether it was or wasn't, the sandwiches were soon ditched and replaced with the camera. The owl didn't seem to be bothered by the presence of the car and stood up erect and very statue like watching me.

It wasn't too long before the owl dropped down behind the building and out of sight. I took this opportunity to review the images I just taken whilst keeping a check on the chimney for its return. A good 30 minutes had elapsed and it didn't show again, maybe it had been spooked? I was satisfied, a new Little Owl site had been located, I'd managed a few images of the bird and I'd just finished my lunch! It was time to move on, I gave the general area one final check over before departing.  It was at this eleventh hour that I spotted the owl again, it was sitting in an opening where a tile was missing from the roof! It's colouration blending in well with the tiles, I wonder just how long had it been there watching me? 

Again it soon disappeared, only this time it dropped back down into the barn. It was curious, I was confident it would re-appear to have another look at me, but where? 

The barn had obviously seen better days and was in quite a state of ruin, this offered the owl a vast array of access options. On the end of the barn was quite a large aperture where I suspect there use to be a door, it was here that it again re-emerged.  

It continued to play "hide & seek" with me for quite some time, then during a period of "no show" I heard it call. It was now adjacent to me perched up in the hedgerow, I couldn't see it because of the angle but it was close! It then offered me the best views of all when it dropped down onto the ploughed field, it gave me the occasional glance as it hopped from mud clump to mud clump. It slowly moved further and further away, I then realised it was feeding as it captured and gorged itself on a nice juicy earthworm.

I now wonder if the first sighting I made as I drove by was of the owl and not the Partridge after all, never the less it was a very rewarding hour or so that I spent with this owl and my new site No 237.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A rare excursion out!

Getting back into the swing of things and doing a bit of "owling" has been well over due, I have really missed it! But I don't think the "leaving it alone" for a while has done me too much harm, in fact it has only fuelled my fire to get out all the more to see what my owls have been up to?

One such site where an owl showed during an evenings drive out was at my site No 107 not too far from the village of Gilmorton.  Two owls showed briefly, one on the perch just outside the nest hole and the second deep inside the hole itself.

During another brief evening outing I finally caught up with a couple of owls at a site that I'd been monitoring on and off for a few months. I never seen an owl here before but because it looked so good for them I kept going back in the hope that one day my persistence would be rewarded, and it was!

I know the quality of the image is terrible, but give me a break as it was taken just before 7.0pm in drizzle and near darkness. However, the significance is it is my first ever image of the resident owls at my new site No 236!!!

When things get back into full "owling mode" I will be visiting this site on a regular basis, it is just perfect! The site consists of a very remote barn on a permissible track that is good for driving the car down. Because of the "openness" of the site it lends itself for parking the car in what ever position I like around the barn so the light will always be in my favour for photography. The are loads of natural perches that I have already envisaged the owls posing on whilst I snap away, but best of all it is very remote and disturbance will be minimal, mmmmm lovely!

Back again soon..............................

Friday, 30 August 2013

Calling it a day......for now?

Because of unforeseen circumstances I have not been able to get out much just recently, in fact these recent changes of events will be hampering my future excursions too! Therefore my posts will be a premium for a while but I am hoping that in time things will get back to normal.

So for now I will leave you with a couple of images of two of the local Little owl juveniles that I was lucky enough to encounter during a rare venture out in my Landrover on Thursday evening.

I will hopefully be back sooner rather than later and posting again about what my local owls are getting up to.

See you all soon!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Doing my bit.......

Whilst at the Birdfair last Sunday I made a point to visit the LROS (Leicester & Rutland Ornithological Society) display stand, well done to Sue & Jim who have yet again done a fine job. As I approached the stand a couple of very dodgy looking geezers were manning it, namely Mark Skevington & Dave Grey (Aka Bush Whacker & Taffy Bo-yo). I went to say hello to the guys and within seconds of my arrival they were shaming me as I hadn't paid my annual subscription, ooh arrh yes but mmm. I could feel myself squirming as I tried desperately to come up with a good reason as to why not, I wasn't getting out of it and fifteen quid was soon plucked out of my wallet, ouch! 

Once they had fleeced me of my last bit of cash (that was to be used to buy my mum some flowers, shame on you guys) they then proceeded to give me even more grief? They wanted to know why I had stopped sending in my bird sighting records? Again it was another bit of ooh arrh yes but mmm on my behalf. I could sense that they were not going to be fobbed off with any old rubbish and I needed a dam good reason, I feared that they were conspiring together to extract even more cash out of me! When I assured them that I will start doing them soon they both started to calm down and the bulging veins in their faces reduced in size, pheeew that was another close call.

So last night I had a mini dilemma on my hands, go and do a couple of hours owling and pretend I didn't see anything hence no need to send in any sighting records, or do as I'd promised and send in records of what I'd seen? I opted for the latter otherwise the next time I see them they could well be greeting me with a clenched fist!!

So last night I ventured out with the intention of recording everything I saw, and the first bird of note was a Tawny Owl. This bird is becoming quite reliable for a sighting as it has been roosting in the same tree on each of my last four visits, there was a second bird present but I only had a fleeting glimpse of it.  

Tawny Owl at my site No 3.
The Tawnies weren't very active so I was soon on my way to see what else could be seen elsewhere. As I wasn't too far from the village of Arnesby and my relatively new Little Owl site No 230 that is where I headed. Once I'd negotiated the gates and combo locks I headed off across the fields towards the nest tree. Upon arrival there were no owls showing, but a strategically positioned Landrover and a wait of around 15 minutes soon had me on to a bird. It was perched up in an Ash Tree next to what appeared to be quite a sizable crevice, possibly the nest entrance? 

At first I wasn't quite sure if I was observing an adult bird or a well developed juvenile that was starting to develop its adult plumage? I had my suspicions and they were to be confirmed later in the evening. For photography purposes the light was appalling,  this image below is quite a heavy crop that was captured with a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second!

I wanted to get a little closer so as to capture an image that wouldn't need to be cropped as much as the one above. I used my tried and trusted tactic of driving off slowly and then reversing back on a slightly different line, it worked a treat! I was now right underneath the owl but it had hopped onto a different perch but it had a nicer background, thanks Mr owl! From the angle I was now at I could see a second adult owl perched higher up, I did try to get an image but the results just weren't usable. It was now 8.30pm and the light was fading fast, matters were only compounded with the heavy leaf canopy above. This next image was captured at 1/10th of a second, thank goodness they sit still!

I'd had enough of those two owls as all they were doing was watching me watching them, so I moved off. I'd only driven for fifty yards along the hedgerow when another owl was spotted, then another and then another! I used my binoculars to identify them, they were all juvenile Little Owl's. I am very confident that these three little guys were the offspring of the two owls I'd just been watching and they were having some "playtime".  It took me a couple of minutes to get close enough for an image, but they didn't panic they just sat and watched from their respective post!


After I left the juveniles I decided to continue driving around the periphery of the same field in the hope of maybe catching a glimpse of a hunting Barn Owl. The field in question is huge, maybe the same size as around 100 football pitches! I made my way to the furthest corner and nothing much of note had been seen, but then up in front of me I spotted a couple of dark "blobs" in a leafless tree. The bins were soon latched onto the silhouettes and the mystery shapes were confirmed to be Little Owls. 

I'd never even been to this area before let alone see owls there, so that then confirmed yet another new site for me, No 235! Because of the distance and how dark it was I wasn't able to determine if they were adults or juveniles? My plan then was to engage the flash unit on the camera just in case I could get close enough for a record shot. I crept along at a snails pace parallel to the hedgerow, things were now getting tense as they hadn't budged and I was almost within range. Then just as I pulled up they both flew off, dam and bloody blast!! As I sat there cursing my luck I couldn't believe it when they both returned. I managed a couple of shots and this image below was the best of a very bad bunch! Further along the hedgerow was a third owl but this turned to be an adult, presumably one of the parents of the two juveniles.

It was a very rewarding and productive couple of hours, always nice to see fledged juveniles and even better to locate another new site and yes I will be sending in my records to LROS, I dare not do anything else!!

Monday, 19 August 2013

I almost forgot!

Sorry but there's no owling activity to report on from this last weekend, Saturday was taken up travelling up the M1 to watch the mighty "Foxes" (Leicester City FC) play the "Rams" (Derby County FC). It was a woefully scrappy game and to be fair neither team deserved to win, but with a less than convincing display we amazingly won 1-0, get in there!!!! And Sunday was taken up with a visit to this years "Birdfair" at Rutland Water. It was OK but not a lot different to the last few years so maybe I'll give the next one a miss? It was good to catch up with a few friends and "chew the fat" for a while, with reflection the best part of the day was the full English fry up we had at the roadside cafe on the way!

This now brings me around to the title of this post "I forgot", with all the excitement leading up to my visit to Mull I totally overlooked doing an update on a couple of local owl encounters before I went. The first was a few weeks ago when John and I were in a local pub garden enjoying the evening sunshine with a couple of pints of the local brew. Whilst we sat there supping away and getting tanned we heard the call of a Little Owl come from the horse paddock behind the garden.

This image (below) gives an idea of the view from the pub garden, it didn't take us long before we located the owl, can you see it? 

Nest tree site No 234
We then watched the story unfolded before us, there was a pair of adult owls that were busily grubbing around for food in the grassy field. They would then fly up high to the large crack that can be seen in the main trunk of the large tree, it was here that we saw at least one juvenile poke its head out whilst being fed!

Whilst we continued to watch the birds (with another pint of beer of course) we noticed that one of the owls kept landing on a fence at the far end of the paddock. As I wanted to try and grab a "better" image I went and re-positioned myself in the long grass and waited. After a 45 minute wait (and 2 more pints)  one of the owls played its part and landed on the far end of the fence. I waited for it to come closer but it was no fool, even though I thought I was well concealed it could see me and this next image was the best I managed.

One of the adult owls, site No 234
The second encounter was with my third local Tawny Owl site that I have found this summer, I chanced upon them one evening when I was checking out a Little Owl site. They gave their presence away when they started to hoot. At the time it was far too dark to grab an image but I made a mental note of the perches that they seemed to prefer. I then re-visited a few days later when it was still light and just as I hoped there on one of the same branches as before was perched a Tawny Owl.

As they sat together they were partially obscured by some over hanging branches, I'd like to have got a better view and an image of them perched side by side but I didn't dare get out of my car for fear of spooking them. Instead I had to make do with the limited aperture of the car window to shoot from, one of them (presumably the male?) then flew to the next tree along in the spinney. It settled in an opening in the canopy on a far more photogenic branch, it still wasn't easy to see from the car but I managed to contort myself into a very awkward position whilst shooting upwards out of the open rear window.

I had a very memorable hour with these birds and managed to get some images from slightly different angles as they moved about in the trees beside the car. It was quite dark in the shade of the trees and in order to get the correct exposure for the birds it made for a horrible "white sky" behind them, dough!!.

There has been no "trickery" in Photoshop with this next image, nothing added or taken away! This is just how it was perched on that bare leafless branch although I do admit myself it looks a bit false.  

After a while I noticed that when one of the owls flew between two favoured perches it had to dodge a lot of overgrown foliage, in doing this it was channelled into roughly the same spot each time. Because I'd already grabbed a few portrait shots I'd got nothing to lose by attempting a flypast image. As I said the light was terrible for motionless photography let alone any action shots so the ISO was set very high in order for me to get a shutter speed that would enable a freezing of the action.

So that is it now, I think I am right up to date with all the recent owl activities. If I get time during the week I may venture out again one evening, although I'm not sure where yet??? Maybe I'll re-visit my newest Little Owl site No 234 again, I quite liked it watching owls whilst supping beer, the perfect combination!!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Late Checks......

Since returning from my fabulous visit to Mull I have found it difficult to motivate myself to get out and see what has been occurring locally with my owls. But the time came when I had to make an effort as there were still more Barn Owl nest boxes that desperately needed surveying. In previous years there had only been two breeding pairs of Barn Owls in my survey area, but after several years of hard work and dozens of boxes being made and erected the tide was starting to turn. Back in Feb of this year Col Green and I were very excited about the up and coming breeding season as we now had Barn Owls using/visiting at least twelve of our boxes!! 

But then we had the horrid spring weather and the heavy snow falls (do you recall?),  the ground was covered for a couple of weeks which was far too long! It made it very difficult for the owls to hunt and eventually it took its toll on the birds and eight individuals were found either dead or dying. Goodness knows how many other "unfound" individuals suffered the same fate? This was damming to the local population and could possibly put things back a couple of years? However, once the weather had improved we again went around all the boxes that were being used and we had some survivors! There were seven boxes where we discovered roosting birds, three had pairs in residence and individuals in the remaining four. One of our pairs did go on to raise a brood of three youngsters so we did at least have some success albeit of minor consolation.

News then started filtering in from other survey areas in the UK and the story was the same. One particular area had seven pairs that had bred, pretty good news you would think but that number was down from over ninety breeding pairs in 2012!! The consensus was that any surviving birds would probably still breed but later in the year, so that brings us up to date as to why Col and I were out checking boxes again, and I wish we hadn't!! We concentrated our efforts on the boxes where we felt there was the greatest chance of birds breeding in the hope of discovering a hen bird sitting tight on a late clutch of eggs, or better still a box full of growing chicks. It was a false dawn, not one of our boxes even had a Barn Owl in it, in fact the three boxes that did have pairs in only two months ago were now being occupied by Stock Doves and their chicks!

At this time of year I was hoping to be reporting that it had been a successful breeding season and we  were now starting to see a rise in the local numbers and things look positive for next year. Sadly I am afraid to say that this year has been a complete disaster and the very sparse population has almost disintegrated to being non existent. So now it is even more important than ever before that Col and I continue to make and erect more boxes in the hope that the "bumper breeding season" we were preying for will still happen, it has just been delayed!

On our travels we came across a couple of sites that had some fledged juvenile Little Owls, (image above). At least they as a species seemed to have fared better than the Barn Owls this year.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


I arrived back from Scotland last night, absolutely shattered from the long drive back, consequently it is only now (after a good nights sleep) that I can sit down and review my images and start to reflect on a very hectic few days.

For the trip I was in the good company of my "birding & owling" mate Adey Rowley, neither of us had been to Scotland before so it was to be a new experience we'd share together. We set off on our 430 mile journey on Monday evening and drove through the night heading for Oban on the west coast. We were due to catch the 7.30am ferry over to the isle of Mull, it was a good trip without any issues or problems and arrived in Oban in good time (around 3.30am). The plan then was to park up near the ferry terminal and get some much needed sleep for a few hours, it didn't happen!! I am not sure if it was the excitement, being over tiered or the fact that we kept waking each other up with our snoring?? We were both resigned that no sleep was going to be had so we killed a couple of hours exploring the general area. In no time at all it was getting light and we found ourselves in the queue for the ferry. 

In no time at all everyone was on the ferry and we set sail for the 45 minute sail over to Mull. We'd got our priorities right as we were soon at the front of the queue for breakfast! By the time we were just finishing off our full fry up and a cup of tea we got our first sighting of the Isle of Mull through the windows, there was only one place to be now and that was up on deck. As we made our way up through the ship we walked past a couple of gaming machines, I was compelled to have a quick go and two minutes later I was fifty quid to the better..........yessssss!!

As we approached the isle I was in awe of the beauty and "power" of the scenery.   

The Isle of Mull - A view from the sea.
We disembarked at Craignure, even though we couldn't book into our B&B until 4.00pm we thought it prudent to find where it was located and then start the day from there. The address was punched into the sat-nav and to our surprise the journey from port to accommodation was going to take zero minutes........we had already arrived??  I knew it was going to be close but not that close, there on the other side of the road was "Linnhe View" our abode for the next three nights.

Linnhe View
I suggested to Adey that he should go and knock on the door and let Mary (the proprietor)  of the B&B know we had arrived and that we will be back to book in later. He'd been gone around 5 minutes and on his return he was looking rather sheepish? Apparently he knocked on the open door and there was no answer, so he took it upon himself to walk in to see if Mary could be located. At this point she emerged from the kitchen area unaware that he was there! Now Adey is 17 stone, bald and unshaven, I suppose he can appear to some to be quite an intimidating guy? 

My mate Adey, its no wonder Mary was scared? A big teddy bear really!
Mary didn't know who he was and before he had chance to introduce himself she started screaming at him to get out of her house! Understandingly she was shocked by this scruffy strange man!  Adey eventually managed to explain who he was and things we sorted out although things were still a bit frosty. She made it quite clear that we were not able to book in until after 4.00pm and that breakfast was served at 8:30am sharp!

Whilst I was waiting for Adey I took the opportunity to get a feel for where we were, I was a little surprised just how tiny this "town" was, it compromised of a main street with ferry terminal, a Spar mini-supermarket, an information centre, a coffee shop and most importantly a pub!

Craignure main street
Oh I almost forgot to mention that there was also a petrol station on the high street in Craignure, no Costa Coffee or ATM machine here!

Petrol  Station - Craignure
So once we had familiarised ourselves with the surrounding area and the available amenities of our home for the next few days we decided to head off to explore. Our main target species for this mini break was the Short Eared Owl. All my prior research suggested the best location to see them was either side of the A849 east of Loch Beg, so that is where we headed for. It wasn't long before we realised that locating them wasn't going to be quite as easy as first thought, there was around 10 miles of suitable habitat either side of the road. Along the route there were literally hundreds of old posts and rocks that looked suitable for an owl to be perched upon. We spent the next 6 or 7 hours "cruising"  up and down the target area. We occasionally ventured off exploring down other likely looking roads and tracks, in all that time no owls were seen!! I did however get a "lifer" in the form of a Hooded Crow. This bird was spotted perched up on an old stone wall at the side of the road, it took a while to work near enough for an image without spooking it, but it played its part!

Hooded Crow
During our exploration on the first day we saw dozens of roadside Wheatear, Winchats and Stonechats, no decent images were captured because of the distance they tended to keep. I am sure if we had invested more time we would have captured some nice images of them but we weren't here for them, we wanted owls! In our pursuit for the owls we notched up 40 different species of bird, apart from all the expected "common" ones we also saw a couple of Redstarts and a single Curlew Sandpiper.  We stayed out until nearly dark driving back and forth along what we had called "owl avenue" but for all the extensive searching we drew a blank! 

It had been a mega long day and no sleep since waking up on Monday morning, 39 hours ago! We were in need of our bed but before that we needed to eat. So on the way back we stopped off at the pub for an evening meal and of course a few pints of the local brew.

On day two we had planned to rise very early and re-visit owl avenue as maybe the owls preferred to hunt at dawn rather than dusk. We had got it all sorted, we'd leave out at at first light, grab some images of the owls and then return back in time for breakfast at 8.30am. I awoke first, it was 8:21am, dam we'd over slept and missed our early opportunity, but more importantly we only got 9 minutes before breakfast was due to be served!! Needless to say we were up, washed and dressed in record time and we were downstairs ready to eat with only 30 seconds to spare. Phew it was a close call but luckily we didn't upset Mary again!

Today we were having a break from looking for the owls for a few hours as we had booked onto an Eagle cruise at 1:00pm. It was with Mull Charters and they make daily visits to two different White Tailed Eagle territories along the coast. This was a species that I'd never seen before and although there are now 14 pairs breeding on the island this was going to be our best bet for a close sighting. Ironically we actually had our first sighting of one of these birds whilst on our way to Ulva to meet the boat. It flew straight at us and over the car before landing in a fir tree half way up the mountain side. It was flipping MASSIVE,  with its eight foot wingspan it was without doubt the biggest and most regal bird I have ever seen in my life.

This had only whetted our appetites even further and we couldn't wait to get on board and out there for some hopefully even closer views? We met up at the quayside with 10 others who had booked onto the same trip, one of our fellow shipmates was Rick Thornton. He was a veteran of this particular excursion this being his fourth trip. Rick gave Adey and I a few tips on what to expect when we got into the Eagles territory and it was just as good as he had explained, if not better!

Upon approaching the Eagles territory our fears of a "no show" were dismissed straight away as one of the birds was already out and soaring high above us.

Martin, the skipper of the boat then threw out a free offering of a dead fish into the sea, the Eagle had obviously seen it as it started to spiral downwards towards it.

I did my best to track the bird in flight as it powered its way towards its free offering.

I missed the actual moment it grasped the fish out of the water with its out stretched talon,  there was a small mast that got in the way on the rear of the boat, dough!! But I soon locked on to it again as it rose into the air with the fish.

It then powered away and gained height as it headed back to its favoured perch high up on the cliff face.

Another dead fish was thrown into the water but the Eagle wasn't tempted to come down again from its elevated perch.

I am satisfied with the images that I captured but with hindsight I wish I'd have set my camera to centre spot focus with expansion rather than just centre spot focus.  Because of the large size of the bird I thought I would be able to focus on the head and track it without problem, but it proved difficult and consequently a lot of the images were out of focus, a lesson learnt for next time!

The rest of the second day was again spent looking for Short Eared Owl, we expanded our search to the rest of the island but again it proved fruitless? We saw plenty of other species including Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle. Although the Grey Heron is a very common species on the island and we saw dozens of them I have added this image of one of them as I am very pleased with it.

We also saw plenty more Hooded Crows and this image below is of a very confiding individual that posed nicely for me in the sun.

Day three was spent mostly in the northern and western part of the island, we had a very early start which resulted in seeing loads of Red Deer (at least I think that's what it was?) feeding near to the roadside. 

Red Deer
There wasn't a breath of wind early on which made for a very "glass like" Loch. So I thought I'd try and experiment with a touch of landscape photography and capture the misty mood.

The rest of the third day passed us by without anything else eventful occurring, we continued to search for owls but seeing more of the island was a pleasant enough distraction. We did see a couple of juvenile Cuckoo's and an Otter that turned out to be an inland Grey Seal!

On our last day we were due to catch the 11:00am ferry back to the Scottish mainland. We took it easy and just chilled out whilst waiting for the ferry.

Adey chilling out.

Yours truly just before we departed.
All in all we were away for 98 hours, we drove over 1,300 miles and in that time we crammed in as much as possible. Yes it was a disappointment not to see an owl but the islands striking beauty more than made up for it. To be fair I can't things of any descriptive words suitable enough to do it justice, just take it from me that if you decide to visit you won't be disappointed, I will forever remembered my visit. 

And finally both Adey and I would like to thank Mary for looking after us very well and providing a very hearty breakfast each morning. If you are thinking of visiting the island please consider Linnhe View as  Mary will do a grand job making your visit a memorable one.

Back to my owls soon...............