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, 28 January 2013

Boxes on a budget.

We had a bit of a blowy day here in Leicestershire on Sunday, that combined with the bad days owling I had on Saturday it was decided to do something else rather than go out and brave the elements.

Instead the troops were gathered up and we met up at Carl's for a bit more owl box making. I had acquired a couple of small crates/boxes from one of my customers and with a bit of Colin's intuition (and Carl's tea making) I was sure we could convert them into Little Owl boxes.
Both the boxes (and Col sporting his new glasses and stupid grin) can be seen here prior to being butchered.

Whilst supping a few cups of tea the boys discussed how best these two "mini crates" could best be adapted, their concentration was at times  somewhat deflected as they perused Carl's secret stash of girlie magazines! 

Anyway, after a couple of rollicking they both got down to the task in hand, here Col can be seen with his secret weapon, a big black tube, mmmmm not sure what he is planning to do with that?

I needn't have worried about the black tube, thank goodness! Col was going to incorporate into the box design. As can be seen in the image below an entrance hole for the owl was drilled into the top corner of the box and then the pipe was positioned inside for the owl to crawl along before dropping down into the nest chamber.

It wasn't long before both the crates were converted into Little Owl nest boxes, below. All we did then was to position a landing shelf underneath the entrance holes and they were complete. We are not going to bother giving them a coat of wood preserve because they will be erected inside old barns well out of the way of the elements. 

We were doing really well for time so rather than finish early we set about another task. I felt that this box design below was on the small side for Barn Owls, OK for roosting but not for breeding.

So we took away the side panel and retro fitted an extension to the side. Much roomier and very much more to the Barn Owl's liking......I think?

Extended box
We also mustered up some old timber and finished off the assembly of two more of the old style "A shape" Barn Owl boxes.

A Frame Barn Owl boxes
Considering the amount of Barn Owl activity I am encountering at the moment it is vital we get these boxes up asap, are you listening lads??
Anyway Col and I soon departed for our respective Sunday lunches, we left Carl to clean up all the mess and do a bit more studying of his magazines!!!
Carl - Too much time reading mate!
It was a very industrial few hours with five more boxes made, a good job guys!

Saturday, 26 January 2013


As any regular readers of this blog may recall last Wednesday evening I chanced upon my 224th Little Owl site. I caught it in my car headlights as it was sitting in the middle of the road. At the time there was no way I could have attained an image as it was too dark and I didn't have my camera with me!
So a re-visit was made late the next day to see if I could relocate the bird, the light levels weren't great for photography but at least they were better than the previous day and this time I had my camera with me. I drove slowly along the lane in the general area where I thought I saw the owl previously, I couldn't be sure exactly which tree it flew up to as there was a long line of them at the roadside? I seemed to recollect seeing a telegraph pole on the other side of the road so that was where I pulled up.
A quick scan of the trees and hey presto there was an owl perched up in the next tree along from where I was parked up! I inched the car along the verge to get a better look and hey ho there was a pair!!     
Little Owl site No 224
So that now brings me to this morning, I was off out reasonably early but not matter how hard I tried I just couldn't locate an owl, not anywhere! The sun was shining and the big thaw was now on which is normally a good combination but the temperature was still low and the wind biting, that was obviously the reason why there was none to be seen?
After visiting at least 20 different Little Owl sites I'd all but given up hope of seeing an owl, my last ditch chance was to re-visit my new site No 224 again. I pulled up next to the tree that I'd seen the new owls in only a few days prior and the story was the same...........NO OWLS.
But my luck then changed as a movemnet caught my eye, it was an owl and the first of the day!!  It was sitting tucked away in what seemed to be the entrance to its nest hole. I managed to get a few shots of it before it disapeared back into its hole, not great views but a very welcome sighting indeed.

Little Owl Sit No 224
On another note but still owl related, I checked out two more Barn Owl boxes and both produced positive results. The first is in an old barn not far from the village of Gilmorton. The box was erected back in 2011 and there has been no evidence of Barn Owl activity. But now there are pellets directly below the box, I've never seen a barnie in this area before but after what has now been found I am sure it won't be long?
The second box I checked is also situated in an old barn and not too far from the village of Saddington. It too was erected back in 2011 and so far the only activity was a breeding pair of Stock Doves back in 2012. Oh but things are really positive here now, as I clambered up on the farm machinery to check out the box a Barn Owl flew out!!! That is now 9 different locations in south Leicestershire where I have made Barn Owl sightings in 2013. Add to that another 7 box sites where I haven't seen a bird yet but  pellets are now beening found.
It is so satisfying that my nest box scheme is eventually starting to work and things look promising for the future..........REALLY PROMISING!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Found one!

A bit of snow and a Little Owl, just what I'd been after.


This obliging owl took long enough to find, and I had him for all of 5 minutes!
Better than not at all I suppose?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Braving It!

Due to the recent snow fall yesterday was absolutely no good for doing any photography, all the owls are tucked away and sheltering out of the elements. I still got out though but instead I went around a few local barns and derelict buildings to check on any Barn Owl activity.
Walking in the snow drifts was terribly difficult and very time consuming, consequently only four different locations were checked out. At the first site a Little Owl was flushed from the barn as I entered, that was a good start and my first siting of an owl this year at my site No 117. But the real reason for visiting this location near to Saddington was the fact that I have a Barn Owl box here, and it is being used! The box has been up a couple of years and to date only Stock Doves have shown any interest in it, but now it looks as though a Barnie has finally moved in. There were dozens of pellets in the barn and some directly under the box, so that bodes well for the future.
Two of the other sites that were visited produced nothing at one and another Little Owl was flushed at the third. The final location I visited was another derelict barn, it was here that I accidently flushed a Barn Owl only a couple of weeks ago, and it was there again! It had been day roosting in between two old pieces of corrugated iron sheet (not ideal?) and I'd never of known it was there if it hadn't taken flight. There were dozens of pellets scattered all around the barn so that tells me that it has now taken up residence, but I don't have a box at this site and considering where it was roosting a box was needed badly and quickly if it was to stay!
So that brings me to this morning (Sunday) again it was snowing and that meant no photography opportunities but I had another plan! I gathered up the troops (my kids Lou, Joe and my mate John and his dog Freddie) and to their utter dismay they couldn't believe we were going out in the blizzard like conditions. They all thought I was crazy when I told them we were going to put up a nest box for the Barn Owl that I saw yesterday. But once I explained the plight that this particular bird must be going through and how a box could make a big difference to its survival chances they agreed to help me and the owl!
Normally when I erect a box I have the Landrover available and it makes life nice and easy as all the kit, ladders and box are on board and all I do then is drive right up to the site, but not today! The closest we could get was a few hundred yards away so we had to walk across a couple of fields. To make life easier we employed the use of Joe's sledge, in these first two images Louise & Joe can be seen making light work of transporting the box and kit across the snow. 

This next image shows "Sherpa John" carrying my new telescopic ladders, they are a brilliant piece of equipment that makes erecting boxes and monitoring them a piece of cake, more about them later.

"Freddie" the dog seemed to be the only one of us who was enjoying the conditions!

The Barn, home of the owl.

The box was soon in position.

And finally let me introduce you properly to my new ladders, I had them for an xmas gift and this was the first time I'd actually used them. Fully extended they reach to nearly thirteen feet, they are not as sturdy as my normal ladders (a bit dodgy for a bloater like me!) but for transporting purposes they fold down smaller enough to fit in the boot of my car and that makes them extremely useful, you will no doubt be seeing them again! 

I will re-visit this site in a few weeks time and hopefully by then the owl should have found the box? If it does the small sacrifice of today would have been well worth it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

13.....Unlucky for some!

Only 50 minutes ago I chanced upon my latest Little Owl site, No 244! I was driving home along the narrow lanes near to Lutterworth, now normally I put my foot down along this particular stretch of road but because it was pitch black, foggy and very icy I was taking it steady. There is a certain bend on this road that even when the conditions are good it pays to slow down, as I was busy negotiating the dodgy bend something caught my attention........LITTLE OWL!!! It sat there bold as brass right in the middle of the road looking back at me. At first I thought the little fellow was injured, but as I got out of the car to investigate further off he flew.
That is now four new Little Owl sites that I have chanced upon in the last ten days, I guess I have just been lucky to have been in the right place at the right time?
What a start to 2013, some say the No 13 is unlucky, so far for me it isn't, hope it lasts! 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Weekend round up.

Late on Saturday afternoon and I set off to check out a potential Barn Owl site not far from the village of Broughton Astley. Sadly whilst there I didn't see any Barn Owls but what I did see/hear was more than satisfactory compensation, a solitary Short Eared Owl and a new Little Owl site!
The Shortie sighting was very brief indeed, the light was still OK for viewing but poor for photography so no image, even if it was OK I still wouldn't have been quick enough! It appeared totally out of the blue and I picked it up as it flew across the corner of the nearby lake and then off along a hedgerow into the distance, in total I had it in view for about 15 seconds  but  there was no doubt about what it was, only my second sighting in Leicestershire this winter.
After the excitement of the Shortie fly by I got back to concentrating on what else was happening....nothing! I'd all but given up on this owly looking area when I heard the calling of two Little Owls. I'd guess they were no further away than 50 yards but it was by now too dark to actually see them, dooooh! But hearing them was good enough for me, new site No 222!
On Sunday I was off out early, (no booze the night before Richard!) as I still have dozens of sites/boxes that needed checking out. Of the six Barn Owl boxes that were checked pellets were found at two of them, could have been the same bird though as they are only a few hundred yards apart? Little Owls were noted at five more known sites, three had pairs and singles at the others.
Whilst in between two of my known Little Owl sites at Peckleton I chanced upon another new location that holds birds, and it was located without even trying! I pulled up in a gateway to survey the general area and there sat on a post just inside the field was a Little Owl, and I thought I'd given up on locating new territories? I lent over to grab my camera off the passenger seat and by the time I'd turned back around it had gone! I couldn't see it anywhere so against my better judgement I got out of the car so I could see over the hedgerow, still I couldn't see it. I then glanced up into the nearby tree and there it was perched up high watching me! As soon as the shutter on the camera sounded off it flew, it landed on top of a barn roof which was partially obscured by some trees but viewing it through my binoculars I could see it had gone to join its mate!  I dipped down below the hedgerow and crept nearer to the barn, I was after an image of the pair of them together. But oh no they were far too cute for me and they had both disappeared and not seen again whilst I was there. I wasn't too disappointed though as this was my new site No 223!  
Little Owl site No 223 - Peckleton
I finally arrived at my site No 47 at Peckleton, here it was good to see that the resident birds are still holding their territory. The views were atrocious as they stayed up high in the nest tree, below.
Little Owl site No 47
Not a lot else to report from the day really, a few other species were noted as the day progressed,  this hen Bullfinch came quite close as she fed on seed heads near to one of my owl sites. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Bloody Useless!

I did do a bit of owling today but didn't venture out until mid-morning, the hangover wouldn't let me as I was far too groggy, and giddy! And to be fair I wish I'd of had a few more pints last night as that would have probably made me stay in altogether, the day was poor.
I visited countless different owl sites and at everyone of them I drew a blank, except the one site! The resident Little Owls at my site No 10 at Cosby were the lifesavers. They weren't doing much though apart from sheltering out of the biting wind, they posed for a couple of images but these are all I have to show from the day.
This first image is of the hen bird, she kept her distance. 
The male owl allowed me to get quite close from the cover of my car, he just sat there at the nest entrance and stared back at me! 

Whilst at this venue I also checked out the Barn Owl nest box that I put up a few weeks ago, no bird was seen but there were plenty of pellets and poo under the box so things look promising?

That is it, a very quick review of the day, I hope tomorrow brings me a bit more luck?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cosby Waxwings

The jungle drums have been banging quite loudly of late about a flock of Waxwings in the adjoining village of Cosby. They have been there around a week or so now and the temptation got the better of me so I had a wander down to have a look. Upon arrival 7 or 8 other birders were standing around idly looking at a birdless tree! I didn't join them, instead I opted to sit in the car and await the birds return. After a 30 minute wait and no sign of the Waxwings I decided to take matters into my own hands and went off looking for them. It took me no more than 2 minutes to locate them, just around the corner in the next street!

I was quite lucky as I had all the birds to myself for a good 10 minutes before they flew off, the image above was a bit different to the majority (no sky!) as a wooden fence offered a nice defused and neutral background. In total I saw 21 birds, however I don't think they will be around too much longer as there are hardly any berries left!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Owls owls everywhere!

Sunday was spent slogging around more old Little Owl sites checking for residential occupancy, I was in the Wistow & Fleckney area and it was a bag of mixed results.
The first couple of sites I checked out offered nothing at all, a bit worrying really as they both had breeding owls at them last year. The third site I visited is a relatively new site for me, No 219. I first recorded owls here back on November 28th 2012. At the time I wasn't sure if they were just dispersing juveniles moving on to pastures new, but I needn't have worried as they were both still there although they did take some finding?
I parked up on the private track that runs up to the farm house, it was here right next to the orchard that I saw the owls on my last visit. The weather wasn't too bad and it allowed me to sit quietly in the car with all the windows open whilst reading the newspaper. The first signs that they were still around came when I heard the typical low droaning call of one of the birds, just like last time it was coming from the orchard. The newspaper was soon discarded and replaced with my binoculars. It then took quite some time before I got my first sighting, and that wasn't surprising concidering how deep in the foliage it was!

LO site No 219 - hiding owl.
 After a while it obviously got fed up with playing hide and seek and out it popped from its cover

It was a bit of a surprise when it took flight and flew straight at me and then landed in the suspect nest tree that I was parked next to. This offered a much closer view and an improved photo opportunity. What I didn't realise at the time is this owl has a damaged left eye, it was much darker yellow and very bloodshot.

Although I only managed to photograph one of the owls I did see a pair here, bodes well for the breeding season. Could be a good site to erect a box, mmmmmm we'll have to see? I didn't spend too much longer with them once I realised they were still around and off I went in search of more owls.
The next four sites I visited resulted in two complete blanks and two sites with single birds, they will all have to be re-visited again! But the best news came when I was checking out the owls at my site No 184 in Kilby, I'd heard a single owl call here but didn't see it. Whilst I was scanning the general area I noticed that the lane that led off to my right was more than just a dead end and ran on for further than I realised, this needed further investigation! 
And it was right at the end of the lane when I was turning around that this chap (below) was spotted sitting in a roadside Ash Tree. I can't say that I'd missed him previously as I'd never been down there before! Only the single bird was seen but never the less, get in there new site No 221. The image is a poor one but needless to say I will return in an attempt to improve upon it and to see if there is a pair. 

LO site No 221
The final site that I visited was a three pronged attack really, firstly I wanted to see if the Little Owls at my site No 91 were still around and using one of my nest boxes. The second was to see if any Barn Owls were about, I use to see them here on a regular basis but not since 2011. And thirdly this is the site that I had my best ever encounter with a wintering Long Eared Owl! Whilst waiting the land owner and his wife drove past and stopped for a quick chat, they informed me that they had good views of a solitary Barn Owl just before Christmas, but nothing since?
Eventually I had to give up as it got too dark to see, sadly no Barn or Long Eared Owls were seen but I did see one of the resident Little Owls. Just before the light went it popped out of my nest box and into the tree, I managed just the one distant image (below) at an ISO of 6400, it shows the nest tree, my nest box and the owl, I'll bet you a fiver you can't see it?
LO site No 91.
I had two snippets of red hot information late today (Monday). Firstly a birding buddy informed me that this evening he saw a pair of Barn Owls at a local site that I monitor, really good news as I have only ever seen a single owl here.
And then a phone call from a local landowner, she has a Barn Owl roosting in one of her out buildings, and I have never ever seen a Barn Owl at that location before!
Things are really starting to hot up on the Barnie front! 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Owlometer kicks into life!

Saturday morning was spent flitting around various Little Owl sites to see if they still had any occupancy in readiness for the breeding season in the spring. But before any monitoring could commence I paid a visit to my Jay feeding site to top it up with a handful of peanuts and set up my hide. A return was planned later in the day and hopefully by then a few birds would be coming to the free offerings and some image opportunities would be available?
Apart from the brief Little Owl encounter I had on new years day at my site No 6 (see previous post) my running tally for the year was 1 bird from 1 site! Now this is a pretty poor return considering we are fast approaching the end of the first week of 2013. As this tally gathers momentum I will keep an update as to how many Little Owls I have been seen and from how many sites on my "Owlometer" this can be seen on the right hand side of this blog. 
Also this year I am going to be keeping and updating a second owlometer for Barn Owls, this species numbers have been quite sparse in recent years but things are starting to change! Judging by the amount of sightings that I have already made this year it appears that my nest box programme is improving the numbers somewhat. Whether through design or by default I have already seen single Barn Owls at three totally different locations, that is already only one less than the whole of last years total! The Barn Owl by nature wanders/hunts across a much wider area than the Little Owl and therefore cross over sightings are inevitable and monitoring exact numbers becomes far more difficult. But if I keep a record I am sure that once their territories have been established things will sort themselves out?
So after the quick stop off at the Jay station I got on with the task in hand of finding some Little Owls. In total I managed to visit fifteen known territories, they didn't all offer a viewing but by the time I'd finished 10 different birds were seen across 7 different sites. The photo opportunities were somewhat limited as most of the birds were just "dots in the distance". I did however managed a couple of shots (below) of the "closer" birds but these were still too far away to achieve any quality. I'm sure if I'd of hung around longer improved images would have been on the cards but as time was of the essence I wasn't prepared to hang around and wait for them!
A distant sighting was made at my site No 95.

Site No 217, another distant owl!
On the way back home I popped in to the Jay feeding station, a three hour vigil from the hide only produced two separate and very fleeting visits from the birds, I think they were nervous of the hide?

It was absolutely freezing in the hide so rather than sit there shivering like a dog in a wet sack I called it a day. The warmth of the car was bloody lovely, so I just drove around for an hour or so just to get the blood flowing again, and I'm glad I did! As I was driving through one of the villages on the way home whooosh, a Barn Owl flew across the road right in front of me! It was a new bird in a new area and no where near any of my previously seen sites for this year, so that not equals my sightings for the whole of 2012!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

First owl of the year!

I have made a decision not to continue doing my annual review of 2012, it was far too time consuming and all I was doing was going over old ground really, lets be honest it was pretty boring! The three months that I did do (Jan-Mar) can still be read as they are at the top of this page just under the main header image, but it won't be there for long!
So my first owl of 2013 has been seen, on the morning of new years day (and no I wasn't walking off a hangover!). I came face to face with this chap (below) from my site No 6 at Peckleton, it is a heavily cropped image but the first of many owly images to come in 2013, fingers crossed!
It may be a little late but here's wishing you all a very happy and prosperous new year!