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, 28 February 2013

Little Owl Site No 225

My intention was to locate some Barn Owls out hunting at dusk. I was at a location that I'd never staked out before as permission for access had only recently been granted. However, I wasn't going in blind as I knew it was frequented by Barn Owls as there were fresh pellets everywhere! Once on site it made a refreshing change to still be accompanied by some decent light, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner.......
It hadn't been the warmest of days, the fresh wind was biting but without a cloud in the sky the light levels for photography were still holding out. I positioned myself in a good vantage point where I could see plenty of potential perches. Whilst waiting for a Barnie to show my Little Owl tally ticked over another notch, a single bird appeared on the roof seemingly from now where? 
This bird was very obliging, it moved about on all the perches that I was hoping the Barnie would use, and some quite different shots from the norm were captured. Sadly it didn't last too long as I was beaten by the fading light, even though I was expecting it I am still amazed just how quick the sun sets and it gets dark, roll on the summer.  
Little Owl - Site No 225
Little Owl - Site No 225

Little Owl - Site No 225
Little Owl - Site No 225

Little Owl - Site No 225

It was brilliant to locate a new Little Owl site, No 225, a very showy individual. Eventually a single Barn Owl showed too but by then it was too dark for any images. I was however more than content just to watch it hunting the area, maybe I'll get it next time?

Thursday, 21 February 2013


In my previous post I introduced you all to my latest find, Barn Owl site No 14. I did manage a couple of distant record shots of the bird albeit in very poor light. Although the images were nothing to write home about I did really like the setting and some of the perches the owl used, as did some of you judging by your comments.
So after work this evening I re-visited the same site to see if I could improve on the previous images. Again the light was appalling and to make matters worse the wind was cutting. In an attempt to get the image I wanted of it coming out of the "pop hole" getting closer than before was the key. My tactics were to creep along the hedgerow until I was close enough for a better image but not so close as to stress the owl. Once I was close enough (about 30 feet away) I backed deep into the hedge and completely out of sight. It was now a case of standing there and hoping it would show? The wind was bitter and straight into my face which made matters very uncomfortable as I wasn't really dressed for the occasion, no gloves, no hat and not even wearing a jacket!!
On a couple of occasions I nearly gave up because of the cold, but eventually I was rewarded with a showing just before the light went. Again I was forced to use a high ISO setting, and at F3.2 I managed to achieve a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second @ 300mm.

Click on image for a higher quality view.   
Barn Owl site No 14.
The owl sat there for around a minute nonchalantly looking around. It glanced in my direction a couple of times, not because it saw me but more a reaction to the sound of the camera shutter. It then disappeared back into the barn, I think it was put of by the atrocious conditions and decided not to venture out, unlike the idiot with the camera!!
The owl is using this barn for roosting purposes only as there is no suitable nesting site or box in it, I think I need to do something about that pretty quickly!


I found out late last night from my "farmer friend" that the building in question that the Barn Owl is using for a roosting site is to be renovated into a cottage!!! Sadly because of this bad news it now means that my plans to erect a nest box inside have been scuppered. I guess now I'll have to put plan "B" into action..........what ever that is???

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Yet another Barnie site - No 14!

A phone call late yesterday afternoon from one of my "farmer friends" had me in a bit of a panic, what was I to do? It had just gone 5.00pm and I was due to pick up Daz at 6.15pm as we were off to watch the mighty Leicester City FC play Charlton Athletic, we lost 2-1 so enough said about that!
My farmer friend was quite excited as he had seen a Barn Owl flying around in one of his fields and it wasn't far from one of my boxes! I calculated that the 10 minute journey each way would leave me around half and hour at the site before I'd have to leave to pick up Daz, so off I went.
I was soon at the location and my friend was awaiting my arrival. We chatted away for a few minutes and I got the run down on recent events. The barn Owl had been sighted on several occasions during the last couple of weeks, mostly at dusk but on two occasions in the middle of the day!
There was a derelict building on the land and if I didn't know better surely that's where it must be day roosting? So I positioned my car in a good vantage point and waited for it to show, and it took all of five minutes before it appeared at the "pop hole". It was now 5.46pm and the light was absolutely woeful, so in order to capture a record shot I had to pump up the ISO to 1600 @ F2.8 and still I could only muster 1/100th of a second shutter speed, and if that wasn't tough enough it was hand held too!
The Barnie then moved around the building and settled on a few different perches.
Just as I was departing it took to the wing and I managed just the one shot of it in flight.
Absolute brilliant, yet another new Barnie site, that's 14 so far this year!!!!

Monday, 18 February 2013


On reflection it was a pretty quiet weekend on the owling front, it was very spring like and the Mrs decided there was a pile of jobs that wanted doing in the garden, doooh! However, I did managed to sneak out for a couple of short trips on both Saturday and Sunday with the task in hand to check out more boxes.
On Saturday I visited Barn Owl nest box that I erected in an old building three years ago near to Lutterworth. On my last visit in late December 2012 I did find a couple of Barn Owl pellets below the box, these were cleared away so I could then monitor any activity on my next visit. And yes they are still visiting and presumably using the box because I found one hundred and thirty four pellets on the floor!!!  I collected up the pellets into a bucket because I have a couple of schools who use them for teaching purposes.
Barn Owl pellets, all 134 of them!
Wow, judging by the number this must mean that a pair of owls were in residence?  But oh no, as I was busily picking up the pellets a pair of Stock Doves flew from the box????? Stock Doves are fast becoming my arch enemy, they are too readily taking residence in my boxes and last year I had 17 pairs in them! I think that they bully the owls away so if anyone has any ideas on how I could deter the Doves and encourage the owls instead I would surely like to hear your ideas/suggestions?

In between doing my chores in and around the garden I found time to repair a Little Owl box. This box had been erected in a huge Oak Tree over near Lubbesthorpe. Towards the end of last year during a horrendous thunder storm the tree got hit by lightning and crashed to the ground. It had been smashed to smithereens but amazingly the box survived with only a few scratches on the front panel!

I tightened up all the screws and got it back to something near its original shape. It also had a fresh coat of paint and a nice new felt roof. It will be back up a tree very soon!

I'd be lying if I said I went all weekend without seeing an owl, of course I did, I saw plenty. But because I was suppose to be doing other things (like gardening) I didn't have time to wait for them to come close enough for an image.

Late on Saturday afternoon/early evening I was sent out to run an errand, as you never know what you may see whilst out I took my camera with me.....just in case?? I worked it out that I had just  enough time to pop into a site where recently we'd erected a couple of boxes. As I pulled into the farm yard there sat on the roof where a pair of Little Owls! This was an opportunity too good to miss, I knew I should have been somewhere else but I was prepared for the backlash of getting back late.

Up went the camo blind at the window and the camera was soon at the ready, the birds were very obliging considering my lack of available time.  It was a shame the  light was so bad but never the less I did manage to get my best ever images from this site.

I did get back late but whilst out the traffic was appalling, or at least that is my story and I am sticking to it.....but don't tell the Mrs!  

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dusk Patrol.

Late yesterday I managed to get out for an hour, although late in the day and not good for photography dusk is definitely a great time to catch a glimpse of an owl. At this time of year when the trees have no leaves on them (unless it's an evergreen of course!) spotting the silhouette of a perched up owl isn't too difficult.
It is also the time of day (and year) when they become more vocal, prior to the breeding season the male birds are establishing their territories and at dusk their call can easily give their presence away.
I was checking out a site near to the village of Sharnford, I'd been watching the nest tree hoping for my first sighting of the year at this location. Nothing was seen, then as the light faded I heard the male owl calling, he was in a different tree to the one I'd been watching! Although distant I did managed to get an image (below), can you see him?

At the second site a pair was located perched up in their nest tree, again their presence was given up when the male owl called. These birds were a little harder to locate as their plumage blended in perfectly with the surrounding foliage, can you see them? 

Then the hen bird came closer as she flew into a nearby tree, quickly followed by the male. He seemed excitable, he was dancing around whilst making a strange "clicking noise". I'd seen this behaviour before, I knew what was coming next.
She then seemed to surrender to him, bowed forward and started twisting from side to side. In a flash he mounted her and mating then commenced. It was all over in a matter of seconds as in the heat of passion they both fell from the branch! 

On my way back Little Owls were seen at another two sites taking this years tally to 61 sightings across 31 different sites, still a long way to go until I hit my target of 100 occupied sites for the year.
Whilst on my way home I passed my site No 62, it was here that a single owl was seen perched up in a roadside tree. He didn't seem bothered one iota about me being parked up next to him with my camera poking out of the window. In order to attain this image (below) I had to manual focus and use the flash and still he didn't budge, I think they become far braver in the dark!  

The last call I made was to a Barn in Cosby as I wanted to check out another one of my boxes. As I entered the building out flew a Barn Owl, my 13th different location this year!!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Barn Owl box No 53

Sunday morning found Col and I out there braving the elements whilst erecting yet more owl boxes. There was suppose to be a third member of the crew lending a hand but when we went to pick up Carl and the boxes he started waffling on about it was too cold and he wasn't coming!
I'd had enough of his pathetic excuses and wanted to go but Col stood there trying to reason with him (image below) about getting his priorities right. Finally the truth came spilling out, instead he was going to stay at home and bake a cake........WHAT??? Yeah can you believe it, a Victoria Sponge too!

So we left "fairy cake Carl" with his baking powder and jam filling and got on with the task in hand. Our first location was a large barn not from from the village of Gilmorton, it was only a few hundred yards from here where I saw a Barn Owl only two weeks ago so hopefully the timing is perfect.
Gilmorton - Barn Owl Box No 51
Whilst Col was busy erecting the box I had a wander around the large complex of barns, in doing so I chanced upon a large number of Little Owl pellets on the floor. It just so happened that we had a Little Owl box with us so where better to erect it than here?

This is our new design Little Owl box that was first seen in a previous post a couple of weeks ago. We decided (well Col did!) that a perfect location for it was on top of some old farm machinery nearby to where the pellets on the floor were located.
Col did all the hard work putting the box up, I just posed next to it for the camera !

Little Owl box No 50 - Gilmorton
At the second location of the morning we put up another Barn Owl box, this time we were in the village of Leire and in yet another isolated barn. Although I've never actually seen an owl here I did find fresh pellets a month or so ago whilst doing some investigating.
The box we put up here was of the newly converted and enlarged design of a smaller owl box. And yes miracles do occur occasionally, I can be seen here actually doing some work for once! 

Leire - Barn Owl box No 52
The final and fourth box of the morning was erected near to the village of Peckleton. I haven't ever seen a Barn Owl at this location before but that is the point of what we are trying to achieve. Give em somewhere to live, roost and breed and if they find it?........Hopefully they will use it!

Peckleton - Barn Owl box No 53
So that is now 53 Barn Owl boxes we have put up locally, along with the 50 Little Owl boxes we hope 2013 is going to be a breeding year to remember, that would definitely be the icing on the cake for me and Col!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Barn Owl Site No 12.

For the last few weeks a Barn Owl has been regular sighted by a farmer in his back garden over in the Peckleton area. So on Friday evening I ventured over there to see if I could record a sighting for myself and make it the 12th different location where I have seen local Barn Owls this year.
I arrived around 5.20pm and was warmly welcomed by the farmer and his wife who quickly ushered me into the kitchen which over looks their rear garden. If the previous few evenings events were anything to go by its arrival was expectant any minute. I was informed that it tended to favour a couple of posts for perching next to the the apple tree. I had a look out of the window and it wasn't there yet, I thought it was still too light so I decided to quickly nip outside to the adjacent barn and check if there were any pellets underneath the new box I put up a few weeks ago.
I'd only taken a few steps out of the back door when a cry came from within the house "its here". I dashed back inside but missed it, doooh! We waited a few minutes to see if it would return but it didn't. I then ventured outside and had a wandered around the barns but I couldn't locate it. It was obviously spending a lot of time around here as I found numerous fresh pellets scattered around.

Whilst checking out the barns a "white object" caught my eye in the distant field, it was the Barn Owl! Not one of my finest images but it was taken at distance and in very poor light, but there is no mistaking it is deffo a Barn Owl.   
Barn Owl - Site No 12
I know of a breeding pair of Barn Owls that raised young only a couple of miles from this location last year, my money is on this bird being one of those dispersing youngster's?? Hope it finds my box to its liking and decides to stay....... 

Friday, 8 February 2013

It's not cheating.......it's art.

Following on from my last two posts and keeping along with the theme of Barn Owl on a brick wall, here is another image of the very same bird on the said wall.
No there wasn't five Barn Owls all together, but a bit of picture stacking in photoshop enabled me to create the effect.

Now I am waiting for the critics to have their say, come on let me have it, I've got broad shoulders!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gilmorton Barn Owls

Late last night (11.30pm) whilst on my way home from a birthday bash I chanced upon yet another new Barn Owl site. We were driving along the country lanes not far from Gilmorton and whoosh, it flew straight across in front of us. Brilliant views were had for about 2 seconds as it was lit up in the car headlights.

So this evening I re-visited the same location to see if it could be re-located, I was in situ just before dusk and as the light faded so did my luck, sadly I didn't see it! But whilst in the Gilmorton area I decided to check out another of my boxes that I have in a barn. And as I entered the barn out flew a Barnie!!!! The chances of it being the same owl as last night are very slim indeed because there must be a distance of 2 miles between them. The owl then gave brilliant views in the car headlights as it hunted up and down alongside the road verge.
As can be seen on my "owlometer" on the right hand side of my blog the numbers are really starting to mount up, I have now made 12 different Barn Owl sighting across 11 different sites in south Leicestershire and we are only 5 weeks in to the new year.........yeah bring em on!!! 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Off to Leire.

This morning (Saturday) the light levels were sublime, best yet so far this year I'd say? So not one for wasting a good photo opportunity I was out early to try and make the most of it. The forecast stated it was going to get quite breezy around mid morning so I needed to locate an obliging subject (an owl preferably) before the conditions worsened.
Thanks to Diana (a land owner in Leire) I'd got a couple of meetings/introductions arranged with a couple of her farmer friends. They had agreed to meet with me with a view to see if they had any potential for Barn Owl box locations on their respective land. Because my meeting were going to take place in the Leire area it seemed to make sense that I should head out that way and start my owl hunt.
I made a bee line to my site No 62, I hadn't visited this site for quite some time so getting re-acquainted with the owls here seemed a good plan. As on previous visits I pulled the car up on the roadside grass verge alongside a gap in the hedgerow. Its not a very big gap but there is space enough to look through onto a right juicy tree stump that is favoured by the owls here. My camo screen was up at the window, beanbag positioned over the door and my camera and lens were at the ready. A few quick images were taken of the stump and my setting were adjusted accordingly, all that was needed now was an owl perched on top of that sun drenched stump.
I had to wait around an hour (too many doggy walkers and horse riders going by) but finally my patience was rewarded with a very brief visit from one of the owls.

The owl seemed agitated, it didn't really settle properly and within seconds of its arrival it departed. I managed to capture an image of it just as it took off, not properly in focus but not far off!!

But it didn't go too far, it had settled on top of the recently cut hedgerow, it wasn't as  photogenic as the stump it was on previously but the compensating factor was it was now in full sun, ooooooh lovely!

Just as before it didn't stay perched up too long and I nearly nailed another take off shot, better focus this time but it helps if you keep all the bird in the frame, dooooh!

That was it, my close encounter with the owl was over as it didn't come close again whilst I was there. I then departed to have my meetings with the farmers, they went really well and they both allowed me to investigate some cracking isolated barns that look very owly indeed, all I need to do now is get the gang together and get the boxes up that we made last weekend, are you listening lads?