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, 27 June 2013

The best time......part 1 - Barn Owls.

Throughout the year we are constantly working with our many nest boxes, it could be making new ones and then erecting them, re-locating or cleaning out existing ones or just monitoring them throughout the year. Yes it is very time consuming and a labour of love really but all the hard work becomes worth while when the springtime arrives and we reap the rewards when occupancy is taken up.

During the past few weeks I have been monitoring quite closely a dozen or so boxes where it seemed as though the resident owls had selected our box for breeding purposes. There were three boxes that had pairs of Barns Owls coming and going on a regular basis and at least 9 boxes with Little Owls showing the same kind of interest. In previous years when the weather has been more settled the different pairs of owls get down to their breeding within a week or so of each other. This year has been nothing like that, for example we had one box being used by Little Owls and when it was checked out it had 3 chicks of about a week old in it. Just down the road another box was checked and she had just laid her first egg, taking all the statistics of incubation periods into consideration that made a difference of around 4-5 weeks between when the two pairs started to breed! 

So the decision of when to visit the boxes and ring the owls chicks has not been an easy one, timing was very much of the essence. I'd calculated that we had a window of two to three days when the eldest chicks would still be in the respective boxes and the youngest chicks would be developed enough to ring. That date was  last Thursday and we had invited over our newly appointed ringers Mick & Denise to come an help us do the task. They live very local to myself and they are part of the Stamford Ring Group. We had been conversing with one and other for a couple of months and had agreed to meet up outside a country public house in the evening, this was actually the first time we had met up!

The  first ringing site of the day was at our closely monitored Barn Owl site, because of the recent loss of the male owl here we decided not to disturbed them too late in the evening as that would be when the hen owl would be feeding the young. Glynn (the land owner) can be seen in this first image up in the barn where the box is located,

One by one we rang the three very healthy chicks, both Col and I had a go at ringing under the watchful eye and guidance of Mick.


Col seemed pretty pleased with his effort, the bird was quite docile and didn't flinch once!

Glynn's daughter (Amelia) can be seen here posing with the owl that I had rung.

And this is the third owl that Mick rung, as can be seen they are quite well developed.

The chicks weren't out of the nest box for too long, I reckon the whole process from start to finish was around 15 minutes. In this next image Glynn can be seen replacing the owls back into the nest box.

And the view looking out from the barn revealed this motley looking crew, from L to R Col, Denise, Mick and John.

I mentioned earlier in this post that I had also been monitoring another two pairs of Barn Owls that have started to use our boxes. Well these birds are still about but sadly they have not got around to breeding yet? I have since found out that it is a similar story for the rest of the UK, it is thought to be a consequence of the "wintery like" spring we had and it seems to have put the owls off breeding, I am hoping that is not the case and it has just delayed matters, time will tell?

Part 2 of our ringing evening will be posted soon and that features the Little Owls..........

Monday, 24 June 2013

Making the most of it......

Another re-visit to my favourite Little Owl site has been on the cards for a while now, the only thing holding me back was the weather continuous. High winds, rain showers and a lack of good light don't help, especially when fast shutter speeds are the requisite for flight shots.

After setting up the light was in my favour for a few precious minutes, the owls were performing to their usual standard and a few flighty images were obtained, all be it at an ISO of 1250. 

As expected the light soon went and was quickly replaced by heavy grey clouds and rain showers. I then tried to make the most of things and went for some portrait images instead.

A couple of times whilst I was laying down underneath the Landrover one of the owls would come very close indeed, this next image is full frame at 300mm.

And last but not least let me introduce you to the first juveniles I have managed to photograph this year. Although they are not out of the nest yet it won't be long before they are judging by how well the parents are doing at feeding them.

I am planning another evening visit to this site as soon as the weather improves, mmmmm could be in for a long wait!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Remember me?

During the past two breeding seasons (2011 & 2012) I have spent countless hours at one Little Owl site in particular. Initially it took me many painstaking hours where on each individual visit I'd work myself (in the landrover) just that little bit nearer than the time before. After dozens of visits employing the same stealthy tactics I did eventually gain the trust of the adult birds. Eventually I would get close enough to have great views of the day to day antics and when the juveniles finally fledged the nest they automatically accepted my presence because they could see their parents were relaxed with me being there.

For many reasons I have recently neglected this site and have not made a visit to see them since last September, almost 8 months ago! If the owls were still in residence I feared that I was going to have to go through the whole process of reintroducing myself all over again, I just didn't have the time or the inclination to do so.

So this now brings me to one evening last week, as I was near the farm where these owls reside I thought I'd pop in to see if they were still about. After a quick catch up with the farmer and his wife permission was granted for me to drive the landrover over to the quiet corner of the field where the owls have their nest tree. I parked up at a "safe" distance and scanned the general area, it took me a few minutes to check out all their favored perches and posts and to my delight the first owl was located sitting in the hedgerow, just below the nest tree. I was too far away to capture an image but more importantly I was too far away to tell whether or not the owl was spooked by my presence?  The only way I was going to know if it remembered me was by moving closer. It wasn't going to be a stealthy maneuver either as its pretty difficult to be subtle when one is sitting inside a 2 tonne vehicle with a 2.5lt diesel engine revving away! 

I didn't just go a drive straight up to it, that would have been foolish! Instead I drove across it from left to right and with each pass I steadily got closer. In all this time (about 10 minutes) it just sat motionless apart from its head which swiveled as it watched me going back and forth. Eventually I got to within 20 feet of it, the last hurdle I now needed to cross was the switching off of the engine, I knew from previous experience's that this action can spook owls more than the driving by. The final test was passed with flying colours as the owl didn't budge a muscle, this is a wild owl and it stilled sat there unperturbed, it was at this point that I realised it remembered me from last year and it didn't feel threatened.

Scattered around the nest tree are several favoured perches that the owls use, some of which are ones that I put up for them last year. I strategically positioned some of them so as to give a nice neutral and uncluttered background, and it was to one of these perches that the owl flew. In order to capture an image of it on this perch it meant I had to manoeuvre the Landrover yet again. This was done with the minimum of fuss and the owl didn't move, it was as if it was waiting for me to turn around!  

Things were good, but then things got even better when the second owl flew in and landed next to its mate. That was definitely the defining moment, the second owl was still here and it too had accepted my presence. They were only together on the post for a few seconds but it was time enough to capture this image below.

I spent the next hour or so watching as the owls as they went about their business, it was like I wasn't even there! It was pretty obvious that they had chicks in the nest as they were making plenty of visits to the nest hole with a variety of food offerings, worms, beetles and insects. I have no idea what age the chicks are, but as I didn't hear them begging I would assume not too old? Now I have re-acquainted myself with the parents it shouldn't be too difficult for the youngsters to get use to me once they fledge.  

Whilst with the owls I performed one final act that really pushed the boundaries further than I could have foreseen.  I covered myself with camo netting and got out of the Landrover on the furthest side away from the owls. I knew that this action could have been destructive for my relationship with the owls and possible scare them off for good, but I still chanced it. Once out of the landrover I got onto the ground and crawled underneath it, I so wanted to get down at eye level with the owls whilst they grubbed around in the grass whilst looking for food.  Yes they did seem to be alert to me being there but it didn't scare them off. And at one stage one of the owls came within only a few feet from me and this image below was captured, my favourite from the day.

I will now be keeping a close eye on the activity at this site and hopefully there will be some chicks out of the nest very soon...............

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Tawny owls.....again.

For two consecutive evenings this week I have re-visited my new Tawny Owl site that I first discovered a week or so ago. During this weeks visits both the adults and the fledged juveniles were seen but I think they are now wising up to me as they are keeping their distance. Even though they are about 100 feet away the youngsters are still easily recognisable from the adults as they are still covered in fluffy down on the chest and back of the head.
Around 9.30pm the first juvenile appeared on the outer branches of the tree and started to hiss,  it was obviously hungry as it begged the parents for food. 

It then dropped down and perched up on a wooden rail that backed onto an old stable. There it stayed continually begging for food until it got too dark and I couldn't see it any longer.

On the second evening the proceedings were almost identical  to that of the first, the juvenile appeared from out of the depths of the wooded area, hissed for a few minutes and then dropped down onto the wooden rail, only this time it was joined by one of its siblings. I can only assume that the juveniles sit on this rail and during the hours of darkness and the parent owls bring food to them?  

I also had a rare and very brief encounter with one of the adult owls. It landed on a nearby post and had a look at me for a few seconds before flying off into the darkness.

Brilliant birds to watch, even if it is only for a around 30 minutes each evening. I will undoubtedly be stopping off again to watch them, I am hoping to witness the juveniles being fed and if I am very lucky and the light levels hold out maybe I'll be able to capture some of the action?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

End of a friend???

I have been waiting a few days to break the news, I was hoping that we were wrong and in the end all would be well? But sadly now we have had to resign ourselves to the loss of our favourite Barn Owl. Glyn the landowner has been checking the cameras around the clock and the last viewing he had was back on the 12th of June, a whole 6 days ago. OK maybe he may have gone wondering off and will be back soon but not when he has got three growing chicks in the nest box he hasn't.

So what could have happened to him? Has he found another mate and just left? Did the Buzzard who attacked him last week do so again with more success? Could old aged have caught up with him? Or most likely he has been hit by a car whilst out hunting, I guess we will never know............? 
This image below was taken the day before he went missing and at the time I didn't think much to it and didn't post it on this blog, but now it has far more significance.

The male owl at our monitoring site. A truly majestic bird
I was really depending on this pair to produce two broods this year as they have done so previously as the local Barn Owl population has been decimated recently with the bad weather.  I suppose we must be grateful that before his untimely disappearance he was in the middle of rearing their first brood. The hen owl continues to fed the three growing young, who knows how she is going to cope when they get bigger and place more demands on her?
I'll keep you posted on any developments..........

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Owls on a gate?

Very late on Monday evening (around 11pm) I chanced upon a family of Tawny Owls, all five of them! I'd been out searching for hunting Barn Owls (no luck there!) when I pulled up in a gateway to check out a particular patch of rough pasture. It was a very mild night and totally windless, consequently I'd got all the windows on my car open as hearing owls calling is a very productive method of location.
Whilst parked up I started to hear a very strange call, I was sure it was an owl but of which species? At first I got very excited as I thought it was the distinctive call of juvenile Long Eared Owls, a high pitched drawn out screech, a little like an old rusty gate being opened. I got out of the car and closed in on where the sound(s) were coming from, surprising the calls got louder and louder and then they became frantic?? Mmmmmmm, they weren't what I had hoped they were but juvenile Tawny Owls, a brilliant consolation prize never the less. They were begging for food and when the parent owl came in with food that is when they got louder and more frantic. Sadly it was far too late in the day for photography which was a real shame as I have NEVER managed and images of juvenile Tawny Owls.
So after my premature end with the Barn Owl site visit and the attack from the Buzzard I decided to check the Tawny family out again. Upon arrival at my latest new owl site it was just as I thought, no owls. I wasn't surprised by that though as the Tawny is very much a lover of the night and almost totally nocturnal. I decided to stay put as you never know when your luck is in, they may show early enough for an image or two?
I parked the car parallel to an old gate which then lead onto a field and some nice old mature trees. I'd been waiting well over an hour and the light had almost gone, it then started to drizzle which compounded matters, my chance of an image had all but gone. Just then as they had the previous night the juveniles started to call again. Although I couldn't see them they were really close!! Each side of the gate was a thick hedgerow and it sounded as though they were in the right hand side. For what it was worth I picked up the camera and poked it out of the window and took a couple of trial shots. There was still just a hint of light left and if the owls were to show pretty quickly I may just grab a shot or two? 
Well I then nearly crapped my pants as one of the adult Owls flashed in from nowhere and landed on the gate right in front of me.

I managed a couple of shots as it stared back at me but then I was distracted by a movement further along the gate, it was a juvenile!!
It had joined its mum in the hope of being fed, I think? Never the less I had my best ever views of a fledged Tawny Owl and I managed an image too! And with the wonders of my editing software I managed to salvage the image, below.

The same juvenile then flew up into the adjacent tree, it was now far too dark for an image so I switched over to manual focus and with the assistance of a flash nailed this next image.

A brilliant experience and one that had been on my wish list for a very long time.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Lucky Owl!

Last night I made another visit to the local Barn Owl site, the parents are now busily feeding their ever growing young brood of 3 chicks and consequently are venturing out to feed earlier than normal, but not every night! Some nights the weather is not to their liking and they are not seen at all, other times they come out too late for photography and then there are the times when they fly off in the wrong direction altogether!  
Tonight I was trying to get a portrait shot with a greenish back ground rather than the sky or the brick wall of the barn. So that meant shuffling the hide around a bit so the leaves on the nearby ash tree gave me the backdrop I was after. But this also meant that the sunlight would be coming over my left shoulder and not fully on the bird, a sacrifice I was prepared to make. I was positioned up in my small mobile hide by 7.30pm, the light was just perfect and all that was needed now was an obliging owl to land on the post in front of me. 
At twelve minutes past eight I caught my first glimpse as one of the birds flew straight past me, it wasn't tempted to take a rest on the perch? At first I thought it was going to be a fruitless session but then for some reason it turned and swooped around and landed right in front of me. It was just what I was after, the bird in full light (well most of it was) a nice perch and a greenish diffused background. It stayed with me for a few minutes and in that time I took a couple of dozen shots at varied different compositions and settings. The final image that I have decided to share is almost full frame, shot at an ISO of 500, F5 and focal length of 186mm. The views in that low golden light were just amazing and I am very pleased with the resultant image (below). 

The time with the owl ended far too prematurely for my liking, it was perched up in an adjacent tree just nonchalantly scanning the verge below when out of nowhere it was attacked by a Buzzard!!! I'd never seen anything like it before, the Buzzard flew in at speed with talons outstretched in front of it and smashed into the chest of the owl. The thudding noise of the impact was surprisingly loud, in a flurry of feathers the owl fell like a lead balloon into the long grass and nettles, oh no this was not good! I was soon out of the hide and searching for it, the length of the grass (waist high) made it extremely difficult to walk in without the fear of treading on it!
After 10 minutes of searching nothing was found, it was then a relief when both of the parent owls were seen flying in and around the barn. Goodness knows how it managed to have flown out of the grass without being seen but it did and it seemed none to worse for its ordeal.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Barn Owl in the golden light.

I didn't do my usual Friday night "thing" and go to the pub, instead I made the ultimate sacrifice and had a "dry night". I decided my time would be better employed sitting in my mobile hide for a few hours in the hope that a Barn Owl would show. And I was richly rewarded with some superb views of a male Barn Owl in the golden setting sun.

I was very pleased with the results and once the sun had set I did eventually find myself in the pub, well a couple of late pints were just reward for such a successful evening! 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Little Owls and a bit of sunshine.......

I have managed a few short trips out during the last few days, mainly to check boxes and on any breeding developments. I now have Little Owls in boxes that have only just started to lay their eggs, others that have chicks and a few in between! I can only assume this wider than normal gap between when these different pairs "got down to business" is a direct influence on the ever changing weather conditions?

As ever I took my trusted camera along with me as being an opportunistic type of chap one never knows what will present itself? I managed to grab a few images at three different sites along the way and to be honest I am quite pleased with some of the results, so I thought I'd share......

Little Owls do have a very cryptic feather pattern and it is amazing just how well they can blend in to all different types of backgrounds, but this guy below was easy enough to spot! 

The light direction at times was really not in my favour, but I have added this next shot because I like the post.

Although I couldn't be sure I suspect this pair must have chicks as they were both observed grubbing around on the floor for insects.

Really pleased with this next image, I just managed to get him in flight as he zipped past me.

This particular owl was located on top of an old barn getting a bit of sun. 

At one site the male bird was captured landing on one of his favourite perches, I am very pleased with this sequence of images.

I hope you enjoyed this little "gallery" update, hopefully Barn Owls will feature in my next post?

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, 3 June 2013


Although I have been out plenty since my last post there really hasn't been much to report, things are all still very quiet on the owling front. This lull in activity is to be expected though as the hens birds continue to incubate eggs or brood youngsters whilst the male owl keeps a very low profile while keeping a watchful eye. So rather than do several posts with just a snippet of info I have waited until I'd got enough and uploaded them all as a weekly update. 

In the middle of the week I re-visited my site No 205 not far from the village of Gilmorton. My last visit here was a couple of months ago when I think I'd eventually located the nest hole? The trouble was it was in a horse paddock and the only entrance to the paddock meant going through a gateway that was a few inches deep in mud! The Landrover would have got through easily but obviously it would have made a right old mess so I agreed with the landowner to re-visit when the conditions had improved. 

I arrived on site around 6pm and it wasn't until I was there that I remembered that this was an "early morning" site, what I mean by that is the nest entrance is east facing and the best light conditions for photography are as the sun is rising, dooough! Never the less I had made the effort visit (over a gallon of fuel in the landie!) so I wasn't turning back now.

I parked up parallel to the nest tree around 40 feet away the waiting game then commenced. I'd been waiting around half an hour when I heard an owl call from behind me, I wasn't able to see it because of the blackout screen up at the window. Seconds later I turned around and there at the entrance hole sat a Little Owl! I couldn't be sure if it was the calling owl that had flown in or was it already in the nest and it had come to the entrance in response to the other owl calling?

Seconds later all was revealed as the supposedly "calling owl" flew in and landed on a over hanging branch not 10 feet from me. That was all I needed to see, a pair in residence and I'd also confirmed their nest location.

All this activity occurred in a matter of seconds as both owls quickly disappeared into the nest hole. I am very confident that they are a breeding pair and their chicks should be showing in the next few weeks.

So that now brings me to the weekend, I know it was going to be tough seeing some owls but not this tough. In total I visited 26 different sites and birds were only seen at 4!

My  first sighting was at my site No 79, I checked out my nest box here only last week and the hen owl was sitting tight on 4 eggs. I was hoping that the eggs may have hatched by now and if I was lucky maybe see a feeding visit or two by the parents. I been parked up for a while and all was very quiet, my conclusion at the time was the hen must still be in the box and sitting tight. 

Then the alarm call of a Blackbird assisted with the locating of the male owl, he was keeping a watchful eye on me from a nearby tree. Then as I watch him I became aware that he wasn't alone, I could see the hen owl too.

Normally Little Owls will just sit and watch from distance or fly away but these owls were doing neither? They seemed agitated, one of the owls then dropped down onto the nearby hedgerow for a closer look, I then realised the eggs must have hatched and they were waiting to get back to them, with this I departed immediately and left them to it. 

I then visited more sites and no owls were seen until this owl was located sitting up high at my site No 87. I don't think he took kindly to me parking between him and  the nest tree as he soon came down for a closer look.

 He got with 6 feet and gave me a very scary stare, if looks could kill!

I quickly moved on to some other sites and no more Little Owls were located, but I did happen to have an encounter with some Tawny Owls. I stopped off at the site where I've had some great views recently and initially nothing was seen or heard. Normally I stay in the Landrover here but as nothing was showing I decided to take a walk into the woods. Camera in hand I'd only just stepped under the leafy canopy when all hell broke loose! Owls were calling from all over the place, I couldn't see them as it was too dense but from the location of the calls I could make out at least five different individuals. My assumption was they were the two adults I'd previously seen and three youngsters.

I made my way through to a clearing in the wood and sat down with my back to a tree, this tactic paid off as a  couple of sightings were then made. I suspect it was the adult owls that had come down from high up in the canopy to have a look at what I was up to. This first image will perhaps give a feeling for how dense the environment was?

My luck was then in as one of the owls came and landed very close to where I was sat. They really weren't happy I was there so I made a hasty retreat back out of the woods.

The last owl I saw during the weekend was at my site No 19, upon approaching the site I noticed that the farmer had assembled a hugh pile of rubble next to the nest tree. I really couldn't believe my luck as sat there sheltering out of the wind and in full sun was a Little Owl! I grabbed this record shot from distance as I was convinced that as soon I moved any nearer it would be off!

I slowly drove around to the other side of the rubble as the light direction for photography was much better from that side, remarkably he remained in the same place and posed nicely for me. 

I then really pushed my luck and drove right alongside him, he still didn't move!

So all in all it was a bit of a struggle seeing owls during the last few days, but I am not concerned in the slightest as they will all but much easier to see very soon. I am predicting my first "out of the nest" juvenile sightings/images will be in two weeks time...............can't wait!