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!!!

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...............

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Road Runners!

Because of the demise of the male owl at my favourite site (see previous post) I have now turned my attentions to some of my other local Little Owl sites that I've been neglecting of late. One such site really produced the goods in a different sort of way. The nest tree is down a very quiet country lane and is positioned right next to the tarmac road, the fledged juveniles (3 of them) spend most of their time just sitting in the tree surveying all around them. 

But as the light starts to fade they become bolder and drop down out of the tree and onto the road below. They then scurry around in the grass verge looking for any tasty morsels or tit bits. Occasionally they decide that the grass verge on the other side of the road looks more promising and they run over in a very comical sort of way. As I sat and watch their antics from the car I realised that a new photo opportunity had been presented to me that I'd never managed before. The owls on the dark grey coloured road offered a nice contrast and back drop, so a reposition of the car and eventually a few images were captured.


Yes I was happy with the results but I thought if I could get a lower perspective that showed more of the road in the background the final results would be improved somewhat. So during a quiet spell when all the juveniles were up in the tree I gingerly opened the door and sneaked out, I then sat on the grass verge behind the car.

The wait for them to drop back down onto the road was no where near as long as I thought it would be. Yes they could see me but because I kept very quiet and avoided eye contact they accepted my presence. The light levels were by now very low but I think the "darker" ambiance complements the overall effect.

In this next image I have managed to capture what I could see in my minds eye, a nicely posing owl and a very different coloured backdrop that fades off into the background.

It just goes to show that if one sits very still at the right time of day the owls at times can come very close indeed. These last two images are full frame at 250mm, I would say the owls were no further away than 6 feet away from me!!

I am very pleased with the results as it is nice to get something a bit different. I think that there is every chance that one of these images will find its way into my 2014 owl calendar!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Hope is fading.......

I haven't being doing much of late, even though the weather has been very favorable other things have taken precedence and consequently getting out has been a premium. A couple of posts ago I mentioned that the adult male owl at one of my favourite sites had just vanished leaving the hen owl and three juveniles to fend for themselves??? I was hoping that it was just a coincidence but a further two visits (and long ones at that!)  didn't get my hopes up as still no sightings of him were made. It is a real shame as I have known this particular owl for three years, right from when he was rung in the nest as a chick in 2010. Then in the spring of 2011 I re-located him two miles away with his new mate. The pair of them went on to successfully raise three separate broods in 2011, 12 & 13. For what ever reason he was a very confiding owl and at times would let me get very close. Because of his acceptable nature his mate and consequence offspring accepted me readily too.

I have gone back through my image archives and this was the very last image I took of him on the 18th of July as he sat amongst the thistles with one of his youngsters.

It is not in the nature for Little Owls to "do a runner" as they pair for life, and in my experience it is not "normal" for one of the adult owls to spend so much time away from their fledged juveniles. My only conclusion is that he has been predated or hit by a car??? I will however be making another couple of visits to this site before I go to Mull, I suppose keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best is all I can do now?