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!!!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Good news everywhere........

Col and I made the most of our spare time during the last two weekends, our mission was to get around as many of our Barn Owl boxes as possible to check for any signs of activity or occupancy. We weren't that confident of discovering much as the Barn Owl has taken a massive hit during the last 12 months with the UK population being decimated. It has been recently published in a paper that the UK population has been reduced from an estimated 7,000 pairs to a miserly 1,000 pairs, the atrocious weather conditions being the main culprit. 

We kicked off our marathon task by incorporated into our monitoring scheme two more Barn Owl boxes that have been made and erected by a local landowner (Raymond). No activity was discovered in the two boxes whilst there but Raymond has phoned me since to say we he has seen a Barn Owl flying too and from a haystack, so that might be promising? Whilst at this location we drove through one of the big open barns, it was then I noticed that we were being watched? Hiding on one of the steel girders up in the roof was a partially hidden Little Owl, Raymond said he had them there but I only count them as one of my new sites if I see the bird for myself, and I did! 

Little Owl - site No 245
So this is now my new Little Owl site No 245, I do hope that there is a pair there and breeding takes place. I am also hoping to hear from Raymond again in the near future with some good news regarding the Barn Owls and the haystack.

During our two trips out Col and I managed to get around and check some twenty boxes, we had the usual Jackdaws, Stock Doves and Squirrels in residence in a few but the big surprise was we had pairs of Barn Owls in five separate boxes, and all on eggs!!! And then an even bigger surprise we also had Tawny Owls in four different boxes and all with chicks!!! Goodness knows where all these birds have come from but our boxes are very much to their liking so I'm not complaining.

At one particular Barn Owl site Col was prepared with his camera and managed to capture images of both the male & female owl as they left the box, below.

Female at Box site No 83.

Male at box site No 83.
So after what was a disastrous breeding year in 2013 it looks as though 2014 is going to be a bumper one and our best year yet, and we still have loads more boxes to check. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Super Sunday!

On Sunday morning Col Green and I had a couple of spare hours so we used the time wisely and went and checked some more owl boxes. Due to the time constraints we only managed to check two boxes as the rest of the time was spent doing a bit of networking with a local landowner of whom I'd never met before. This guy (I'll call him Mr X) got to find out about us through the "farmers grapevine" and wanted to discuss things with us further, we were intrigued! But before we went and met this mystery guy we checked out two Barn Owl boxes not far from where he lived. 

Normally when a box is "in use" there are some tell tale signs that there maybe occupancy, like pellets on the ground below the box or poo on the landing shelf, but there was neither in evidence here?

Barn Owl box, a pair in residence.
So when we accidentally flushed a pair of Barn Owls out of the first box we were totally surprised (yes I do have a schedule 1 licence that allows me to check/disturb potential breeding sites at this time of year). We then took the opportunity to quickly check inside the box and what we discovered next was even more a surprise.........four eggs!!! Obviously as soon as we found out this brilliant news a hasty retreat was made leaving the owls to return and get on with it.

At the second box we had more great news, before we erected the ladder a gentle tap was made on the side of the box and a Tawny Owl came scuttling out and flew to the nearby woods, wow we never expected that!
A box meant for Barn Owls, we didn't mind that a Tawny family is now in residence.
Col then gingerly placed the ladders up against the box and peered in, another adult owl was tucked away in the corner which exposed at least 3 chicks and 2 unhatched eggs!!!! This was a very unexpected but gladly received find, unbelievably my eighth new Tawny Owl territory located this year!

Once we'd done the box checking off we went to meet Mr X, a really nice guy who just loves his birds, especially owls! He'd heard of the work that Col and I had been doing over the last few years and wanted to offer us a deal? Although he owns an enormous swath of land with lots of suitable habitat for Barn Owls he hadn't seen one for years and that is where we came in. He thought we could help by doing a survey and then make and erect a couple of boxes in the most suitable locations. In return he is able to offer us as much reclaimed timber as we liked (gets it through his business) and the use of his carpentry shop, how could we refuse? So phone numbers were exchanged and I now await his call when the timber is ready, what a top chap!!

That was the end to time spent with Col as he had a pressing appointment elsewhere. I was then joined by Jonah and the two of us decided to go and check out some more owl boxes. En route over the fields I noticed a passerine on top of a manure heap, I checked it out through my binoculars and although distant there was no doubt about the species, a male Wheatear. As I turned the Land-rover in the direction of the Wheatear a Lapwing was noticed sitting in the middle of the field, as we approached it took flight but only landed a few yards away. We were suspicious there was a nest and without even getting out of the Land-rover it was discovered, along with four eggs!

Lapwing nest & eggs
The Lapwing was a brave individual as within minutes she was back on her nest incubating the eggs.

It was a nice distraction seeing the Lapwing but we soon got back to finding where the Wheatear had gone? In the field in question there was around 20 separate manure piles, we parked up right in the middle of them all and waited. It took around an hour of waiting but the Wheatear returned to feed, and it was accompanied by at least three others!

Wheatear - female

Wheatear - male
The Wheatears never really came as close as I would have liked (possibly around 7-8 metres) which resulted in both the above images being quite heavy crops. Great birds to discover and witness at such close quarters and with the added bonus of another species to my annual list (now at 98).

Since my last post I have also made another couple of evening visits to my Tawny Owl site No 7, one visit resulted in no birds being seen at all and on the second visit one bird posed nicely for just a few seconds on one of its favoured perches. Sadly I didn't manage the flight shots that I am now after but never the less I am well chuffed with the one image I did get, below.

Tawny Owl - Site No 7
Thanks for stopping by, will catch up with you all again soon...........

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Tawny re-visited, again........

I know this blog is becoming a bit one dimensional of late but who honestly could resist it, a very local Tawny Owl site where the male bird shows in the daylight on a regular basis?? Well not me!!! As they say "make hay whilst the sun shines" so I made another visit on Thursday evening, the male bird was again showing well within 10 minutes of my arrival. 

Each time I visit I am learning more about this bird and it's habits, it certainly has a few favored perches which makes my life a little easier when deciding where to park and set up. Another bonus of late is the surrounding trees are just coming into leaf which offers a more pleasing background to my images. 

I had a go at getting some flight shots as it came through the pines, dam difficult at the best of times but with low light and a fast moving subject it was tough going. 

I now have loads of portrait images of this bird so now I am going to concentrate on attempting some improved flights shots during my up and coming visits, wish me luck!!!!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Hangover owling......

Nothing much owly to report from the weekend as I was busily having a double celebration, firstly it was my beloved Leicester City finally gaining promotion to the promised land of the Premier League on Friday night and secondly it was a friends wedding on Saturday. Needless to say monster amounts of beer were consumed over the two days which rendered me in a total mess come Sunday. 

However, late on Sunday afternoon I started to come back to life and I made the effort to go out and get some fresh air. I made another visit to my Tawny Owl site No 7, it proved a long wait for the owl to show but when it did I was richly rewarded with some fabulous views. Although I managed quite a few different types of images of the bird on this visit I have selected just this one image to share. I had previously imagined the owl in this exact pose and on this very perch, but I didn't think my wish would actually come true, well not to this extent!

Thanks for stopping by, catch up with you all again soon.......................

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Wow, another Tawny...............

Whilst out checking nest boxes on Sunday morning unbelievably I stumbled upon yet another new Tawny Owl site, my 7th so far this year! Although the owl was perched quite high up in a Scots Pine Tree it was only partially hidden from view and its distinctive silhouette gave it away! Luckily at the time I was on foot and not in the Landrover otherwise it would have been disturbed and possibly not seen at all? So without disturbing it from its day-time snooze I made a hasty retreat and for the rest of the morning I was hatching a plan for my return later on that evening.

I knew that when I returned in the Landrover there was every chance he wouldn't show and the better views and a chance of an image would be totally scuppered, but it was a risk I had to take. The sun was not far off setting so I positioned myself with it coming off my back and I faced towards the small spinney where I saw the owl earlier in the day. Once parked up I dare not move or make another sound for around half an hour, once I was happy that I'd been quiet enough for long enough I peered through my camo scrim and the owl was still in the exact spot as this morning, only this time it was wide awake!

He sat and watched me from the tree for next 30 minutes, then just as the sun was setting he came to life, it proved to be an excellent experience as the owl re-located onto several different perches. I was fortunate that there was still enough light left that allowed for some decent shutter speeds without the need to pump up the ISO too much.


With hindsight I would say it was one of the best owl encounters I've every had (and I have had a few!), a very showy (normally nocturnal) owl in pretty decent light. Needless to say I will be returning to investigate further and hopefully next time I will have some positive news about partners and breeding??

Thanks for popping by, hope you like this last set of images.

See ya soon........................

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Birding & Beer

Saturday morning had me out in the Landie before dawn, my target species was Tawny Owl. This particular site is not conductive for good photography because of the direction of the sun (straight at you) apart from that is at first light, hence the reason why I was in situ very early. 

The other reason why I was out very early was the small matter of sport......... Both the teams I follow (Leicester City FC & Leicester Tigers RFC) were being televised back to back on the television starting at midday. They were both massively important games that could well decide their respective fortunes for the rest of the season and I just couldn't miss them!

Once I was positioned up near the Tawny tree it was then a matter of waiting for a "show". Sadly the period of good light came and went and no owl was seen. Even though I'd missed the best light I was being treated to quite a show by a number of other species. To my left there was a small flock of circa 10 Tree Sparrows, never seen them here before, straight on was a Green Woodpecker that was busily tapping out a new nest entrance, over to my right a pair of Little Owls were calling & mating and behind me two Buzzards were making repeated visits to a tall tree with twigs and small branches, spring was definately in the air.

Eventually I was rewarded with a brief showing from a single Tawny, great views and an image I am happy with but still the good light evades me!

The Tawny didn't show for long, so I moved on a tried for some Green Woodpecker shots. These are fantastic looking birds and a species that so far I haven't managed any images of. The Landie was positioned near to the tree, I gave it half an hour and during this period it didn't return, consequently no images. However  I am very confident that once it has chicks in the nest there will be plenty of opportunities, watch this space!!

All the time whilst waiting for the Woody to return to it's tree I was constantly being distracted by the very vocal Little Owls. This pair (my site No 214) have made home in a very unusual place? Their nest tree is a very old and large pollarded Willow in the middle of a pond! I was compelled to drive over and try for some images of them, this action obviously disturbed them as they soon disappeared out of sight once I was in position. 

As I have never managed any "decent" images of the owls at this site I was prepared to invest some time to see if they would re-emerge? The wait wasn't too long, around 30 minutes before the first owl (the male) came out of hiding. Initially it kept hidden as it must have been suspicious of my presence, but in time it ventured further out and a few images were canned.

I was very lucky as the hen owl soon followed suit and came out of hiding, she seemed the most confident of the two as much better and closer views were had of her.

Whilst with them they didn't mate again, which was really the image I wanted, but I did get this image of both of them together.

My time with the owls was all too short, I needed to depart as the games I wanted to watch were soon to be on the TV.

Overall it was a great day, a good few hours birding followed by a gallon of larger. And to round off the complete day both of my teams win, oh it doesn't get much better than that!