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, 15 May 2014

All worth while...........

Just lately any spare time has been taken up with box checking, more box checking and a bit more box checking. Occasionally a bit of ringing has taken place in between the box checking!  Completing these tasks is a labour of live really but it is so time consuming it doesn't leave time for any general birding or owling. 

Well I needed a freshener and a change of scene so I made time to go and check a few Little Owl sites out where I know there has been proven breeding in previous years. None of these sites have a box, they are all in either natural cavities in trees or holes buildings but never the less I went and sussed them out to see if there was any early emerging chicks, sadly there wasn't. However, at one site both the adult owls were out so this suggests they may well have young in the nest?  

After a lengthy wait a single adult owl popped through the small gap in between the wall and an old wooden door to have a look at me!

Although the perspective of the image (above) possibly gives the impression I was relative close to this bird I wasn't! I'd parked the Land-rover up in a gateway and because of the height I was able to photograph over the field gate which I was parallel to. The building where the owl sat was a good 20 meters away, hence a heavy crop.

The owl was soon joined by presumably its partner, no sooner had it popped out of the same hole they both took flight and perched up on the corner of the building.

Here they stayed for a good five minutes battling to keep a grip in the high winds, they seem quite content sheltering out of the elements until their piece was shattered by a mobbing family of Swallows. The Swallows are nesting very close by in the building and I don't think they were comfortable with where the owls were settled so I assume the best method of defense is attack!

Because the light had improved somewhat it allowed for quite high shutter speeds so I gave it a go at trying to capture a Swallow as it attacked. I messed up the majority of my attempts (they fly so fast!) but one reasonable image was captured that gives a sense of the action. 

The luxury of chilling out and doing a bit of owl watching and photography soon came to an end though, more box checking was needed! I wasn't too far from one of my potential Barn Owl sites so over to there I went. 

As I entered the barn two adult Barn Owls flew past my head in the opposite direction, things looked promising. After carefully removing the observation cover I was greeted by the stink from hell! The ammonia nearly knocked me off my ladder! There was a chick right at the front of the box, it was tiny and I'd hazard a guess and say was no more that 1-2 days old. It lay right next to it's next dinner, not sure what type of rodent it is, a mouse I think?

I used my torch to see further into the box and I managed to make out at least three further chicks and six or seven rodent corpses. The adults are obviously having an easier time of it than of late with catching their prey, it appears that they are in abundance this year. The cover was soon replaced on the box and I made a hasty retreat.

The next lot of ringing has also taken place, Neil, Col and I visited one of my Tawny Owl sites that has taken up residence in a Barn Owl box. Luckily neither of the adults were home when we visited which gave us the opportunity to ring the two owlets. 

Yours truly went up to the box first, once I'd made sure there were no adults in residence Neil went up to extract our bounty.

I've no experience on aging Tawnies, but I'd take an educated guess and say they were a couple of weeks old? Below Neil and Col can be seen completing the ringing task.

I had a quick cuddle with the owlets before they were safely returned to the box.

And finally here is a close up of one of the chicks, beautiful or ugly..........you decide? 

So far of the boxes we have checked we have Tawnies in four boxes all with chicks, Little Owls are also in four boxes but only one has chicks so far with the rest still on eggs. And finally there are also four pairs of Barn Owls in boxes with a mixture of eggs and chicks.

It is dam hard work but when you reap the rewards as we are doing now it is all well worth it!

Thanks for stopping by................

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Little Owl Count.......

Back in the early days of this great owling roller coaster that I am now on I made acquaintance with a charming young lady called Emily Joachim. At the time Emily was working towards her PHD with the main subject matter being the demise of the Little Owl. Obviously we had a common interest and when I saw her appear on the BBC's "The One Show" I was compelled to make contact. 

Now that was a few years ago and ever since Emily and I have become good friends and have stayed in contact. She has made several visits to see me here in Leicestershire where we have gone out owling together. Some of the advice she gave me when I was a bit green was invaluable and still bares well today.

Anyway, I have recently been contacted again by my owl extraordinaire as she wanted to inform me of a new website that she was championing that is dedicated to the Little Owl and their sightings. Because the Little Owl is now majorly in decline in the UK Emily is attempting to create a database where she is actively encouraging the British public to participate by logging their encounters of this brilliant species. 

Please click on the image below and it will take you to the site.

I am sure you will all agree that it is a beautifully presented site with loads of information. All I ask now is that can you guys out there help Emily by uploading your encounters/sightings and images, I will be!!

Finally I must congratulate Emily on passing her PHD and the next time I see her I must remember to call her Doctor, mmmm I wonder if she will expect me to curtsy too??

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Tawny Owl ringing.......

In my previous post I highlighted the recent surprise of discovering a Tawny Owl chick perched at the entrance at one of my nest boxes, and that I was going to return as soon as possible to investigate what has been occurring inside the said box. Well last night I made the return trip accompanied by a birding and ringing buddy, Neil Hagley. I was really looking forward to it as although I have had plenty of experience with Little Owls & Barn Owls this was going to be my first real up close and personnel encounter with a Tawny.  

Neil has had previous experience of ringing Tawny Owls and he expressed that when we open up the box we should do so with caution. Unlike Barn Owls that when disturbed do all they can to just flee the nest and return when all is quiet and Little Owls that just stay motionless Tawny Owls can be a problem? They have a bit of a reputation of being fearless when it comes to defending their young and can get quite aggressive. There have even been reports that Tawny Owls will attack a human and inflict actual harm if they intrude too close to a nest site, famous bird photographer Eric Hoskins even lost and eye after being attacked by a Tawny Owl!!   

Neil advised that wearing glasses should be mandatory as we didn't want another similar instance to what happened to poor old Eric Hoskins! I volunteered to go up the ladder first and risk life and limb by opening the door, I was pretty nervous at first but once I'd opened up the door and realized there were no adult owls in residence the tension reduced some what. It was then Neils turn to go up to the box and extract the chicks.

Sadly there was only the one chick in the box, but what a beauty it turned out to be!

Tawny Owl - site No 7
The next box we checked out had a two, possible three Tawny Owl chicks in it, but we decided to leave ringings these individuals until another time as an adult bird was in there too!

At the third box things started to turn sour, only last week there was an adult Tawny Owl, and unhatched egg and two tiny chicks but on this visit they had all vanished being replaced by a Stock Dove on two eggs?? Blimey if these Stock Doves can evict Tawnies they must be the Mike Tyson's of the birding world!

At the last box we checked things took a turn for the more positive, no adult owl was in residence but three very healthy chicks were. Neil very carefully and quickly extracted them all one by one from the box and were all rung in no time at all.

Neil worked so speedily it even gave us time to have a quick family portrait. 

I made the most of my first close up encounter with these majestic creatures and managed a few close ups.

It was a great experience going out ringing my first Tawny chicks, I learnt a lot, especially the respect that these birds must be given! And finally I must give Neil a massive thank you for giving up his spare time to come and ring my owls, cheers buddy.

Neil & the 3 chicks from the last site.
Thanks for stopping by and hopefully there will be some Little Owls and Barns Owls to ring soon?
Watch this space...................

Monday, 5 May 2014

A nice surprise!!

Last night I made yet another trip out to one of my Tawny Owl sites that I have been monitoring for the last few weeks. The sightings of late have been very sparse indeed with the adult birds only showing when darkness had fell, consequently poor viewing and no images! However, on this trip things turned out a bit different with a new Tawny Owl putting in an appearance? As with all the more recent visits I was in situ around 2 hours before dusk, as usual things were very quiet and nothing showed or called for the first hour or so,  but then I heard a thumping noise coming from the nest box?? My attention was turned away from the adults usual favoured perches as I was intrigued as to what was causing the strange noise coming from the box?

Then all was revealed as a Chick emerged at the box entrance, I had my suspicions that the hen owl may have been on eggs (this box hadn't been checked so I didn't know for sure) but I was shocked to see such a well developed youngster. 

It sat there for a good 10 minutes looking around and for all I knew this was possibly its first ever look at its new world? I was concerned for its welfare though, because if it dropped to the ground it would be very venerable to being predated, thankfully it didn't venture out onto the ledge opting instead to just cling on at the entrance.  

It soon tired of "clinging on" and dropped back down into the box, maybe to join its siblings? All then went very quiet for the next hour. Then just as the light was starting to fade my boredom of waiting for something to happen was broken when a "hissing" sound could then be heard coming from the box, the chick was begging for food. I got prepared as surely the parent owls could hear it too? Then as predicted one of the adult owls emerged from a crevice in a nearby tree, it was just like when mum or dad come running to a screaming kid. I was positioned in the Landrover right in-between where the owl had appeared from the roost tree and the box, the decision to park there paid dividends as it landed just where I would have asked, right next to me!

By now it was just before 9:00pm and the light had almost gone, although you would never believe it judging on these images alone. Absolutely amazing how these modern day camera's and lenses (and a bit of post editing) can still produce the goods even in the lowest of light levels. In order to obtain these images I had to "lock" the camera down on my bespoke door clamp and activate the shutter with a cable release. Yes the images are grainy but when the setting are F2.8, ISO 2000 and a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second I am well chuffed. Luckily the owl held these particular poses for a few seconds otherwise they would have just been a total blur. 

The adult owl then flew up to the box, poked its head into the hold and made a rather strange rasping shrill, (I'd never heard that call before?) but it worked, the chick(s) stopped the begging calls. Nothing much happened after that, well to be fair it was too dark to see really! 

The next thing I did was to call Neil a birding mate and local ringer, I explained to him the situation and that I was very surprised to see a chick at this box let alone such a well developed one. We knew time was of the essence for ringing as it could fledge the box very soon, Neil agreed and we arranged to make a re-visit the very next evening to open up the box and ring the chick, hopefully there will be more than one.

All will be revealed in my next post..................???

Thanks for stopping by!