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!!!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Evening Tawny Watching.......

For a couple of evenings in the last week or so I taken a break from checking on the development of the local breeding Barn Owls, instead I opted to go and see if I could find some Tawnies. 

The Tawny Owl is the earliest breeder of the British Owls and of the five sites I have been monitoring closely this spring the juveniles have all now fledged their relative nest sites. However, just because they have fledged the nest it doesn't necessarily mean they have moved away from the general breeding territory? Finding them is a tough task on its own as they tend to keep well hidden in the high dense branches of a nearby tree, but I had a plan! Like most fledged owls, Tawny Owl youngsters can give away their presence by way of their begging call when hungry. So it was just a case of parking up in the general vicinity of a breeding site and waiting until they started to beg.

At the first site I visited it was possibly at little early in the day at 8.00pm for the young owls to be making their begging calls, I failed in seeing or even hearing a young bird, maybe they had already moved on to pastures new? As consolation one of the adult owls did put in a brief appearance, it appeared out of the dense undergrowth and landed on a steel fence post. 

It sat on the post for a few fleeting seconds before moving up higher into an exposed branch in a nearby tree and then that was that, it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared!

At another site I was again in situ in the Landrover around 8.30pm, it didn't take too long before I heard the tell-tail begging call of a young owl. It sounded like it was coming from a small spinney on the opposite side to where I was viewing. I clambered across onto the passenger seat and opened the window, the begging call was now very loud. I then had 30 minutes of frustration as the begging calls transformed into hallowing screeches, I think the young bird was demanding to be fed! I'd had enough of this as I still hadn't made a sighting, so I decided to get out and have a look.  I crept around the back of the small spinney and entered via a small track. As the wooded area was only about the size of half a tennis court surely I'd see something?

Adult Tawny Owl
I gingerly made my way into the now darkening wooded area trying desperately not to stand on any twigs, on my first glance up I spotted an adult owl straight away. It was staring back down at me as it held it's "you can't see me" posture. It held its nerve and didn't move, this gave me a great opportunity to grab an image through the leaves and branches. 

Then the silence was broken as a juvenile started to beg again, it wasn't easy to see at first but after a re-position I could see up into the canopy and make it out perched above the adult bird. This was probably it's first ever encounter with a human being and constantly moved its head around in an inquisitive motion. I managed an image and then moved away leaving them both where I'd found them.

Juvenile Tawny Owl
At the third site I had some more success, here two juveniles were heard and then seen in and around a small group of Willow Trees. Frustratingly I never managed an image of either of them but I did however grab an image of one of the adult owls as it appeared in the Willows with some prey in its beak. 

Adult Tawny and dinner.
As you can image once the adult owl came in with this prey (not sure what it is, a rat possibly?) all hell was let loose with both of the juvenile owls scrapping and squabbling for their dinner. Sadly because of the low light and slow shutter speed none of the resultant images were any good!  

A great few evenings with some smashing views, really good that the local Tawnies seem to have had a really good breeding season.

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

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Barn Owls are..........BOOMING!!!

A couple of nights ago was the evening that would tell if all the hard work Col & I have put into our local Barn Owl project had been worth it? We were joined by Mike Townsend, our local ringing guru and trainer and off we went to visit four different box locations.

Our first stop was a private site near to the village of Blaby, the nest box here is the only active one we have where it is not situated in a building of some type, in this instance it is mounted north facing on an Ash tree. We knew that a few weeks ago the hen owl was sitting tight on six eggs so expectations were very high indeed! Over the previous few years we have become accustomed to a bit of cannibalism with Barn Owls where the elder chicks eat the younger ones, well that's nature I suppose. So when we opened the box and discovered there were four very healthy chicks inside we were more than happy, a really great result!

Blaby Area - Barn Owls
As can be seen from the image above, three of the chicks are almost the same size, almost peas in a pod but the youngest (on the left) seems to be a few days behind its elder siblings. Its facial disc isn't as well developed nor did it have the same advancement with its pin feathers showing. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the youngest is now large enough not to end us as a meal for one of it's brothers! All four chicks were soon rung and returned safely to the box, but not before we had a quick family portrait that nicely shows off their punk hair styles.

Col ringing
The second site we visited was not far from the village of Gilmorton, the box here is again on a private site and located in a brick barn. Again we had a super result with another four healthy chicks (3 large & 1 smaller) from the original six eggs laid, strangely the statistics of eggs laid, chicks reared and their apparent age's seems to have mirror the owls from the Blaby site. These owlets can be seen here nestled in the grass after being rung and before being safely return to the box.

Gilmorton Area - Barn Owls
The third site of the evening was not far from the village of Fleckney, we knew we were not going to make it a hat trick of consecutive sites with four chicks because they only had three eggs on our last visit. But when it comes to a ratio of eggs laid and chicks reared this site has done the best. The three chicks here are not quite as developed as the previous sites they were coming on nicely. The three of them can be seen here in this next image sitting in the back of my Landrover awaiting their turn to be rung.

Fleckney Area - Barn Owls
The last Barn Owl site we visited was not far from the village of Arnesby, again a private site with the box in an old building. Again the statistics were almost identical to the first two sites, initially six eggs were laid and now the box is brimming with four very healthy looking chicks. The one main difference though compared to the first two sites is there didn't seem to be any great difference in the development/size of these chicks

Mike and the owls.
As can be seen in this next image the four birds are almost at the same development stage. They really were very well behaved and posed nicely for the camera.

Arnesby Area - Barn Owls
Before we safely returned the owls to the box Col wanted to take an image of me with one of the owlets, whilst I posed waiting for the camera to click the owlet decided it was going to have a wing flapping session and consequently I got a good whack in the face!!


What a beauty!!!
We wouldn't have dared predict these very positive results this time last year when all we were doing was either finding dead owls or having reports of others finding them. The terrible weather was the main culprit and we thought that the development of our Barn Owl project had been wound back four years to when there was only one known breeding pair in our study area. 2014 is fast turning into our best year yet for Barn Owl returns and to already have four successful breeding pairs with 15 chicks is brilliant and very rewarding. But it may not finish there as there could well be more to come?? We know of one more site that has a least five eggs and two other sites, possibly three that I continue to monitor where things are starting to develop and occupancy and breeding may well be proven in the near future?

Many thanks again to Mike for taking the time out to come and ring our owls and a massive thanks to all the land owners/farmers who very gracefully allow me access to their land whilst monitoring the owls.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing with me this very satisfying Barn Owl period...........

Saturday, 7 June 2014


I made another visit last night to the local Barn Owl site to see if it would show as well as it did the night before. I wasn't disappointed either, at 7.10pm it emerged and hunted the field for a good hour or two. It only really came close just the once but I did have brilliant views as it posed for me on a post near to where I'd parked the Landrover.

Only a short post this one, catch up with you all soon.........

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A hunting master class......

It has been absolutely ages since I had the pleasure of having a good session watching a Barn Owl, in fact I think the last one was in Norfolk at the end of 2012. So to have witnessed one this evening out hunting in Leicestershire and in good light too was a real bonus!

Most of the time it stayed distant, circa a 100 yards or so but on the odd occasion it did fly a little nearer and on two occasions it actually landed on a post that was quite close by.

Myself and the local landowner watched from a crouched position next to my car as it hunted his field for a good 30 minutes. In this time we saw it make five dives into the long grass and on three occasions it came up successfully with a vole, not a bad ratio at all!

In between each successful catch it would disappear out of sight, no doubt to take its bounty back to the brood of chicks that were waiting in its nearby nest box.

At times the setting sun broke through the clouds which then threw a beautiful golden hue onto the owl and surrounding area.

Who needs to go all the way to Norfolk to witness such a marvelous display of hunting agility, all this and only a 5 minute drive from home!!

Catch up soon, thanks for stopping by!!!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Owl 'n' about - Sunday June 1st

Hi all, I managed to get "owl n about" for a few hours yesterday and had a couple of nice surprises!

In an attempt to get the afternoon/evening owling session off to a good start I called in to one of my more reliable Little Owl sites. It is quite a rare occurrence not to see an owl or two here and today was no exception with the resident pair showing very well indeed!

After many years of using the apex in an old barn for their nest site this year they were tempted to re-locate into a nest box we put up for them last winter. Only last week Col and I checked out the box and the hen bird was inside brooding her two tiny chicks. The location of the box makes it much more accessible for me to get close in the Landrover with the minimal of disruption and as planned the viewing and closeness of the owls is much improved.

I hadn't been parked up for long when the pair appeared on the barn roof,  it's a busy farm yard with vehicles coming and going all day so they soon ignored me and got on with what owls get on with.  

The Landrover was positioned parallel to where the birds gain entry into the open-sided barn which is near to where the nest box is sited. Because there are chicks in the box I knew the hen owl wouldn't venture too far away and as it proved she didn't! Great views were had of her as she grubbed around on the floor looking for tit bits and morsels.     

My second task of the day was to follow up a message that I received from Dave & Liz (local land owners in a nearby village), they think they may have seen a Barn Owl at the entrance to a nest box they have only recently erected. Now this snippet of information did make some sense because only a few hundred yards from where they live I had an "active" box with a pair of Barn Owls in residence. Unfortunately on my last visit to this particular box (a few weeks ago now) the Barn Owls had been evicted by a pair of Stock Doves who were by then tightly incubating their own eggs.

I had no idea as to where the Barn Owls had gone but armed with this latest information maybe not too far? Well my investigations proved to be very positive, initially a couple of very wet, heavy and jet black pellets were discovered on the ground below the box, certainly no more than a day or two old. Then after getting into the right position two Barn Owls could be made out roosting in the box. I will be making another visit one evening this week to investigate further, hopefully this is not just a roost site and breeding has commenced, time will tell............?

Not too far from where Dave & Liz's house is located I have a Tawny Owl site that I've been monitoring on and off for the last couple of months. I have seen a pair "day roosting" in a natural tree cavity on a few occasions but not recently so I suspected their chosen nest site was elsewhere. Last night I went and parked up near to this tree and waited, for the first 30 minutes nothing was either seen or heard. Then to my total surprise a Tawny Owl chick emerged at the cavity entrance, it was brilliant to watch and I filled my boots with dozens of images.

I even managed to capture some video footage of the Chick as it inquisitively looked at its new world, click on image below to view.

So not a bad few hours owling, sightings were made of three different species all within just a few hundred yards of each other!

Thanks for stopping by, see ya all soon.........