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, 29 August 2014

It's been a while......

Hi again all!!

As the blog title suggests it has been an age since my last post, in fact 7 whole weeks! I haven't checked back but would have thought this is my longest period of non-posting since I started all those years ago?

It has been such a hectic and demanding year with the Barn Owl box program, so when it was finally all over I was completely burnt out. I suppose it was too much of a good thing really and my appetite had waned somewhat. So rather than do nothing  I've had a refreshing change of direction and have been chilling out for the last few weeks with my main focus just being general birding and trying to get my year list up, oh of course there has also been a  little bit of owling mixed in too!

So this post is a quick catch up with the things I've been doing, places visited and species seen.

My last post was back on the 11th July where I spent some time at a monitored Little Owl site that had two fledged juveniles. I made a re-visit on the evening of the 12th in an attempt to capture an image of the two juveniles together, I failed miserably in my task with the only activity being the occasional opening of one eye from a snoozing owl, below.

The next evening Col and I met up with Mick Townsend (our ringing trainer) to visit and ring the Barn Owl chicks at a site in Willoughby Waterleys. As it turned out this was to be the last ringing of the year with the local Barn Owls as none of the other successful sites went on to have a second brood, or none that we know of?  

This site had two chicks in the box and Col and I can be seen with them before being safely returned.

Yours truly!
It was our most successful year with the breeding Barn Owls in the monitored area. In previous years there had only been a miserly one or two breeding pairs, but this year we had 7 pairs, at least! Six of these pairs used boxes that had been erected in the last few years resulting in 23 fledged juveniles. Sadly only 21 of these birds were rung due to one site having restricted access, the farmer changed his mind about allowing us on his land!!  There has also been regular sightings of Barn Owls at SEVEN other locations (all with boxes) but after frequent visits and extensive searches in each vicinity the breeding sites (if there was one) could not be located?

We are now keeping our fingers crossed for a mild winter and the existing adult birds and fledged juveniles survive and hang around to set up territories and breed next year, there's still enough spare boxes for them!

Mid July found me enjoying a family holiday up in Scarborough, I managed to sneak away on a few occasions where I was able to keep my year list ticking over nicely. On the first evening we walked along the cliff top near to our accommodation and came across this family of nesting Kittiwakes, a nice surprise!

I also spent some very relaxing time up on the North Yorks moors searching for Merlin and Ringed Ouzel (neither of which were seen). There wasn't many photo opportunities but plenty of other species were ticked off the year list including Curlew, Golden Plover and Red Grouse. 

Red Grouse - juvenile and adult
On the moors I came across many small flocks of Meadow Pipits, I spent quite a lot of time near these birds thinking it would be a good spot for an incoming hunting Merlin........I was wrong!

Meadow Pipit
On July 24th Col and I visited Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire for the day. Again there were plenty of year ticks to be had including; Little Stint, Spotted Red-shank, Curlew Sandpiper, Avocet, Glossy Ibis, Black-Tailed Godwit, Ruff, Knot and Wimbrel. Although the viewing was good sadly the majority of the species were just too far away for images. 


Black-Tailed Godwit
On the 27th I got the Landrover out and visited one of my favoured local area's near to Wigston. A private piece of land that has a storm drain culvert running through the centre of it, the culvert runs into the river Sence and at this point I have had a few nice surprises over the years, Oyster Catcher, Common and Green Sandpipers, Wheatear, Stonechat, Yellow Wagtail, Kingfisher and of course Little Owl. 

I positioned myself adjacent to where the culvert and the river converge and waited. Initially there wasn't a lot happening with the only highlight being the shoal of large Chub feeding in the shallows of the river, I would estimate the larger two fish being the the 4lb bracket.  

Feeding Chub.

Eventually I had my first bird species, a young Grey Wagtail. It kept me company for 10 minutes or so whilst it flitted about feeding on gnats and fly's. 

Grey Wagtail
My second visitor was a Swallow, it landed on the barb wire fence right next to the Landrover.


Then I joined by something considerably larger, a Grey Heron was stalking its way through the grass towards the river, maybe after the fish?

Grey Heron
Whilst I waited for the heron to make its way down to the water's edge another movement caught my eye. It was a Little Owl and it was perched upon a fence post just the other side of the culvert. It had what I think was a headless mouse/shrew in its talons. It gave me the "stare" for a few fleeting seconds before being flushed by the ever approaching Grey Heron.

Little Owl
In all the commotion the Heron also too took flight not to be seen again during this visit. Things then quietened down and I waited for the next visitor. 

Then something really got my attention, I could hear an unusual bird call coming from the vicinity of the line of Popular trees (18 in total) that  run along side the river. At first I thought I was hearing things and it was just a trick of the imagination?? I listened and again it called, the only bird call that I know of that sounded anything like what I was hearing was a Golden Oriel!!!!! This was very exciting so I opted to move the Landrover nearer to the row of trees (and away from the culvert and noise pollution as it  could have been distorting matters). After re-positioning myself all was initially quiet, but then I heard it again and again, I honestly can't think of any other species that would make such a call???  It would call every 10 minutes or so (sometimes louder than others) but I just couldn't see it! The call (when at its loudest or nearest) seemed to be coming from very up high in the trees, I knew that this would be a very good find for the county but I needed firstly to see it and then hopefully photograph it before I put any news out, I needed to be sure.  Then through frustration I moved further away from the trees so as to see if I could detect any movement up high in the canopy. The calling got less and less frequent until over two hours went by and I heard nothing! In total I spent 5 hours frantically trying to locate it and I never did, oh what a good find that would have been!

The next day I returned to the same site, again I put in some hours near to the Popular Trees but on this occasion I didn't hear the call again, I guess it will always be a nearly thing?

On August 4th I again visited the newly named  "Golden Oriel" site at Wigston, it was the same result as the last visit no Oriel heard and definitely nothing seen. Whilst there I drove further into the complex and parked up near to one of my Little Owl sites. At least here I got a bit of action, firstly one of the adult owls was located perched up on one of its favoured branches. But things then got interesting when a posse of Magpies came marauding along the hedgerow. They spotted the Little Owl and seemed intent on "having a go" until the continued harassment scared it off.

Little Owl being bullied by a Magpie

A show of aggression towards the Magpie
A juvenile was spotted from within the relative safety of a nearby Willow Tree, it wasn't bothered about me, it was hiding from the Magpies!

Hiding Juvenile Little Owl.
A second juvenile was also located in another nearby Willow tree. This guy allowed me to drive up quite close and posed nicely for an image.

2nd Juvenile Little Owl.
My most recent outing out was again to knock off a few year ticks and this time I was over at Rutland Water. Here Red-necked Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Osprey and Spotted Crake were added taking my year list to 159 different species.

Whilst in one of the hides a family of Spotted Flycatchers were seen feeding in a nearby bush, too good an opportunity to miss and a couple of images of one of the juveniles were captured.  

Spotted Flycatcher - Juvenile

Spotted Flycatcher - Juvenile
So that is it folks, we are now up to date.

Hopefully it won't be too long before I publish my next post.

Catch up soon and thanks for dropping by!