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!!!

Sunday, 21 September 2014


It has taken what seems to have been hundreds of hours down at the riverside, but eventually I have succeeded in achieving my second objective, an image of the Kingfisher with its catch! I was onsite again at first light on Saturday morning, I set up at my "new location" on the bend but after two hours it was a fruitless exercise with only one fly past. 

I reluctantly decided to re-locate back to the original area where I'd had some relative success. After my re-position the bird showed after a wait of 1 minute and sixteen seconds, I know the exact time because "saddo" here set his stopwatch to see how long the wait would be? What made matters even more rewarding was it landed on one of the perches that I'd erected during an earlier visit. 

Initially the Kingfisher just sat there on my perch watching the world go by, but then it was flushed as a Sparrowhawk sped by in pursuit of one of the Green Sandpipers (there's three of them here now). The Sandpiper displayed far too much agility as it evaded the pursuing Sparrowhawk with ease.

I took the opportunity when the Sparrowhawk flew through to move the Landrover slightly, I wanted to get into a position where I was looking along the Kingfisher perch rather than across it. It wasn't long before the Kingfisher was spotted again just down the river, it was perched up on a bank side bush and from here it made a successful dive into the water and emerged with a catch. Then rather than fly back to bush where it had come from it opted to land on my perch, yeeeessssss!!!

Needless to say my camera went into overdrive as I rattled off a sequence of  40 images whilst the Kingfisher bashed the poor little fish (a Minnow I think?) against the branch. But because of the low light my shutter speeds of 1/400th were too low to capture the action shots. Sadly the majority of these images had too much motion blur and are not usable, example below.

However, I'd thankfully got my exposure levels just about when the bird remained still and a few images turned out to be OK, thank goodness!

Only two more objectives to go before this "mini project" will come to a conclusion, a flight shot and a pair of Kingfishers together, mmmmm there could still be a long while to go?

Thanks for stopping by,

catch up soon.........

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A change of attack.

My Kingfisher project was starting to drive me potty, after many hours spent at what I thought was the perfect location it has now proven not to be! Yes the bird occasionally stops off, and quite close at times with the resultant images being almost exactly what I set out to achieve, but having it settled on a more natural perch would be the icing on the cake. But frustratingly it won't settle on the perches I'd like it to, so I've had to review the amount of time invested verses the rewards and with reluctance I went back to the drawing board and started again.

This meant I had to survey the river again and find a more suitable spot, the biggest problem with that was finding an area where I could get the Landrover down to the waters edge, the banks are so high. The area also needed to have the light coming from the right direction, the backgrounds needed to be considered too, and most importantly it had to be an area that I knew the bird already used. I am very fortunate because I have access to both sides of the river over about a half a mile stretch, so there should be a few spots that would fit my criteria?

After much driving up and down the river (on both banks) and plenty of deliberating I eventually chose a spot that seemed to fit the bill. It was on a bend and very close to a tree which meant it was a bit awkward getting the Landrover down to the waters edge, but doable. The light was only good at sunrise because the branches put the area into shade by mid morning, so more early starts were on the cards. The other most important factor with this chosen location was I'd previously seen the bird perched up here, but not very often. It would use some of the fallen branches from the nearby tree as perches.

A few days before my first early morning attack I went down to the waters edge and moved some of the fallen branches into more photographic positions. I was of the opinion that it would give the bird a bit of time to get use to the new set up before my re-visit.

On Sunday morning I was at the waters edge at 6.00am, it was still dark and I made a right racket negotiating a 25 point turn getting the Landrover into position, maybe I'd already ruined my chances before I'd even started? Sunrise came and it was disappointingly overcast, that was not what the weatherman had forecast. Anyhow, at 8.00am things started to improve as the clouds broke and a low slither of sunshine saturated the whole area in really nice, but not too harsh light.

At 8.30am I could hear the distinctive "peep peep" call of the Kingfisher, I wasn't able to see it though as it was around the bend. Seconds later there was a flash of blue and orange and there it was perched in the bush on the opposing bank.

Then it then dropped down and settled on one of the posts that I'd rearranged a few day early, at last I'd got an image of it on a natural perch! It only remained for a few seconds before it was off again.

The bird returned only a few minutes later and landed on the same perch again only a little lower down, this offered a totally different background (the shade underneath the far bank bush).The resultant image (below) is exactly what I'd been after right from the start, easily my favorite capture of the Kingfisher so far. The light levels were excellent, the background was perfect (I have a thing for dark backgrounds?) and the bird posed beautifully on a natural perch. It was shot at 230mm focal length and only cropped on the horizontal, a real frame filler!

As you will have probably deduced by now I am over the moon with my results so far, flipping brilliant when a plan eventually comes to fruition. I will without doubt be visiting the Kingfisher site again soon in the near future, my next objective is hopefully to get the bird on this same perch with a fish!

Thanks for stopping by,

Catch up soon........ 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

An unexpected visitor.......

I've had some more time down by the river, on Sunday I was at the riverside at first light watching over a slightly different area, sadly it didn't result in any Kingfisher images. I did see two birds fly past but neither of them stopped and posed for me. I'm quite confident that I will get some images of the Kingfishers at this alternative spot, it has some "nicer" and more natural perches that I have seen the birds use in the past, I guess it is just going to be a case of more visits.

Anyway, all was not lost as whilst I was waiting and enjoying the dawn of a new day I did have a photo opportunity that was quite unexpected. Initially my attention was drawn to a group of Corvids (Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies) that were acting very strange in the field on the far side of the river. They had collectively assembled in a small flock and were circling around in a tight group. They were being very vocal and swooping down towards the field, because of the angle (the far bank and field being considerably higher than me) I couldn't see what all the fuss was about? 

Then all was revealed, a Fox poked its head through the hedgerow and clambered down to the waters edge, it pounced onto a rock and then onto the lower limbs of a Willow tree and onto my side of the river.......right in front of me!  

The Fox seemed to be so focused on avoiding the attention of the Corvids it didn't notice me at all. However, once it was near the Landrover the Corvids didn't come any closer, they are clever so and so's and I am sure they knew I was there!

Viewing the Fox's antics in the time that followed was amazing, it initially sat in the field looking around and sniffing the air. 

Without warning it scampered towards the hedgerow and pounced up into the air and crashed down into the tussocky grass. Yes I know the next image is blurred (but I only had 1/200th second shutter speed)  but it hopefully gives a sense of the action.

It had caught a field vole! For the next few minutes it laid right in front of me and chomped on its catch.  

A most unexpected but very welcome visitor, easily the best views I have ever had of this species.

Thanks for stopping by.

Catch up soon!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

In the presence of the "KING".

For me to have any success with my long awaited Kingfisher project it was important to firstly find a local area that the bird(s) were using on a regular basis, it needed to be as quiet as possible and away from any disturbance. Now after many years of searching I think I have found the perfect location. It meets my initial criteria and what is even better it is private land that I have access to. 

My last trip out to the new Kingfisher site was a marathon of a visit, six hours to be precise. However, with reflection it was time well spent and this very steep learning curve I've been putting myself through is definitely starting to pay dividends.

I knew that once some birds had been found that was just going to be the start and the easy bit. Next it was going to be a matter of putting in the hours, I needed to understand the river, which areas the birds favoured and at which time of day etc etc. I've been studying the site on and off for a few years now and I'd always made mental notes on where I'd seen the Kingfishers. Armed with this information obviously it made things easier when I decided to get down to putting in a bit more effort.

Its not easy sitting and watching an area of the river when for most of the time (like 90%) nothing happens, you do begin to doubt your research but when a bird appears and you suddenly get an explosive few minutes all the hanging around and waiting is soon forgotten.  

Last weekend when I visited (see last post) I did learn a few tricks that would hopefully benefit all future visits. I'd manage to pinpoint one particular area (at the confluence of the two rivers) that the Kingfisher seemed to like. Then within the confines of this area I also noted several favoured hunting perches and posts. I'd also learnt that the birds are very easily spooked, just the slightest sound or movement of my lens was enough to have them flying off. 

So armed with all this latest intel I made another visit, I knew the morning was going to be the best time photographically as on my last visit I'd also made notes on light direction and potential image backgrounds. My selected "ambush" tactics were to set up near the cow drink, it is at this point where I could get the Landrover (my hide) at its lowest point and down and as near to the river as possible. From there it put me almost at eye level with one of the barbed wire fences that are regularly used by the bird as a perch.

During my two hour stint a single Kingfisher made several visits to the location to feed, three times he landed on the barbed wire and the images below are my selection from that session that I'd like to share.

As you will have possibly deduced from the above images the bird landed very close to me. I was very fortunate as if he had been any nearer I wouldn't have been able to get the whole of him in the frame at 300mm. None of the images have been cropped vertically and only slightly horizontally. I am hoping that you will agree that these are my best Kingfisher images so far, and I am so glad I put in the groundwork so as to achieve these results. 

Moving forward, on my next visit I am going try a slightly different location as there are some nice natural looking perches/posts that I have seen the bird use occasionally. I am pretty sure it is going to be a longer wait but it would be a massive improvement over the barbed wire as a perch. Also on my wish list is to capture a close up image of the bird with a fish, and a flight shot would go down nicely too and the ultimate would be a pair of Kingfishers together in the same image.

I am sure that to achieve my "wish list" of Kingfisher images it is going to take a long long time and a whole lot more research needs to be done, but god loves a trier!

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Bombay Bum Birding........

Saturday morning had me waking up very early indeed, initially it was 2.00am, then 3.15am and then again at 4.20am. No I didn't go to bed too early, around 11.00pm so nothing too out of the ordinary there? But the constant visits to the toilet with a stinging hotter than larva soon had me wide awake up and dressed. I knew what the problem was, although I didn't realise at the time it was going to make me so uncomfortable and for the whole weekend too!! 

On Friday night we were invited out for a meal (by Col & Sue), they wanted to take us to a new Indian Restaurant that they had recently discovered to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I wasn't sure as what to order so I asked the waitress what she would recommend? "Oh without a doubt sir, the chef's special is a meal you will never forget" and she was right! Now I must admit the meal was delicious, I had it my normal Madras hot, it was bursting full of flavor and much more spicier than I am use to but not too hot. It was a fantastic meal and at the time I enjoyed it very much.

The enforced early rise had me wondering as to what I was going to do now? It was still dark outside but as I'd had the Landrover serviced and a new exhaust fitted on Friday I thought what the hell lets grab my "birding kit" and get out.

Initially it was a waste of time as it was too dark to see anything, however at one location where I was parked up I heard a Tawny Owl call. I have known of this particular pair for a good few months now but due to the crops in the field I could never get near to the nest tree for a closer look and possibly a few images. As the farmer had now harvested the crops I took the opportunity to drive over the lumpy ground and positioned the Landrover parallel to the nest tree.

It didn't take long for the owl to call again, the light levels were very low but I could just about make it out sitting at the nest entrance. It wasn't until 6.50am that I was able to grab a couple of images of it. The light still wasn't good so with my camera settings at ISO 1600 I was able to manage a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. I didn't have a chance to improve on these two images (below) because as the light improved the owl backed off into the hole not to be seen again on this visit.

This had now whet my whistle for Tawny Owls and I wanted more. Therefore I opted to visit another location where I know a pair reside. Sadly no other Tawnies were seen at this second location but as compensation a Little Owl put in an appearance.

It was a misty morning and the light levels were still poor, although they were better than when I was with the Tawny Owl I could only muster 1/80th of a second shutter speed. Thankfully the Little Owl would hold a "statue like pose" which assisted in the reduction of any motion blur. 

It wasn't long before I started to have some more reoccurring belly rumbles and the morning was prematurely cut short. After a dash home to damper things down with a cooling cream (may as well been mustard for what good it did) I was out again in the afternoon at a different location in pursuit of a different species altogether, but that will be in my next post.

At the time of writing up this post (Sunday night) I am still suffering and it feels like someone has inserted a red hot poker into a certain part of my anatomy! But guess what? It was one of the best curry's I've ever had and I WILL be going back!! Many thanks Col & Sue for a most memorable evening, in more than one way!!

Thanks for stopping by

Catch up again soon...........

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Two birds with one stone!

Apparently it was my turn to take the dog (Patch) for a walk, I tried to pass the buck and get one of the kids to do it but the Mrs was having none of it! I reluctantly agreed as I could kill two birds with one stone and get in a couple of hours birding/owling in at the same time! 

So the dog and were loaded up and off we went over to my newly named Oriel patch. The reason for re-visiting this particular area was I could kill another two birds with one stone? En-route I would be passing by the local tyre fitters and I could drop off the Landrover tyre that needed repairing (but that's another story).

Patch and I finally got out into the fields around 7.00pm, I had a drive around looking for what birds may have dropped in whilst he ran alongside, as we approached the river Patch did his usual suicidal dive straight in. An explosion of water erupted up into the air followed closely by a mass of white feathers and a loud croak?? The dog had nearly jumped on top of a Little Egret, I hadn't seen it as must have been obscured by the rushes and vegetation. This was my very first sighting of this species at this location after seven years of visiting, a sure sign that their population dispersal to pastures new continues. 

The next hour was spent driving around and stopping at different locations, not a lot was seen really apart from the Egret again (it looked shocked and ruffled) and a flying away Green Sandpiper. Whilst I was parked up adjacent to the river a huge mixed tit flock passed by, this Chiffchaff and Long Tailed Tit both stopped long enough allowing me to capture an image of them. 

Long Tailed Tit

On the way home I called in to see a farmer friend at Blaby, in the spring he had passage Wheatears in one of his "rough" fields. I was hoping to maybe see them again on their return journey and hopefully a Whinchat as I need this species for my year list.

The farmer and I chewed the fat (chatted away) for a while and it was OK for me to go and park up near the rough tussocky area to see what was about. Unfortunately there were no Wheatears or Whinchats but what did show was more than compensation.........a pair of Barn Owls!! They were sat together in a leafless tree about 100 yards away. 

By now the light had almost gone (8.20pm) so in order to grab a record shot the ISO had to be pumped up to 2500 and even with the combined aperture of F2.8 only 1/25 of a second shutter speed could be obtained.

I managed both of the above images whilst standing in the middle of the "scrub field", I was amazed the birds didn't see me. I quickly retreated back to the Landrover and waited to see what happened next? 

I did my "mouse impersonation" (sort of a squeak) out of the window and one of the birds re-acted to it and flew straight towards me. It landed on a nearby post and gave me "the stare". Luckily it remained as still as a statue for a few seconds which allowed me to attain the image below.  

The conditions were very difficult for photography especially when there was so little light and my lens doesn't have image stabilization. Putting the quality of the images aside it was still great to watch them both and with a bit of luck they will hang around and breed next year in one of the nearby boxes I've erected.

Only a brief post but thanks for stopping by.

Catch up soon!