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, 31 October 2014

Owl Update

Recently I had a dig in the ribs that subtlety reminded me that I'd not being doing a lot with my owls of late, too occupied with the Kingfishers I suppose. So to make amends I have unbelievably put a little more effort in and the rewards were there to be had.

Initially it was off to check a few sites for SEO's (Short Eared Owls), after numerous visits to several "known" sites I managed my first siting of the winter. It was a distant bird in pretty awful light conditions but nevertheless good to see and a record shot of shorts was obtained, below.

Short Eared Owl
Now that I have finally located this SEO wintering site I will no doubt be investing some more time there to see if I can improve on this first image.

Recently I have also managed two new Little Owl sites, the first one is not too far from my first Kingfisher  site. I was pretty sure that during my marathon waiting about for the Kingfisher to show I'd heard Little Owls calling from a distant corner of the opposing field. So one evening when I was taking Patch (my dog) out for his evening run I went into this corner of the field and whilst passing a couple of very owly looking Ash Trees I heard an owl call. There was absolutely no mistaking the alarm call, the culprits identity being Little Owl. The trouble was it was pitch black and there was no way I could see anything. The area consisted of the two trees, a boarding hedgerow and in between was a small field gate. I called Patch in to the Landrover and then positioned it facing the gate, I had a plan but a very far fetched one at that!  The engine was turned off but I left all the lights on, the full beam and spots lit up the gate and lower limbs of the tree lovely. I dare not stay like that for too long for fear of draining the battery down, but I needn't have worried as within a few minutes there was a pair of birds perched on the gate!

I sat and watched them with a smug grin on my face, always good when a plan comes to fruition. They didn't seem to be put off by the glaring headlights at all, if anything they seemed to drop down onto the grass to feed more where the light shone than in the darkened areas. I attempted to capture an image but they were all blurred apart from this single image below. I know it is not of the highest quality but when you consider it was 6.45pm and even with the headlights on I could still only muster a shutter speed of 1/6th of a second at ISO 2000.  In addition to this the lens was rested precariously on top of the steering wheel and the image captured through the windscreen!

First record shot of  an owl from site No 250
Needless to say I shall be keeping a close eye on this site and hopefully some much improved images to follow?

My second new site was encountered last weekend when I went to check out one of my as yet unoccupied Barn Owl boxes. As I approached the old building that houses the box a movement caught my eye on the internal brick wall, Little Owl! The engine of the Landrover was killed instantly, I'd never seen an owl of any species here before so it was quite a plesent surprise. The scrim was erected up at the window and the camera positioned on the beanbag. Luckily the owl remained in the same location as when I first spotted it and a few record shots were captured. Attempting to get the correction exposure was very problematic in itself what with the very dark interior of the barn and the bright sunlight that was streaming through the gap above the wall. I sat and watch the owl in question do nothing for ages but then things got more interesting when a second bird appeared, below.

I invested a few hours at this site and eventually managed some "better" images when the birds came a little closer. Again getting the exposure right was a real problem and the resultant images tend to have a "flat" feel about them. Nevertheless this collection is a good start for my first encounter at new site No 251 and I will be returning when the light is more in my favour.

Whilst there I witnessed the pair of owls mating, see below. Yes I know it is very late in the year, or incredibly early if you look at it another way but this very mild autumn we are having can do strange things to nature?

So not too bad a return for my latest owl excursions, ironically I never did get around to checking if the Barn Owl box has been occupied, I'll have to check that out next time.

Thanks for stopping by and catch up soon..........

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

An owl for a change......

I have been very neglectful lately with my owls, I have put some effort in to finding some but to be quite honest it is all too easy to give up and get drawn back to the Kingfishers, ooooo I love em!! Anyway, my good friend and fellow owling buddy Richard Pegler has been dropping a few subtle hints in the comments he leaves on my blog asking when will I be getting back to my owls?

So just for you Richard this post features an owl!! 

Earlier today I was in-between customer visits in the south of the county, I was travelling through a semi-wooded area along a country lane when a Tawny Owl flew across in front of the car. It was nice to see but I wasn't really that bothered about pursuing its whereabouts. I then had a flash back to Richards recent comments so I pulled up as soon as it was safe and reversed up into a nearby gateway. The binoculars and camera were soon out of the boot and it wasn't long before I was onto the owl. 

The bird was around 20 yards away and partially hidden by undergrowth and over hanging branches. However, I did managed a few record shots out of the car window of this new Tawny Owl site. 

I tried to "squeak" the owl out into the open for a chance of a better image but it was having none of it and stayed put. After 20 minutes I gave up waiting and continued on with my journey. 

Later after work I made a detour on my way home and re-visited the same location again, the light wasn't very good as it was getting late, but I'd got nothing to lose and surely it was worth a try? (a bit more effort on my behalf Richard ;-) !!). I parked up in the same gateway and "squeaked" again. This time I had a bit more success when the owl showed again, it started to call which confirmed to me it was a male bird. Remarkably it only took a few minutes before the owl flew closer and landed in a tree right next to the car. 

The photographic conditions were dire, 6:02pm and almost dark meant I had to adjust the settings to ISO 2000, F2.8 and only then I was able to achieve a miserly 1/20 of a second shutter speed. I only managed a handful of images before the bird was spooked by the noise of the camera shutter but at least I'd bagged a couple of usable images from this new site.

Yes it was good to get back in the company of an owl again, very refreshing in fact! So thanks must go to Richard for reminding me that putting in a little effort does sometimes reap the rewards.

Catch up soon, thanks for stopping by.........

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

What the camera saw.......

Since the finding of my second Kingfisher site just down the road from where I live my first site has almost been ignored. It wasn't a difficult decision really when you compare the amount of time invested (sitting waiting in the Landie) verses the rewards (Kingfisher sightings). In addition to the more frequent sightings the fact that the light direction at the second site is far more favorable for photography and also the distance involved in driving is half a mile compared to five miles, yes a major consideration when the Landie only does 12 miles to the gallon!

At my second site I was around 90% sure that I was seeing two different Kingfishers, both juvenile hen birds? After reviewing loads of images I noticed that one bird had a very pale lower breast feathers, a smaller orange patch on the lower mandible and slightly different light blue markings on its back. There was obviously always an element of doubt in my mind but these thoughts were finally confirmed when this next sequence of images were obtained. 

I was busily taking images of a Kingfisher on a nearby perch, as I was watching it through the camera viewfinder it started acting very strange indeed. It crouched low on the branch, opened its wings and beak and gestured aggressively up stream whilst calling. 

Needless to say I hadn't witnessed this kind of behavior before so I just kept rattling off the images. Within fractions of a second the Kingfisher disappeared out of my view finer and off down the river. It was this lapse in the action that gave me an opportunity to review the images I'd just captured. What greeted me in one single frame was a total shock........two birds!! 

Sadly I wasn't prepared for this incredibly fast piece of action and my camera settings at the time were not able to freeze the action without the motion blur and nor was I able to have them both properly in focus, dooough!! 

But I do think the image is just about usable so I thought I'd share.......

However, what it has done for me is to be able to confirm 100% that indeed there are two birds present along this stretch of the river and yes they are both hen birds. It has also enabled me to achieve another one of my goals of an image of two birds together and in flight, well sort of?

Just a quick post

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

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kingfishers on the doorstep.....

Yes yes I know, the Kingfishers are getting a bit repetitive now and this blog is suppose to be mainly about owls, but currently I can't find any? At the moment here in Leicestershire we are experiencing a very wet and windy period, all I can say is the owls don't like it and have gone to ground! Therefore, rather than pursue a species (owls) that don't want to be seen at the moment I thought I'd go and watch one that does......the Kingfishers.

In my previous post I introduce you to my new and second Kingfisher site, it was accidentally found when I had a wander down to the local river in my Landrover. I have now made my second visit and it was with a bit of purpose. After making the tiresome 2 minute drive I set about rummaging through the undergrowth looking for some suitable branches to erect as hunting perches for the Kingfishers. The branches I sought needed to be, A) long enough to hang out over the water, B) not too heavy otherwise securing them to the bank is a problem and, C) they had to look nice! 

I went about my task and after half an hour I'd scavenged a couple of branches that fitted the bill. Now all I had to do was decide where to erect them? This stretch of the river where I can access it in my Landrover is around 500 yards, but only on one bank. Initially there is a confluence of the main river and a small brook, after they merge they meander through a small copse and then off along the side of a crop field. There are five overgrown Willow Trees that offer good cover and natural hunting locations for the Kingfishers but for photographic reasons they are far too snaggy. In between two of the Willows is a straight section of around fifty yards, it was between these two trees that I selected. My reasoning was that the birds would have plenty of time to see my branches hanging out over the water no matter which direction they were flying. The o in and the major influencing factor was the light levels were pretty good here too. 

I am not going to apologies for posting yet more Kingfisher images, I am having a whale of a time (if sometimes frustrating) with this very challenging species.

A very short post as my time is better employed camped out on the riverbank waiting for the Kingfishers to put in an appearance, catch up with ya all later! 

Monday, 13 October 2014

More Kingfishers......

Hi all,

Sadly nothing to report on the local owling front, I've visited some local sites where breeding took place in the spring that held Tawnies, Barnies and Little Owls but no sightings have been made at all?

So rather than spend time seeing nothing I was drawn back to my Kingfisher site at South Wigston. Four separate three hour sessions resulted in plenty of fly by birds but hardly a stop off where I'd parked up. The only time I had any quality views was when one of the males obliged and used my perch as a fishing post. It initially landed and spent the next few minutes preening itself, then without notice it dived into the water below and returned back to the same perch with its catch, a small Stickleback.

Kingfisher (male) with Stickleback.
Watching it use my perch was very rewarding in itself, and I was well chuffed with the Stickleback capture and image, but then things improved somewhat, it dived again into the river only this time it emerged with a different fish species altogether, a Bullhead I think?

Although I didn't realise at the time the Kingfisher had actually speared the Bullhead with its mandible, the lower in the fish's side and the upper right between the eyes, ouch!!

As you can probably make out from the last image above it was raining at the time which meant lower light and slower shutter speeds. A real shame as I'd captured loads of images of the Kingfisher slapping the fish against the perch (to kill it before being consumed) but at only 1/500 of a second it wasn't enough to freeze the action and consequently they were at different levels of being blurred, examples below.......

It was inevitable that the "action" wasn't going to last for long and as anticipated the Kingfisher soon departed. The next few hours were spent again watching a lifeless river......

On my way back home I took a quick detour down a track that leads to the local river, just to have a look really. Whilst down there I had a flash of blue whiz past the Landrover, I couldn't believe it there were Kingfishers here on my doorstep!! The bird in question landed in a riverside Willow Tree, I watch it through my binoculars as it dived into the water on a couple of occasions coming up with a catch both times, could it be a favoured fishing perch? I waited until it flew off and then positioned the Landrover parallel to the river and adjacent to the Willow Tree. I didn't have to wait long either before the bird returned, this time it landed on a small branch on the other side of the river, here it held a very erect posture, maybe it was checking me out? 

So this image below is my very first of a Kingfisher from my No 2 site, it's quite a heavy crop but what can be clearly seen is the orange the the lower mandible meaning it to be a female bird. It also has quite "dirty brown" feet rather than bright pink which suggests it is a juvenile. 

Female - Kingfisher site No 2
For the next hour I was captivated watching this young bird as it flitted around in front of me, occasionally it would stop for a few seconds to fish.  It came quite close to me at times and with the much improved light a few more images were captured.

To say I am over the moon that I have discovered this Kingfisher territory so local to home is a gross understatement!! It only takes me 2 minutes to drive there rather than the 15 minutes to my initial No 1 Kingfisher site and the bird here seems to tolerate the close presence of the Landrover. 

Obviously I am now going to dedicate some time to this "on my doorstep" new site, I think that the overall layout of the river and the lower height of the banks lends itself better for maybe attaining a decent flight shot and two birds together than my No 1 site does, time will tell?

Thanks for stopping off

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

Thursday, 2 October 2014

My Blue Phase....

I am addicted, just like the time when I was out watching and taking photo's of my first Little Owls, I am referring to my latest mini project with the Kingfishers. Spending time down by the river watching these engaging creatures has captivated me in a way I never thought possible. 

Its a very tough task though, sometimes I can lie in wait for as long as five hours without even a sighting, but on other times they show within minutes of arriving. Either way when you get a one settle on a nearby perch and start fishing is great reward in itself.  However, to get one come so close and in good light too was just brilliant, all the time waiting is soon forgotten. 

I have selected this one image (above) from dozens I have so far captured, it was one of those times when everything was perfect. The light was brilliant, the defused background with subtle autumnal shades being very complementary and the bird held the perfect pose on a natural perch only a few meters away. 

Still haven't managed a flight shot yet (well not one I am happy with) and I have seen two birds together on several different occasions now so that image may not be too far away either?

Just a quick post, catch up again soon........