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, 18 April 2015

Ouzels and Owls........

I haven't been out owling this weekend, far too busy with other passions, chores and drinking beer! Firstly I've just returned from watching the mighty Leicester City FC, can you believe we won again, that's three on the trot now. There is still a real chance that we may still escape relegation this season after looking dead and buried on two weeks ago. 

I've also been getting ready for a weeks birding in southern Spain, I'll be flying to Malaga very early on Monday morning and returning late the following Saturday. That's nearly six whole days for me to achieve my main ambition of seeing and photographing a Scops Owl. I do also have some other objectives whilst there but I'll do a post on how I went on with them when I return......

This last week I did have a first though, my first ever image of a Ringed Ouzel. The news came through that there were 3 or 4 birds showing reasonably well over at Brascote Pits, at the time Col and I were erecting another two owl boxes so we had to bide our time. Upon our arrival four other birders were there and they had two of the Ouzels in view, the birds were distant and this image below is a 90% crop of the original, not good quality but I am happy with it for now!

Ringed Ouzel - Male
After leaving Brascote Pits I stopped at one of my known Little Owl sites, I'd not seen a bird here for well over a year so it was a nice surprise when a single bird was seen in the nest hole sheltering out of the wind.

Little Owl, site No 209
In the week I made the most of warm sunny evening and visited one of my newer Little Owl sites not far from the village of South Wigston. Both the male and the female owls were seen which gives high hopes of breeding in the coming months.


Sorry there hasn't been much to report from this last week, but there is one last snippet of good news! Do you recall the Barn Owl site where one of the birds was shot dead over the xmas break? Well the farmer phoned me in the week to let me know that he saw two Barn Owls at the entrance to the nest box, not sure where this second owl has come from but it has certainly cheered us all up!!

Catch up soon.......... 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter weekend.......

I couldn't help it, I was drawn back to my resurrected Little Owl site No 47, it was still good news as the birds are still there! But then things got even better as I witnessed one of the birds was using the nest box that I erected last year! It was a distant viewing but the new 500mm lens was still more than capable of capturing a shot of the one of the owls as it poked its head out of the entrance hole, below.

The light levels were excellent, so I made hay whilst the sun shone and spent the next hour or so capturing some more images of the resident  pair. 

This next image is of the hen owl and I just managed to capture the moment as she expelled a pellet, if you look closely it can be seen wedged in her throat.
The pair of them were always in close contact and never wondered too far from each others side. This did give me some great opportunities of capturing some family shots. With a bit of luck the family shots in a couple of months will also include the chicks? In this next image the hen bird is on the right, it can be clearly seen that she is considerably "bulkier" than him.

Because there was sufficient light I did attempt a few flight/take off shots, not easy and an area that I am still trying to perfect, these next two images are ones that I am particularly pleased with.

I have now spent a combined 5 or 6 hours watching these birds, it has become quite obvious that this particular perch is one of their favorites. This image is full frame at 500mm, I still haven't got use to the fact that I am now shooting with a 500mm lens rather than my old 300mm, note to oneself, park further away next time!

As I have previously mentioned in other posts, whilst watching and photographing Little Owls it becomes increasingly difficult to offer " new types" of images. However, after many years this next image of the male owl poking his head out of the hollow of a fallen log is certainly a bit different to the norm as far as my own portfolio is concerned. 

Later in the day I chanced across a Buzzard siting in the middle of a field, I sat and watch it for quite a while but it did nothing, so this is my only image offering.

Of all the British owls the Tawny is usually the first to start breeding, consequently they are even more difficult to see than usual at this time of year. However, after months of investigation at several known sites I have learnt that the males are creatures of habit and they do like to use the same roosting locations. This theory was put into practice when I parked up next to one of these known locations and sure enough there was the male owl perched in his usual place.  It was quite distant and the light quite harsh but I did manage to get into a position that allowed me to get a shot of him through the brambles and twigs.

Male Tawny Owl - Day roosting.
Saturday morning found me out again in search of more owls well before dawn, and believe it or not this followed quite a heavy night on the Stella! Yes I felt as groggy as hell but after a 5.00am hearty breakfast at the local 24hr MacDonald's I was starting to re-join the human race! 

My first port of call was a known Barn Owl site where successful breeding took place last year. The parent owls here did very well in 2014 and raised two broods totaling 7 fledge youngsters. I parked up near the nest tree and kept a watchful eye on the natural nest hole to see if the birds showed. Whilst I was busily feasting in the bacon roll and coffee I kept giving the tree the occasional glance, I'm not sure where the bird came from but at 5.41 am a single Barn Owl just appeared. It wasn't very conducive for photography as there was loads of spindly branches obscuring the bird and the light levels were still very poor, this image below was my best effort of a bad bunch!

Barn Owl - Possible male?
It was very pleasing to see that at least one Barn Owl is still holding a territory here, I'm not sure if this bird is the male or female, I'm suspecting the former as there seems to be a distinct lack of speckling on the breast. I will be keeping regular checks on this site and hopefully in the near future I'll be able to share the good news that the pair are still here.

At 6.14am I now found myself checking out another one of my known Little Owl sites, I did see a single Little Owl (no images) as something far more interesting had caught my attention! In a hollow of a tree in an adjacent field I could just make out a white blob, it was a long way off and meant moving the car for a closer look. I have further investigated distant white blobs before and on several occasions that have turned out to be plastic bags caught up in the tree branches, but not this time!!!

It was a Barn Owl in a location/tree where I'd never seen one before, yeessss. It was obscured by the over hanging branches that drooped out and in front of the hole, but there was no doubting what it was. I was at a distance of around 200 yards so the image below is very much a record shot only. I knew that there was a way of getting nearer to the tree but permission had to be sought from the landowner first.......

At 6.49am a new Little Owl site was located, I was busily driving along a local A-road at 50mph at the time! I just happen to glance over towards a group of Ash trees and a distinctive "brown blob" was spotted in the tree. As soon as it was safe to do so I turned around and went back to investigate further. My initial suspicions were soon confirmed when I had the little chap in my binoculars. It was a considerable distance away (75-100 yards) so the resultant image, (below) can only be classed as a record shot.

Little Owl - New site located 4th April 2015.
That was more or less it for Saturday, I was going down to the football with Daz to watch the mighty Leicester City FC, was this to be the game where we put into action our great relegation escape?

This now brings me to Sunday evening, I made my apologies and left a family party early, I was on a mission to re-visit the new Barn Owl site that I'd located the morning before. Permission had been seeked and granted for me to encroach onto the private land and follow up my plan. This consisted of parking a lot nearer to the tree an hour or so before sunset, the likely time the owl would emerge, if it was still there? Being quiet near Barn Owls is absolutely paramount, especially if good viewing is to be had. 

I was in situ with all the camo/screening up at the car windows, I'd parked about 25 yards from the tree and the entrance hole was clearly in view. There were a few overhanging spindly branches in my line of sight but they didn't prove to be much of an issue. The sun was setting to the west and with the hole facing a north-east direction the light levels weren't very good at all. 

It was now approaching 7.00pm and after a 37 minute wait I was rewarded with an earlier showing than expected. There at the hole entrance sat a Barn Owl, it sat there on one leg and just nonchalantly looked around, it didn't even seem to acknowledge the presence of my car! It was obviously very relaxed and comfortable that there was nothing unto the norm. I hesitated with the capture of my first image as I was a little concerned that the rattle of the shutter releasing would possibly spook it? Then before I'd even taken the first image a second bird appeared, this bird seemed a little reluctant to come completely out of the hole initially. I still held off with the capture of my first image, although I can tell you it was tempted to rattle off a few images. 

My wait was rewarded when after a few minutes the second bird came out a bit further and was nearly parallel with the first owl. I dialed my original setting of F4 to F5 just to give me a greater depth of field (I wanted to go higher but due to the lack of light I daren't). At these new settings I was only capable of achieving a shutter speed of 1/40 second with an ISO of 1250. If I'd gone any lower it would have proved very difficult indeed to have had anything worth keeping.

The shutter releasing definitely attracted their attention, after the first image both birds turned and looked straight down the lens, but they held their ground. In total I took 8 separate shots and this one below was the best of the lot. It then got too dark for any further images without going to stupid ISO settings. It was another 30 minutes before both the birds vacated the hole, at this stage I departed too. 

Barn Owls - New site located 4th April 2015
Considering the conditions I am very pleased with the results, I think the contours and features of the tree certainly complements the overall appeal of the image. 

From what I could see neither of these birds had rings on, so they are new birds to me. Goodness knows where they have come form, or have they been there a while and  I just wasn't aware of their presence? Either way I am very pleased to have found them and I will be keeping a very close watch on them in the future.

Sorry if this post has dragged on a bit, I do try to be concise and as non repetitive as possible but there has been a lot to cram in from the last few days.

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

PS Leicester City FC did the business, a 2-1 win against West Ham, the great escape has started!!!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Still There........

Another visit to site No 47 has been made, it was always in the back of my mind that it may have just been coincidence that the Little Owls are being seen back on their old breeding ground. Could it be that for what ever reason they were just paying a brief visit away from where they bred last year? I don't suppose these niggling doubts will be dismissed until they actually get down to breeding, and that will hopefully be anytime now.........

Again, as soon as I pulled up in the paddock area where the nest tree is situated a bird was sighted, that was a good start! I had another great session observing both the owls as they fluttered around their territory, there was also some great opportunities to capture some images. Of the two birds the male is by far the most mobile and vocal, so to catch an image of both of them was a real bonus.

On my last visit I had the x 1.4 converter attached to the new 500mm lens, this is great when the subject (the owls) are at distance but it also has its disadvantages, especially at this site when the birds come too close. One such occasion where I was pleased the converter wasn't attached was when the male owl dropped down onto the grass right in front of me, this is a full frame image at 500mm. 

On this visit rather than just park the car up and wait for the birds to come within range I chanced moving the car on a couple of occasions, the birds didn't bother an iota. This allowed me to get the best angle for some images of different perches and backgrounds. Initially the light levels weren't too good, but as the evening drew to a close the low setting sun came out and offered a nice even golden hew to the resultant images.

In this next image I like the way the setting sun is captured in the birds eyes and the diffused grey backdrop is of the distant trees. 

Another slight move of the car allowed me to capture this slightly different type of image where for a few seconds the setting sun changed the distant hedgerow into a sheet of various shades of gold.

When one spends as much time as I do photographing Little Owls getting an image that's a bit "different" from the normal becomes a real challenge. For the majority of the time I have to be satisfied with the "owl on a post" shot, or the very occasional iffy flight image. For these reasons when something slightly different presents itself (which isn't often) the chance has to be seized upon. I know this next shot is nothing spectacular but I do like the way the owl is peering around the branch at me.

The male owl was continually territorial calling whilst I was there, this next image is a typical example of catching him in the act.

I am still not convinced that the birds have re-established themselves at this site, especially as during this visit I noticed another couple of squirrels near the nest hole. I have told the landowner that their continued presence could well deter the owls from breeding again, he is going to do his best to "make them go away".

Thanks for stopping by and catching up with my owls, hopefully there will be more to come and an update from this site in a few days time.

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