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!!!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Another new Tawny site.

Through my networking grapevine I'd had the heads up on a potential Tawny Owl site, the exact location was somewhat vague but because I didn't know of any birds of this species in the vicinity I just had to go and investigate.

Three times I drove slowly with windows wound down along the entire length of the lane, I did have a brief gimps of a Barn Owl and two separate sightings of Little Owl but no Tawny Owl. On the fourth return I did eventually have some luck, initially I was drawn to the alarm calls of a Blackbird (always a good indication that something is amiss). I parked up in one of the many gateways along this lane and then listened...... On the far side of the road was a tiny spinney, on the periphery Great Tits and Chaffinches could be seen, they had "mobbed up" with the Blackbird and were all being very vocal. They seemed agitated, this was typical of a scene I'd witnessed on many occasions before when an owl (usually Tawny) is close by.

The commotion continued for five minutes, the "mob" grew in numbers and species, Blue Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Robin joined in. Then I spotted a movement within the dense ivy, it was considerable in size, it was a Tawny Owl! The Tawny then made a dash for it across the road, it was closely pursued by far more birds than I'd first thought we there, some thirty or so?  The Tawny landed in a tree and then disappeared into a large cavity, the baying mob of finches and tits hung around for a few minutes before they finally dispersed. During this calming off period I took the opportunity to re-position the car and get out the camera. 

The owl did show again after a wait of around fifteen minutes, to say I was over the moon with my views of the bird would be a gross understatement, they were brilliant!!

The owl perched on the edge of the crack in the tree for what seemed an aged, in reality it was probably around 30 seconds but it was time enough for me to rattle off a load of frame filling images.

So that is now two new Tawny Owl sites that have offered some excellent roadside views in the last few of weeks. Credit for this last site must go to Shani who came up with the goods again, she's getting rather good at this!

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

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Owls and Kites.......

On Wednesday evening the weather was pretty good, yes there was a slight breeze but the sun was occasionally poking through the clouds giving good low light at times, how could one rebuke getting out for a few hours in such good conditions? Not me for sure!!!!

I ventured over towards the eastern side of my Owl monitoring area, to be fair I was swayed in going in that direction because I wanted to see if I could improve on my recent Osprey images, but owls were high on the agenda too!

En route I wanted to see if the recent Tawny Owls I first located a few weeks ago were still showing as well? As I drove through the country lanes nothing much was seen, until that is a pair of Little Owls were observed sitting in a roadside tree, I'd never seen owls here before and in the bag was another new site! I'm not giving this new site a number (as I have with the previously found 200 plus sites!).  I've stopped looking for new Little Owl sites as their population seems to be doing very well here in Leicestershire, although that doesn't seem to be the case for the rest of the UK? However, numbering and recording new sites put aside I still felt compulsed to stop and take an obligatory photo of them, below.

New Little Owl site No ????
Although Little Owls are by far my favorite owl, my affections for Barn & Tawny owls isn't too far behind. There is no doubt about it the Little Owl is easily the best owl to watch up close, they are full of character and can entertain for hours on end, where the other two species are pretty boring to say the least. If they are observed during the daylight hours (which is rare) the Tawny just sits most of the time doing nothing and the Barn Owl is usually seen out hunting and the views are mainly too distant or all too brief. But, having said that the latter two species are far more of a challenge to initially find and then to photograph, so to balance out the argument far more satisfaction is now gained if I do get to photograph either of these two mostly nocturnal species.

After my discovery of the new Little Owl site I continued on my way, it wasn't too long after I found myself at the Tawny Owl site again. And right on cue one of the birds (presumably the hen bird) was again sitting at the cavity entrance. A few images were obtained but they were all very similar, as I said previously Tawny Owls in the daytime mostly sit doing nothing!! 

Tawny Owl.
Finally I arrived at the Osprey site, a bird showed on two separate occasions and it was great viewing as it dived into the water and caught a fish both times, sadly all this action was far too distant and no usable images were obtained. Whilst I was watching the Osprey I got chatting to a nice couple who I'd bumped into during a previous visit to this site. They told me about a nearby location where they had seen some Red Kites, this was too much of a temptation for me and off I went.

I didn't manage to get to the destination that they had recommended as only a couple of miles down the road from where I'd left them I came across a Red Kite!! It was twisting and turning along the road I was driving along, this was too much of a tease so I stopped the car and got out. The next hour was spent following and tracking the bird on foot. It was heavy going too as carrying the 500mm lens and  the tripod was bloody hard work, but I eventually got some images that I am very pleased with so it was all worth it in the end. 

Red Kite

Red Kite being harassed by a Rook.

The time spent with the Kite was quality and I really enjoyed it, without a doubt my best ever views of this species and definitely my best ever images. Even though the bird was showing well I had to depart, it was hard to pull myself away but I'd got another pressing engagement with a potential new Barn Owl site.

A good friend of my Mrs (Shani) is a self confessed owl nut, she gets out when ever she can in and around the lanes where she lives donning her night vision goggles! She has done very well too and regularly see's Little Owls and the odd Tawny, but when the news came in that she'd found a Barn Owl site my ears really did prick up! I'd never seen a Barn Owl in the location that was mentioned so I had to investigate before it got too dark. 

Shani's directions to the location left a bit to be desired but I eventually found the describe tree, I pulled up along side and waited. It wasn't too much of a wait either as a bird was soon looking out of the cavity straight at me. There was a lot of branches and twigs obscuring my view but I did manage this record shot, below.

Barn Owl, new site.
This location was quite a surprise to me as the tree the owl was in was only a few yards from the road and dead opposite a very busy farm entrance. It wasn't long before the light started to fade and a second Barn Owl appeared, that was great to see as the likelihood now is that this is a breeding site.

So it was quite a good evening, a new Little Owl site, a showy Tawny Owl, my best ever Red Kite views and a new Barn Owl location, it was a shame the Osprey didn't play along as well!

Many thanks to the couple at the Osprey site for the Red Kite info and to Shani (my new owl finder general) for locating the Barnie's.

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

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Round 1.......

This morning (Sunday 10th May) Col and I managed to get out for a few hours to conduct our first round of box checking this year and of the fifteen boxes checked we had a bag of mixed results. 

At the first site the day got off to a great start, last year a pair of Barn Owls took up residence in one of our two boxes that are at this site and then went on to raise three youngsters, this was the first ever record of Barn Owls at this particular site. Then over the xmas period one of the adults was shot and killed, I'm sure you can recall me reporting this despicable news? Well, I now have the pleasure of reporting that there is a pair in residence once more!

In this first image Col can be seen giving the box a little scratch, for the majority of time this is our method of letting the inhabitants (if there are any?) know that we are there, usually they will fly out of the box, roost up quietly nearby and then return once we depart.

Whilst Col did the "box scratching" I stood off with the camera at the ready and luckily I managed to capture an owl as it vacated the box.

Box No 2 Owl No 1.
Fractions of seconds later a SECOND bird also vacated the box, yeeeeessss!!!  This was brilliant to see after all the hardship associated with this site of late. But where had this bird come from? 

Box No 2 owl No 2.
In this next image, (a crop from the above image) it can be clearly seen that the owl has been ringed, because neither of the original adult owls from last year had been ringed we can only assume that this owl is one of last years fledged birds (from either this site or another nearby one) that has paired up with the female that was left widowed?  

Box No 2 Owl No 2 a ringed bird.

The good news didn't stop there, after both owls had vacated we quickly removed the inspection hatch and looked inside, four eggs were nicely nestled in the far corner of the box, definitely a great result, so far!!

The next two boxes we checked resulted in both of them being clear and bird free, however the fifth box of the day, a Little Owl box did have residents in the form of a Great Tits nest, see image below. We have had Great Tits use boxes intended for Little Owls before, neither of us minded this squatter setting up home here so we closed up the box front and left them to it.

Little Owl box, Great Tit nest!
We then checked another two boxes, neither had residents in them but both had Barn Owl pellets inside,  this bodes well because they are either being used as roosting sites or maybe even breeding sites later in the year?

The next location we visited (Box No 10) was occupied last year by Barn Owls and they successfully raised four youngsters. Consequently we had very high hopes for this site, initially it was good news because there was a pair occupying the box, but there was no eggs. We are hoping that maybe this pair are just late in laying rather than not bothering to breed this year?

Box No 10 owl No 2.

We also had high hopes for the next box we checked (No 37) because I saw a pair of Barn Owls near to this box only a few weeks ago. Col did his usual light scratch n the bottom of the box and we heard movement from within, I got the camera at the ready and we were disappointed with the species that came flying out, a Stock Dove!

Box 31, Stock Dove.
Later in the morning we were to be disappointed again when we had another pair of Stock Doves nesting in a box intended for Barn Owls.

The next location we visited was a group of old buildings where we have both Barn and Little Owl boxes. The Barn Owl box had loads of evidence that it is being used because of all the mute (owl poo) on the floor and pellets inside, but no birds.

Neither Col or I had any realistic thoughts that the Little Owl box would be used, it was of a totally different design to the "norm" and nothing had been anywhere near it since it was put up three years ago. So you can possibly sense my delight when I lifted the lid and there inside was a hen Little Owl and four eggs!!

Box No 13 and "yours truly" doing the checking.
In this next image (taken with my I-phone) the inside of the box can clearly been seen, it's a very simple design of a small box with a piece of drainpipe being used as a tunnel for entry. As I mentioned before we had lost confidence with this design but now we could even make some more!

Box 13, Little Owl and eggs.
At the next two sites we drew blanks again, no birds but pellets in the boxes, we were beginning to think that some of the owls for what ever reason are breeding a little later this year?

The final and fifteenth box to be checked was one of my supposed "banker" sites for this year as I'd accidentally disturbed a pair of Barn Owls from the barn only a few weeks ago. The barn here was quiet a walk too across a ploughed field, not to the liking of either of us but it needed to be done as we'd never had breeding birds here before! 

Col can be seen in the image above next to the barn in question, no I'm not giving any clues to the barns location or whereabouts with the sharing of this picture as this view can only be possible if one is either the landowner in his tractor or me!!!

On entering the building things looked very positive indeed as this is what greeted us on the floor, loads and loads of owl mute and pellets. And to think I cleared away all the pellets on my last visit!

Owl poo and pellets.
I got the camera at the ready and Col did his scratchy thing again, two Barn Owls vacated the box and I managed to grab this image below of one of them.

Box 67, owl No 2.
After checking back through the images neither bird was ringed so these are new birds to us again. We quickly checked inside the box and to our amazement there was SEVEN eggs, oh these birds are going to be busy once they all hatch!

To summarise it was a day of mixed results I suppose, not as many boxes occupied as we'd have liked but to be fair it's early days yet.

So that's all for now folks, I hope you enjoyed your visit?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

3 Owl Bank Holiday Monday

Yipeeee, a day off work and with no other commitments to speak of, so I made the executive decision that the whole day would be spent birding.

My first encounter of any note was with a Little Owl (owl species No 1). This image (below) was taken at a regularly visited site, the light was atrocious hence the image looking a bit bland and washed out but good to see the bird never the less. 

My next stop off was at the new Tawny Owl site (owl species No 2) that I first located last week. Again one of the resident birds was sitting at the cavity entrance as I pulled up alongside. This was a bit of a surprise because unlike on previous visits when the weather was foul this morning it was brilliant sunshine and the owl was blazed in full light! 

I'd been watching the owl for only a few minutes when it vacated the relative snugness of its hole and flew off out of site along the treeline. This took me by surprise and the resultant attempt of a flight shot was a total disaster. However, because of the good light I changed my camera setting and waited for the next chance. 

During the next hour or so the owl made several flights away from the cavity and these next three images where my best efforts of capturing some of the action.

After the last time the owl departed the tree it didn't return after 45 minutes of waiting, I'm suspecting it had gone off to day roost somewhere nice and shady.

My next stop was at the site where I have been seeing Osprey's recently, I didn't have much time to set up here because as soon as I pulled up the bird was showing quite well high above the bay. No time to set up the tripod or attached the x 1.4 converter, I just rattled off a few dozen hand held images whilst it circled around high above me, yes the light levels were brilliant but because the sun was so high in the sky most of the images suffered from harsh shadows in the under-wing.

This next image below is the original of the cropped version above, it gives some idea of how high the bird was up when shooting at 500mm.

The Osprey didn't hang around for long and it soon floated off along the shoreline and out of site. This gave me a chance to set up the tripod and attached the x 1.4 converter. Whilst waiting for the Osprey to return I took the opportunity to practice on a few other bird species that happened to fly by within shooting distance. These next two images are again massive crops of the originals, the birds seemed to be comfortable with hugging the shoreline which is a good distance away. But this has given me valuable practice with the new 500mm lens in readiness for my up and coming trip to Scotland (Western Isles) where I will be targeting Short Eared Owls in flight.

Black Headed Gull

The Osprey came back around again, but he didn't hang around for too long as he was continually harassed by this Common Tern.

I couldn't resist taking a few shots of this Red Legged Partridge as it wondered around in front of me. Yes I know they are a very common species but what striking plumage.

Eventually the Osprey returned again, it didn't come any closer than it did before but with the converter attached I did manage to capture this next image, probably my best of the bird so far? 

Later in the evening and after a lengthy quiet spell  more drama unfolded, a Barn Owl (owl species No 3) came drifting past. It was 7.10pm and the "good light" had gone, the ISO was pumped up to 1600 and with a shutter speed of 1/400 of a second only this one image was deemed "usable".

So that's it for now folks, it was a great day and much much better than being at work, we should have more bank holidays!!!

I'll be back soon with an update on how all our nest boxes are fairing, going to be conducting my first round of checks very soon........

Monday, 4 May 2015

Tawnies - A pair!

I had a few spare hours on Sunday morning so I decided I'd spend them wisely and go and see if I could again locate the Osprey I'd recently been watching. En-route the weather had a turn for the worst and it went as black as a witches hat before the rain came pouring down.  This had obviously scuppered my plans of trying to firstly find the Osprey and secondly attempt to capture some improved flight shots. 

Plan B was then put into action, I re-visited the new Tawny Owl site that was first located only a few days ago. Mmmmm early morning and pouring down with rain obviously isn't conductive to owl watching either but I was in the area so I gave it a go.

This site/location makes for really easy watching, the tree is located along a quiet country lane amid a hedgerow with a gateway dead opposite for parking the car. The cavity where the owl was last seen is only about 8 feet high so taking images from my parked car is really easy.

Initially I had a slow drive by to see if the owl was again sitting in the cavity, it wasn't so I parked up and poked the camera out of the window. I wasn't disheartened that after an hour of waiting and watching I hadn't seen anything, Tawny Owls are mostly nocturnal. However, during the breeding season they can be seen in the daytime as my experiences told me last year. With this in mind my vigil continued on into the second hour, then without any notice a Tawny flashed in from the right and landed in the cavity. It turned, looked straight at me and then disappeared into the hole. Seconds later it popped out again, looked around, screeched and then flew off! 

Owl No 1
During all this mad few seconds of action I did manage to capture an image, (above) taken just before the owl dropped into the hole. I also captured a few shots of when it came out and flew off but due to the low light levels and slow shutter speeds they were all rendered to the trash bin. As can be seen the owl was quite wet, had it been out day hunting and then bringing in food for it's partner or chicks?

Another 15 minutes passed without incident, I was then alerted by a screech that seemed to come from a nearby tree in the adjacent field, was the owl about to make another visit? I then heard another screech that came from the cavity????  Initially I thought the owl must have flew in and I'd missed it but then all was explained, out of the cavity popped a second owl!

Owl No 2
During the next hour another two visits were made by the first owl (presumably the male) he brought in a vole/shrew/mouse on one visit, not sure which? This now confirmed to me that this must be a breeding location (and not just a roosting site) and chicks must surely be present, hence the daytime hunting.

As one of the owls vacated the hole I did try for a flight shot, I had to change my camera settings drastically in order to achieve a maximum 1/640 shutter speed. I pre-focused about a foot out from the hole and tried to time it to when the owl flew into the focus plain, below.  

There was nothing else to report during this session, the rain got heavier and the owls became quiet, however I will be making more visits here and hopefully there will be chicks to report soon!

Catch up soon folks........... 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Osprey and an Owl.

Around 30 miles or so from where I live lies Rutland Water, a huge man-made reservoir where for the last few years they have been managing an Osprey breeding project. Although I am not familiar with the statistics I am aware that it has been a very successful program and they now have returning/breeding birds each year, well done to all the team and their volunteers.

Now I have always wanted to spend some time watching and hopefully attaining some "half decent" images of Osprey's but the problem with the birds at Rutland is they can be very distant most of the time. However, there is now another option where one can get a lot closer to the birds. Photography hides have been erected at two nearby trout farms where the Ospreys regularly hunt, I have seen some of the images that other photographers have been attaining and they are stunning to say the least, but that is not my thing!!! I am firstly a watcher of wildlife and secondly a photographer and to fore-fill what makes me tick is I like to find my own subjects rather than just turn up at what I would call a rather "artificial"site. Yes I am sure this kind of set up suits many and they proudly share their spoils, but that is it, turn up, take the image go home and then move onto the next subject. There is just not enough substance in that for me, no research, no field-craft, no individuality. To further compound my argument they are charging £60.00 a time for the privileged but this is apparently to offset the cost of the Trout being taken. 

So that now brings me to Thursday evening just gone, I was out doing a bit of general birding at a body of water in Leicestershire. I was practicing BIF (birds in flight) images in readiness for my up and coming "owling" holiday in Scotland. There were plenty of birds about too for me to point my lens at, Buzzards, Red Kites, a pair of Kestrels, my first Hobby of the year and a late hunting Barn Owl, but the bird that gave me most satisfaction to see was an Osprey! I'd chosen to visit this location as I'd always had an inclination that birds would visit and maybe even breed nearby! The bird spent a good 30 minutes fishing/hunting along the far bank, great to witness even though it didn't catch anything and it was distant. Because of this "chance" encounter I sacrificed my Friday night out at the pub and re-visited the said location again. Regarding the birds seen it was pretty much the same as the evening prior, but no Osprey? Then around 7.00pm an Osprey put in an appearance, it seemed to roughly following the same flight path as yesterday, but this time I was in a different location and a lot nearer! 

I had some great views and I even managed to attain a few images, my best ever of an Osprey. Granted this image is not of the same quality as the one's being attained at the Rutland hides but it was very satisfying that my plan came to fruition and it cost me nothing apart from the small sacrifice of not having a few beers! 

This time the Osprey did catch a fish (large Roach I think?) it then flew with its catch up and away from the water only to return 10 minutes later without its catch! This action makes me suspect even more that it may well be breeding very close by?

On the way home I located a new Tawny Owl, not sure yet if it is a roosting or breeding site but I am hoping the latter. The bird was sitting in a cavity of a roadside tree that I've been keeping a close eye on for years! What made it even better was the light levels (from the setting sun) were excellent, most unusual seeing a Tawny in such good light. 

Upon seeing the bird I just kept driving, I'm sure if I'd have stopped straight away it would have spooked the bird? I pulled up in a gateway got the camo scrim up at the window, hung the beanbag over the door and poked my camera out. I then reversed up slowly and to my delight the bird wasn't spooked by my stealthy approach, in fact it seemed to be slightly inquisitive!  

The owl sat and looked back at me for a few minutes, then to my surprise it briefly came out of the cavity, it would have made a really nice image if it wasn't for the odd twig that covered part of its face.

So that's it for this post folks, got to leave out in five minutes as the mighty Leicester City FC have an early kick off today (Saturday) against Newcastle United. I'm going to predict a 2-1 victory and then a few beers to celebrate after!

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