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, 1 July 2015

North Uist - Day 4

In no time at all our final day came around, the ferry was to sail at 3:0pm so we did have a few hours to try and squeeze in a bit more birding. It was again another early start and what a refreshing change it was to be greeted by more favorable weather as we departed the B&B. The high winds of the previous few days had all but gone and there was no rain, hooray!

As on previous mornings we initially header for the Committee Road area, but rather than wait until we got to the far end of the road to see any signs of life this time there was activity everywhere! We hadn't even got half way along the road and the bird tally was; Hen Harrier x 4, Short Eared Owl x 7! It was utterly amazing what a difference the mild upturn in the weather had made? Of the birds we'd seen so far all of them were on the wing hunting and at distance, so we chose to ignore them in favour of trying to come across a nearer and/or perched up subject.

Our request of a nearby perched up bird had been granted by the birding gods, as we negotiated the junction at the north end of Committee Road there sat on a roadside post some 50 yards from us was a Short Eared Owl. We drove very slowly towards it knowing that at any second the bird could be off and our chances ruined, but it didn't go anywhere. We got within 25 yards which I felt was near enough so here we stopped and grabbed a load of images. We were both feeling very smug as one of our main objectives for the holiday had been achieved.....

Before I'd had the chance to weigh up the risk factor of moving a little nearer the owl took flight. It's not easy wielding a 500mm lens out of the car window trying to attain flight shots, a bit cramped really but a few keepers were bagged.

I've always found it difficult to crop flight shots of Short Eared Owls, especially when "head on" due to the length of their wings. However, I've had a go at cropping the above image a little tighter so as to offer a bit more detail as you can see in this next image, not sure if it works when the wings are clipped like this?

We watched the owl fly back and forth as it quartered the roadside field, it was obviously in hunting mode (maybe the reason why it seemed to be ignoring us?).  It came to rest again only this time it was on a different post, we only had to turn the car 90 degrees to get our very best and closest views yet.

Here it sat on the second post for around five minutes, it was sods law that it coincided with it clouding over making the lighting levels rather awkward. The horrid grey sky only added to the challenge of getting the right exposure, but because it sat there long enough we were able to get what we wanted.

Then without warning it was off again, hunting along the roadside then it drifted further away and over towards the edge of the nearby loch. But, it turned and headed straight back to where we were still parked, it kept coming nearer and nearer, I panicked as I tried to alter my camera settings yet again for a "head on" flight shot.

To our delight it landed on yet another post and even closer than before, the backdrop of the green fields aided in attaining our best images so far.

For the next 30 minutes we had a very intimate time with this individual owl, it was if it was obeying orders to give us a right royal show?

This next image is what it was all about for me, a Short Eared Owl on a very natural looking perch, this is full frame too!

As with most good things they have to come to an end sometime, as did this brilliant experience. The owl eventually upped and left us and flew off into the distance.

Time was now of the essence, catching the ferry was looming ever nearer so we hadn't got time to sit there "chimping" through the hundreds of  images that we'd just captured, oh no we had to get refocused on our next mission......Corncrake.

We headed over to the RSPB site at Balranald in the west of the island, it was here that we'd seen Corncrake earlier in the week but during that visit no images what so ever had been captured. The drive over only took us ten minutes, en-route we saw another Hen Harrier and three more Short Eared Owls, all to be ignored!

Upon departing from the car two Corncrakes could be heard calling from a nearby Iris bed, but hearing and seeing them are at two completely different ends of the scale. We stood next to a fenced off Iris bed and the nearest bird started calling, I kid you not we were only a matter of a few feet from the bird but it couldn't be seen, the Iris's had grown too tall.

The scenario of having this calling bird at our feet went on for an hour,  I was very conscious of the time and something needed to happen, and fast! Then just as we were coming to the conclusion that we were staring defeat in the face another member of the watching public pointed out a bird that had moved to a small clearing. I nearly got trampled in the mad rush as everyone who'd been gathered around the area suddenly huddled together into a small group against the fence! Goodness knows what anyone turning up at that point would have made of this strange sight?? However, putting getting close up and personal with complete strangers aside, I managed an image, yeeeessssss!!!

The dozen or so other people who'd we'd been watching with all soon dispersed, that left just Adey me and another couple who had just turned up. I was very happy with the image that I'd earlier captured of the bird, but it wasn't the iconic image of it calling that I so desperately wanted. 

Then the bird started calling again, for love nor money I couldn't see the dam thing, well not until it was pointed out to me by the couple that had just arrived. It was still a little further away than I would have liked but hey ho I nailed that calling image that I wanted, so happy days!

By now time was pushing on and we really had to make tracks, we had to travel to the far eastern side of the island to catch the ferry. On the way back we saw even more owls, but none that were close enough to make us stop. There were also hundreds of waders showing with loads perched up next to the road, they too were ignored as we had just one more planned stop to make?

After 20 minutes of driving we arrived at the point were we'd had good views of Hen Harrier earlier in the week. We had exactly one hour spare before we had to go so we parked up and started to scan the skies.

Luck was definitely on our side, within minutes a female was spotted hunting over the flat grassy area a few hundred yards away. I got out of the car, set my camera up for flight shots and waited. Gradually it came nearer and nearer, then all of a sudden it was upon us and within reasonable shooting distance. Absolutely fantastic to watch this dark individual  floating around us, pure magic!

We were now clock watching every second that passed, sadly the time beat us and we had to depart before the bird returned for a closer view.

All in all it was a fabulous break, my main regrets being the weather, the long drive and not staying for longer. The highlights being everything else, but especially the Corncrake, the Harriers, the owls and the breakfast! I shall 100% be returning next year, maybe even again this year?

Lastly thanks to Adey, he was brilliant company and made the holiday!

Thanks for stopping by, local owl news to come soon.........


  1. That last image of the Harrier is pretty much perfect Paul. Great backdrop/background, in flight and dramatic pose, I love it. It looks like you were in Shortie heaven with all those opportunities for portraits I have to say I preferred the crop without clipped wings for the flight shots and well done on the Corncrake too, pretty much perfect trip despite the weathers attempt to spoil it.

    1. Yes I agree Doug, better not cropped too tight. It was a brilliant trip Doug, if you haven't been to the Uist's then you must give it a go, you won't regret it, despite the weather!

  2. Enjoyable account Paul of your trip to the Uists,a truly magical place,I went in Aug a few yrs back and had wonderful views of Owls/raptors etc.Merlin was my target and I managed 1 image on a post! You have certainly wet my appetite for a return visit!!

    1. Yes Paul well put, it is a truly magical place, can't wait to go back, many thanks for your comment!

  3. Stunning imaged Paul you've made an old Welshman very jealous.

    1. Thanks for that Dawson, I am sure you have a fantastic environment for yourselves over there in Wales that would no doubt make the most of us envious but you should try the Uist's if you get the chance, a great place!

  4. Its been brilliant reading and seeing your superb images on yours and Adey's exploits on Uist, the images of the SEO in flight are excellent mate, great post.

  5. What a way to end your stay in Scotland, Paul !!! If I'd had a 4-day break up there and ended up with just one of this set, I'd have considered it worthwhile. Every one stunning. Brilliant !!! Looks like I might have to change my Scottish venue some time soon!

    Best wishes - - - - - Richard

    1. If you do change your Scottish venue Richard make sure you pre-book some good weather! Thanks for your kind words buddy.

  6. A brilliant blog Paul, Your company was second to none, even though i gave you an headache or two along the way....can't wait for the next visit whenever it is....

    1. The headaches I had mate were nothing to do with you, a little matter of too much beer perhaps? Glad you enjoyed the trip!

  7. Wonderful shortie fest - looks like you had a superb time up there!