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, 28 August 2015

Barn Owls - Natural Sites

Currently I am monitoring nine different active Barn Owl breeding sites within my survey area (south Leicestershire), I know this isn't a huge amount compared to some areas but considering only six years ago there was only one breeding pair it is defiantly going in the right direction.

Monitoring the sites isn't an easy task either, initially I had to apply to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) for a special licence because the Barn Owl is a schedule 1 species and MUST NOT be disturbed unless 1, a licence has been issued and 2, proper etiquette must be employed whilst near the nest. Once this was issued it then allowed me to visit the sites and monitor any activity. All visits are recorded and at the end of the year my collated information is submitted back to the BTO. 

My licence was issued a few years ago but the initial problem was I only had the one Barn Owl site to monitor! Obviously more breeding sites were required so the next action entailed approaching local landowners to seek their permission to conduct area surveys. Once suitable habitat had been identified that it was felt could support a pair of breeding owls nest boxes had to be made and then erected, and that was a huge task in itself. Many an hour has been spent during the winter months (with Col Green) making the boxes, then early in the year we spend most weekends erecting them. 

In addition to the owls that have now taken up residence in our boxes there are another five pairs that I have located that have chosen natural sites (cavities in trees) to use as their home. The logistics behind proving breeding success in this scenario is more difficult because of lack of access to the nesting chamber. Therefore, the only way to collate any evidence is to make many visits hoping to either see an adult bird visiting with fresh prey, hear the begging calls of the chicks from within the tree or to actually see the young birds at the nest entrance! 

One evening last week I managed to actually get confirmation of breeding success at two of these natural sites. Even though I had heard chick begging calls coming from within the respective trees actually seeing the birds is the final (and most important for me) evidence that is required. 

At my site No 83/natural two young owls were observed at the cavity entrance, they looked the picture of heath and judging by their development will no doubt be fledging any day now.

Juveniles - Site No 83/natural
A hundred yards of so from the above nest location is another very mature Oak Tree that is riddled with nice owly looking holes and cavities. It is here that the parent owls roost up when they want to get away from the demanding youngsters. It was a long wait but my hunch that the adult(s) were still using this tree was proven when one of them emerged just before setting off on a hunting excursion.

Adult - Site 83/natural roosting tree

Adult - Site 83/natural roosting tree
The second location where the owls had used a tree cavity to nest and breeding was eventually proven was my site No 82/natural. Viewing the birds wasn't really a problem but capturing a record shot proved very awkward indeed. It was approaching 10.00pm and as you can image very dark, the camera struggled to focus lock so this had to be overridden and done manually, with the ISO at 2000 only 1/25 of a second shutter speed was achieved (very slooooow).

I am sure you have gathered that I am very enthused about the positive results so far with the local breeding Barn Owls, the work will continue with the ultimate aim of having 30 breeding pairs within the survey area, could take a few more years yet!!! 

Hopefully we'll catch up again soon guys, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Never seen that before!

A couple of nights ago I made my way over to where a pair of my monitored Barn Owls are holding a territory. They are one of the nine breeding pairs that I have in my area this year and at the moment they have 3 juveniles in one of my boxes that is located in a nearby barn. The male owl tends not to spend too much time in and around the barn, preferring instead to roost in the hollow of a nearby tree.

It was near this tree that I parked myself up hoping to get some views of the male or maybe even of any of the youngsters that may have fledged?

True to form, eventually the male owl did emerge from the hollow in the tree, it didn't do a lot apart from just sit there looking around. The only piece of action was when the owl started the wretch its beak wide open, I knew this was a typical action for an owl just prior to the expulsion of a pellet.

I have seen plenty of Little Owls performing a pellet expulsion but never before a Barn Owl, although the light levels were not good for high speed photography I just kept rattling off the images and luckily the image below just happened to capture the moment the pellet was ejected by the owl.  

I know it is not the most pretty of images what with the greasy slimy pellet and the owls face all contorted but that's nature folks,  I was very pleased to have witnessed it!

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

Friday, 14 August 2015

In dusk we must trust - Site No 47

Since returning from my successful owling trip to Scotland getting out to see/monitor the local owl scene has reluctantly had to take a back seat.

However, I did make an effort on two consecutive evenings and I definitely got the "owling fix" that I so desperately yearned for. My chosen location was not far from the local village of Peckleton, here to be found is my Little Owl site No 47. I've been monitoring this particular site for over six years and over that time it's been quite a reliable location for watching and photographing the owls. The parent owls here are prolific breeders too with proven success every year whilst I've been monitoring them. But that then brings us to this year, because of my lack of recent visits I was yet to confirm if this year had been a success too? So my main objective was to see if there were any juveniles around, because it is now at the back end of the breeding season this years chicks (if there were any?) could well of already fledged?  

Initially after parking up near to one of the favoured perches that the birds frequently use nothing was either seen or heard. This wasn't anything out of the ordinary and par for the course really, especially as a pair of Buzzards were consistently floating around overhead (Little Owls don't like Buzzards!!). The waiting for "a show" gave me the opportunity to finely tune my camera settings, the light levels were not very good and as it turned out I had to pump up the ISO to 1600 in order to achieve any kind of shutter speed, hence slightly grainy images.

My vigil commenced around 8.00pm, although Little Owls can be seen at any time during the day they do favour the few hours leading up to dusk, especially if there are youngsters around as a drop in the light levels usually coincides with their time to come out to play! 

At around 8.30pm the first bird to be seen was the adult male owl, I didn't see where he flew in from but sure enough there he was on his favoured perch!

The other fact that I forgot to mention (that I have witnessed on many occasions) is that parent owls very regularly "move" the young owls away from the actual nest site to a more secure location, usually near or on the ground, ie a rabbit burrow, small hedge, a low down hole, log pile etc etc. At this site there is a huge hole in a tree at ground level, just perfect for housing and keeping safe young owls. 

The male owl flew in, flew out and then back in again, each time he landed he made quite a commotion with his high pitch calling. This I now suspect was a, "the coast is all clear call, it is safe to come out". Whilst the male made these jerky flights back and forth it coincided with the emergence of  a youngster from within the log!   

Seeing this was very satisfying on a couple of scores, firstly it was great to see the owls had successfully bred again and secondly my intuition as to where they would be "housed up" was right.

After a few seconds a second young owl also emerged from the same cavity, they seemed a little nervous at first, maybe the presence of my car had put them off?  However, with the adult male in close attendance they soon forgot about me and out they came.

The first owl to leave the relative security of the roosting site scampered across the grass in pursuit of some tiny flying bugs, it did stop for a few fleeting seconds right in front of me! 

The second youngster flew across (with great agility) onto a nearby branch, here it gave me "the stare" before flying off again to join it's dad.

Great to see that this site has yet again been successful with it's breeding attempt, I suspect by the look of the youngsters (age wise) and their ability to fly around that they will very soon be departing this natal site in search of a territory all of their own.

Finally, sorry for the lack of post lately and that this one was relatively short, I'm sure I will make amends in the near future.

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon, I hope........