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!!!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Little Owl's Return......

One of my monitored Little Owl sites (No 47) has proven over the years to be a very reliable location for viewing the owls as they go about their daily business. This is especially the case during the breeding season where I've spent many an hour watching all the antics of pre-breeding through to when the chicks fledge the nest.

So last year you can imagine my disappointment when it was discovered that the owls had been evicted from the natural tree cavity by a family of squirrels. A nest box was soon made and erected hoping that the owls would find it to their liking and use it as an alternative breeding site. Sadly after many re-visits the owls were not seen again during 2014, the local landowner (let's call him Clive) was also disappointed and he set about the task of "evicting" the Squirrels.

Last week I received an email from Clive, it was brief and straight to the point, "there're back". A quick phone call was needed to clarify exactly what this very short and slightly cryptic message meant? Since the discovery of the unwelcome squatters Clive had been true to his word and spent the next 10 months slowly picking them off one by one, I'll not go any deeper into explaining exactly what "picking them off" means but I'll leave it to you to decipher that?

Over a dozen squirrels have been cleared from the area and it now proves that it was all worth it as the Little Owls are now back!!!!  Who knows where they went and what they have been up to, but I'll not dwell on that as all that matters now is they've come home, yeeesssss.

As you can imagine I didn't need much encouragement to make a site visit as soon as it was possible to do so. I was there parked up and watching a Little Owl within 30 seconds of arriving! It was sat there on a bare branch right next to the old nest entrance, I looked around for a second bird and that too was soon spotted sitting in the vee of two vertical branches. Both locations where the birds sat where used by the previous owls so I have come to the conclusion that they ARE the returning pair.

It turned out to be a great session too, plenty of action as the birds moved about re-investigating their old territory. The male owl was very vocal too as he called out loudly from various different perches.

The light levels were excellent for photography, below are just a few of the images I captured during this long awaited session.

Capturing a Little Owl in flight image was hard enough with my 300mm lens, this has proved to be an even tougher challenge with the 500mm when one is too close.

Some of these images may give the impression that I was very close to the owls, but this is what's now achievable with the new 500mm lens in conjunction with the x 1.4 converter.

A very enjoyable visit was had, great to see these owls back, I too shall be returning to see them again very soon.......

Catch up again soon folks, thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

More little 'uns........

During the last week or so I've been spending as much free time as possible visiting some of my "known" Little Owl sites. Each location has previous breeding pedigree, so in order to help me prioritise which locations will be "live" in the spring the ground work has to be done now. Initially my first objective was to see if the birds are still in residence,  and if so is there is a pair too? 

Site No 88, a pair in residence but not photographed together.
At the moment my site monitoring is somewhat limited to roadside locations only because the faithful Landrover is off the road again (she hasn't broken down, just no MOT or tax!). This means I am not able to get "off the beat and track" and away from all public places. This is somewhat disappointing because some of my best monitored sites for viewing and photography are well away from any roads or human disturbance.

Site No 154, a pair in residence but not photographed together.
I have also noticed that this year compared to others the owls are mating earlier than I have witnessed before. Not sure why this is but what it does mean is there are going to be some early chicks for sure. At some of the sites where I have only observed a single owl it doesn't necessarily mean there isn't a pair in residence, just that the hen owl has already started her incubation duties.

However, at some sites I have been lucky enough to have witnessed and photographed the resident pair. It was good news at site No 26, a pair are in residence after a barren two years!

The resident pair at my site No 26.
It was also good news at my site No 39. I'd major concerns here as a new housing estate has been erected only 20 metres away from the nest tree, I thought the birds would vacate the site because of all the noise and human interference, I was obviously wrong!

The resident pair at my site No 39.

Site No 61, only a single owl has been seen here so far.

Site No 61, no birds here last year, looks like they have returned.
At site No 92 a pair have been seen too, this image below is of the hen bird peering out from the nest.

Site No 92, proven breeding here for the last 5 consecutive years!
Site No 35 a single owl was spotted hiding behind this branch, it wasn't in the known nest tree but not too far away so this is being referenced as a "live site" too.

Site No 35, a shy bird still here.
This quite striking individual was photographed at my site No 72, although I didn't see the second bird I heard it calling so good news here too.

A pair still in residence at site No 72
A single bird only was located at site No 32, albeit a very confining individual. Maybe the hen bird was in the nest hole?

Site 72, only one bird seen.
A quite stern and angry looking solitary owl was also observed at site No 214. An unusual nest site location this, in a willow tree on the end of a peninsular that is surrounded by water on 3 sides.

It isn't all good news though, so far there has been 17 roadside sites that I've previously monitored breeding activity at where no sightings have been made after 3 separate visits. I am just hoping that it was down to my inadequate observation skills rather than there being no birds present?

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

Monday, 23 March 2015


I sacrificed my weekly Friday night out on the beer for an early start Saturday morning, doing both use to be a doddle but not any more, far too old!! So feeling as fresh as a daisy and without any signs of a hangover I was out at 5.00am. It was beautiful morning too, does wonders for the soul!

I went from Little Owl site to Little Owl site and nothing??? I was beginning to regret the ultimate sacrifice of having a "dry night". However, I did eventually have an obliging bird to lock my lens onto, but it wasn't one of my usual owly subjects.  I was just pulling away from another no show owl site when a Kestrel drifted across the road in front of me. Now this is quite a common occurrence but usually by the time the camera has been set up the Kestrel in question is a dot in the distance, but not this time! It turned head on into the wind and hovered right beside the car, I couldn't believe my luck when it landed on a wire and waited for me to swing my lens out of the window. 

I made a school boys error, my camera setting were still set up from when I was at the previous owl site (where I needed a high ISO setting) this resulted in quite a noisy/grainy image of the Kestrel. Luckily I'd got enough about me to know that when in aperture priority mode and pointing skyward an increase in the exposure setting is required, usually by at least two thirds of a stop. This I managed to do whilst simultaneously poking the lens out of the window. It was a good job I did otherwise I'd have struggled to salvage the image to an acceptable and usable standard.

I could see that the Kestrel was scanning the ground for prey, Oh no if it dived now and the background quickly changed from sky to grassy field I was going to struggle again with the exposure. For this reason I quickly turned the mode dial to manual, the shutter speed was set and the ISO reduced.  It was all a bit hurried and a bit of an educated guess as to what the perfect setting needed to be but there was no time for experimenting. As I suspected the Kestrel did drop to the ground and I just rattled off a few shots as it nestled in the grass. As it transpired I'd guessed the setting pretty much bang on (F6.3, ISO 640 and 1/2500), I am well chuffed with the final result, below. 

Although it can't be seen in this next image the Kestrel had actually caught a vole/mouse/shrew, not sure which though?  The higher shutter speed and lower ISO setting that I'd guessed at certainly made for freezing the action mid-flight better along with far less grain in the image, pretty pleased with the exposure too!

The Kestrel flew over and landed on the top of a nearby hedgerow, not the best quality image as it is a huge crop because of the distance involved. Here it spent the next few seconds consuming it's catch, but not for long as a pair of Rooks flew down and flushed it away. 

This final image of the short stint is my favorite, because of how the field rose away from me it brought the Kestrel nearly up to eye level when it was on the ground. Its wings can just be made out mantling its prey through the grass. And even at F6.3 the new lens still offers a wonderfully diffused background, even with my x1.4 converter on! 

So the morning wasn't a complete waste of time after all, the Kestrel definitely saved the day.

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

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Angry Owl!

Since last weeks excellent encounter with the Short Eared Owl nothing much has been seen. I did however manage a half hour stint watching the resident pair of Little Owls at my site No 88 near to the village of Enderby. At this site seeing the birds is quite easy, but getting photo's of them is another matter. The nest tree has a mass of low hanging branches which makes the chances of getting a clear shot an awkward challenge. 

I was really lucky for a few minutes when the male owl sat out on a nice natural perch on the edge of the tree, in good light too! When the light levels are good it definitely highlight the details of the birds plumage much better, oh look at those talons!

The male owl did come a little closer but most of his body was obscured by a nearer branch. For this reason I cropped all the "mess" out of this next image and concentrated on just his head. He doesn't look very happy does he? 

I've also had the opportunity to visit several other of my known Little Owl sites, mating has been observed at two of them. At three other sites the male owl has been observed perched up in cover /ivy near to the nest tree. I have seen this type of behavior at this time of year on many occasions now, I'm pretty confident that the hen owls are now starting to lay their clutches of eggs and the male owl keeps out of her way but close by "keeping guard". 

So for the next 3-4 weeks activities at the Little Owl sites will be very low key indeed whilst egg incubation takes place. But once the eggs hatch the best time of year will be upon us and all the activity will begin in earnest.........can't wait!!!!

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

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Short Eared Owl.

I have recently had a fantastic encounter with a Short Eared Owl that will stay embedded within my memory banks for a long while to come. I was in situ well before dawn, it was bitterly cold (minus 2), windy and to be honest it was pretty uncomfortable, mainly due to my inadequate clothing! However, I endured the elements and had a happy camera snapping hour with the bird before I had to prematurely call it a day.

Finally, a massive thank you must go to John "R", without his help I'd never of had this fabulous experience. Cheers buddy!

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

Monday, 9 March 2015

Blown Away!

Sorry if I keep going on about it but I just can't believe how good my new lens is. I have been out with it now on three consecutive evenings and although it is late in the day and the light levels are somewhat questionable it has performed absolutely brilliant. However, I don't really appreciate just how awesome it is until I get home and review my images on the computer. Initially after the first time of use I put it down to coincidence, but surely not after three nights on the trot? 

It performs beautifully in tandem with my Canon 7D body, hey I trash all those on-line reviews that say this combination is no good, they don't know what they are talking about, or maybe how to use it? In comparison to my previous own/used lenses this is definitely premier league, maybe even Barcelona!!  For three nights running now my post processing has been at an absolute minimum, no lengthy spells correcting exposures, noise, sharpness etc etc. My "keeper" rate has gone from around 50% to a whopping 80 or even 90%. Obviously the focal length of 500mm has made a huge difference with respect to detail compared to my previous used Sigma 300mm, especially when the conversion factors of the 7D body are taken into account. But, I was expecting  a compromise on quality with this additional focal length, oh that's on the contrary, viewing through my eyes I would say the quality is improved some 50%. The other amazing discovery is when an image is cropped, with previously used lenses this was a dodgy exercise, a balance between getting an image that is cropped enough so the subject matter can be seen but not too much otherwise the image becomes too grainy and the quality drops off a cliff. But not with this baby, even very heavy crops don't seem to suffer too much, oh how I wish I'd been able to afford this piece of kit years ago!

Anyway, enough of my very amateurish review, here are a few more images that were taken last night.

This first image is from my site No 92  near to the village of Gilmorton, the light levels weren't too bad but from they were coming from the wrong direction, ie from behind the subject. However, the image stabilization kicked in whilst hand holding and I was still able to pick out enough detail to make the image more that usable. 

At the next location (my site No 224 near to the village of Walcote) the setting sun was coming from a more favorable direction, but due to the distance involved there was a lot of distracting foliage and branches in the frame on the original image. A very heavy crop resulted in the final image showing just the focal subject (the owl) poking its head out of its nest hole. Utterly amazed how there was still more than enough detail to make it my favorite image of the evening. 

This last location I visited was my oldest "live" site No 4 near to the village of Sharnford. By now the light levels were atrocious but the lens kept producing the goods with the capture of the resident pair of owls perched together.

One of the owls (the hen) dropped down onto a lower branch which due to the darker background made for exposing the image a little easier.

Then hen owl then flew across and landed in the entrance to the nest hole. It was 6.29pm and almost dark. The camera settings were at ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/50th second, not a bad result considering the conditions.

I have to admit that during the writing of this post eight bottles of lager were consumed whilst listening to my new Ella Henderson CD, yes a bit emotional and that may have been expressed in the content, but hey I am only human, albeit a wobbly one!!

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

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Getting Lighter.....

For the last few months getting out "owling" has very much been limited to weekends only, and then for the majority of the time it has been dedicated to box erecting. But now that spring is just around the corner and the evenings are starting to draw out it means there are opportunities to squeeze in an hour or so after work.

Just such an opportunity was yesterday evening, after work I grabbed my new lens and headed over to my Little Owl site No 9, a location that hasn't been visited since last summer. The reason that this particular site was selected is due to the fact that the nest tree is situated high up on a hill and the nest hole faces west, these variables combined mean the last slithers of light from the setting sun are cast over the nest tree. All that was required now to complement the scene was an obliging owl or two, that is if they were still there?

After a mad dash across the country lanes my first bit of luck was in, the track gate that leads up the hill to the nest tree was unlocked and open. Many a previous visit here had been scuppered at the last minute because the gate was locked, I took this as a good omen! However, I was soon in position with my mighty 500mm lens poking out of the car window. It was now 5.34pm and the nest hole (where the birds usually show first) was saturated in golden sun but there was no signs of any owls. Time was obviously of the essence as the sun was setting fast and if they were going to show it needed to be very soon otherwise it would have been too dark.

I needn't have worried, within 5 minutes I was rattling off a few shots of a single Little Owl as it peered down on me from the relative security of it's hole, below.

Running along side the nest tree is a very well used farm track that see's plenty of heavy duty traffic passing by. So when it came to my small car being parked up near by it was nothing for the owl to be concerned with, consequently the owl fluttered out from it's hole an on to a nearby branch. 

I then noticed a second owl (the female) was showing back at the nest hole, this bird seemed more hesitant to come out and called to the first owl which was still up in the tree.

The continued calling from the owl in the hole must have been a summoning request as the first owl was soon back the nest hole sitting alongside it's seemly more dominant partner. 

I had a good five minutes of action and photo opportunities before the sun set and the birds disappeared back into the tree. 

So on reflection it has been a very rewarding and productive couple of late evenings out with the new lens, it is certainly proving (in my humble opinion) to producing some nice results, hopefully it is a sign of things to come?

That's all for now, only a short post and thanks for stopping by.

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

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

S.L.O.P - South Leicestershire Owl Project.

Hi again folks,

Not a lot to keep you updated with since my last post, apart from the fact that another sixteen Barn Owl boxes have been put up! You can see from this bespoke map below of south Leicestershire, my monitoring area that is highlighted by the thick red line. This area is approx 500 km square and the yellow markers within are the approx locations of the 75 Barn Owl boxes that have been erected so far. The central and central eastern areas are pretty much covered now, there is a nice spread that should hopefully entice a few Barnies to breed this year. 

Barn Owl boxes, approx locations.
So for this last batch I have been concentrating on the central western area with each one being sited inside an old building or barn. One box in particular was erected last Saturday in what has been up to now a totally secure building, I'd got permission to put up the box and then leave the wooden hay loft door ajar. In returning to the same site on Sunday morning to finish off the job a Barn Owl was accidentally flushed from the building, a mere twelve hours after the box was erected!!!

As for getting out and doing any owling the opportunities of late have been minimal due to all the time spent net-working, and then making and erecting boxes. However, on Sunday I had a huge reason to get out for a few hours.......I've got some new camera equipment!!!

At very long last I have managed to buy the lens that I have always dreamed of owning, a Canon 500mm F4. It is a second hand unit purchased of my mate Nigel, he'd upgraded to a new lens so this one was surplus to his requirements. So after the exchange of nearly 4 grand the lens was mine, oh yeeeesss!!!

So far I have only managed to get out for an hour or so but I must say that I am mightily impressed with its performance. Its a heavy beast so a new tripod has been ordered that will surely make the handling matters a lot easier. On the one outing I've had so far I had to use a beanbag and shoot out of the car window. three different Little Owls were located at two sites, here are a few images.......

At the first location (site No 26) two birds were out sitting in their nest tree. Noting too impressive with the images until I tell you they were a good 20 metres away. Yes the image has been cropped but I am still very impressed with the amount of detail that is still present considering the post processing involved nothing more that a crop to improve the composure.

This next flight image was a lucky capture to be honest, one of the perched birds looked like it was about to fly off and I bagged a bit of the action as it took flight. With the distances involved my old lens (300mm) capturing an image like this would never have been possible. 

At the second site I positioned the car parallel to a favoured perch used by the owls at my site No 62. Previously when ever I have managed images from here they always have to be really cropped hard, resulting in lost quality and detail, but not this time! The perch is around 10 metres away and the level of detail that is captured compared to my old lens is remarkable. Again hardly any post processing was required, the original was a little under exposed so it has been lightened slightly but that is it. 

I am also very impressed with the defused background results, I suppose that's down to the compression of the 500mm. But what I can't understand is the lack of noise (grainy effect) in the image. I was shooting at ISO 1250 and I always thought it was the camera settings that effected/contributed to the noise (high ISO), maybe someone can help me with this one?

So now I await the delivery of my new tripod, oh and a new Canon x 1.4 converter (did I forget to mention that earlier?) and then I am hoping to get out for a full day come the weekend and give it a dam good work out.

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