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!!!

Monday, 21 December 2015

Raptor alley!

Hi all!

Getting out lately has been somewhat limited, dark mornings and nights leaves only the weekends for any quality birding. But quality was just what is was at a site in Leicestershire that I have been concentrating on lately, raptors of note have been Kestrels, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, 2 x Tawny Owls, 2 x Barn Owls, 3 x Short Eared Owls and a Merlin!!

This area has a good variety of different types of habitat but my main tactic has been to settle down out of view in a small spinney that overlooks an area of rough grassland. Viewing has been excellent but photographically it has been a challenge, either the subject is too distant or the light levels have been poor.

However, after several visits and countless invested hours the subjects and light do sometimes oblige.

The Short Eared owls here only show/hunt for a few minutes at a time, in between there can be several hours of waiting. My chosen "staked out" location on the edge of the spinney had a few posts running along in front of me, I was hoping that one of the owls would land here and offer some better views, one of them did but it was the furthest post away, typical!

I'm pretty sure the owls didn't know of my presence and occasionally one would drift across right in front of me. The views were utterly breath taking but the lack of light and slower shutter speeds did hamper the final results somewhat.  

Several times the owls would dive for prey right in front of me, I never did see them catch anything, a 100% unsuccessful catch rate! This bird below sat in the grass for an age after another fruitless dive, lucky it did as I had to revert to manual focus to attain this image as the long grass played havoc.

In between the owls showing I had to be satisfied with what ever other bird species decided to put in an appearance, on several occasions a Sparrowhawk would fly in and attack the Yellowhammers and Buntings, I didn't actually see it catch anything and I tried in vain to capture a flight shot of it, without success! However, it did once land reasonably close on top of the hedgerow, I managed this next image just as it took flight. 

A pair of Stonechats came very close on occasions, they did keep me entertained and occupied my time whilst waiting for one of the raptors/owls to show.

A pair of Kestrels also frequently showed, most of the time hovering over the field whilst hunting, sadly most of the time they were too distant to capture an image. But after several flyby attempts of a flight shot I did manage to capture the two images below. 

Sorry but I'd like to finish this post with a few more Short Eared Owl images, they were my main quarry and thoroughly satisfying to see these majestic winter visitors up so close.

I will definitely be making some return visits, hopefully the Shorties will hang around long enough for me to capture them again only in some better light conditions. And maybe, just maybe I will also be lucky enough to have some closer encounters and photographic opportunities with one of the Barn Owls or even the Merlin?

Thanks for stopping by, the chances are this will be my last post of 2015 so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting and here's wishing you all a very merry xmas and a happy new year!!


Friday, 4 December 2015


This morning just as I was getting into my car to head out for work I heard the very distinctive "cronk cronk cronk" call of a Raven. Not a call you hear in Leicestershire that often but to have heard one within hearing distance from my home was very rare indeed! I glanced down the road to where the calls seemed to be coming from just as a pair of Ravens spiraled down out of the sky and seemingly into the nearby sheep field. I couldn't be sure that they had landed as a huge pile of manure obscured my view? 

I needed no further incentive, my work documents and briefcase were thrown into the car and I rushed back into the house to grab my camera. The walk to the end of my road took me all of 30 seconds, there I stood at the t-junction watching over the field for a few minutes. No Ravens could be seen, however there was an unusual amount of activity from the local Magpies and a solitary Buzzard that dropped down behind the large manure pile. I walked along the road for a hundred yards or so. thus enabling a better view behind the manure pile, what I saw next was amazing!!! All on the ground tucked in behind the manure heap was three buzzards, at least 20 Magpies and 2 Ravens!!! It was too far away for an image so I quickly crossed the road and went through the kissing gate and into the field, I was then presented with a dilemma, a muddy quagmire was in between me and where I needed to get to!!!  Now normally this wouldn't present a problem but because I was in my suit and dress shoes I knew they were going to get pretty messed up, I hesitated for a few seconds and then just went for it. A few seconds later I was up against the far end of the manure pile which ran a hundred yards or so away from me. Because I was crouched down the birds couldn't see me, my black shoes were now brown and to compound matters there were muddy splashes all over my trousers dooohhhhh!!!

Gingerly I glanced around the pile which spooked the Buzzards, then the Magpies all at once took flight but the two Ravens remained. The camera was raised and a few shots of them were rattled off, one second later they too were spooked and took flight!

Considering the distance and the lack of preparation I am very pleased with the results, albeit the murky brown blob (manure pile) in the front left corner of the first image does spoil it somewhat?

It wasn't until I studied the images later that I realised the attraction to all this activity was a carcass laying in the field, I can only presume it was that of a poor sheep? 

These are absolutely my best ever images of a Raven, even if they are a bit gory. Definitely worth the dry cleaning bill!!!

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

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Short Eared Owl - December 2015

Tis that time of year again, no I'm not on about the on-approach of xmas, but something totally different.........Short Eared Owls! 

Each winter we are blessed in the UK with these birds moving down from their northern breeding grounds in search of suitable areas that will provide food and shelter. Their numbers can vary from year to year but looking in the birding news over the last few weeks it appears that we maybe in for quite a good year as sightings are frequently being reported, possibly a sign of a harsh winter to come?

If your lucky they will settle for a wintering area near you, so for the last few weeks I have been regularly visiting suitable areas to see if I could find a bird(s) of my own. Up until last weekend I'd so far drawn a blank, not one bird seen. However, I don't give up that easy and finally I was rewarded with the sighting of a single bird at a location I'd already visited four or five times! 

To be fair I nearly missed this bird too, I'd been parked up for two hours viewing a suitable looking tussocky field and nothing was seen. I was just about to call it a day as the light started to fade,  I was again resigned to another "no show"  when a single bird emerged from the long  grass!

I watched as it quartered back and forth whilst hunting for voles, it was getting darker by the second which wasn't conducive for photography, shooting at an ISO of 1600 this was the only "usage image" I captured of it in flight.

It then settled down on the ground after an unsuccessful dive for prey, it sat there for a few minutes and I was quite amused as a male Pheasant walked out to have a look at it! They had a "stare off" for a few seconds before the owl took flight again.

The owl then came closer than before and settled on a spindly twig about 50 yards from me, it sat here for quite some time which allowed me to add my x 1.4 converter to my 500mm lens. This gave me a bit more focal reach, considering the distance and low light levels I am very pleased with the results even if the sharpness isn't top notch.

So now I have located a wintering bird it is fingers crossed that it stays using this same area until I can re-visit at the weekend?

Sorry it is only a short post, but not much too see and do at the moment.

Catch up again soon folks!