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, 27 March 2016

Before the storm.........

Yesterday (Saturday) was as predicted a pretty miserable day weather wise. It was inevitable I suppose, the first bank holiday of the year and the conditions were against us, bloody typical! However, at first light the expected high winds and rain hadn't yet materialized into the blowy damp conditions that were predicted so it was deffo a case of make hay while the sun shone as it wasn't going to last for long?

My first call was to pop down my local patch down near the river, all kind of goodies have been showing here lately, Kingfishers, Water Rail, Grey Wagtails, Little Egrets, Goosanders and Green Sandpipers. However, my main quarry over the years and the species that brings me back time and time again hasn't yet been seen this year, the Little Owls. It has been whilst watching the owls that I started to notice all the other species and realised just what a gem the wildlife this location is.

Upon arrival I drove slowly along the shallow part of the river, I parked up near the weed raft where I'd been seeing the Water Rail lately (see previous post). It was seen again, but no photo opportunities this time as it stayed deep in the cover. I'm sure if I'd waited long enough it would have eventually showed better but because of the impending weather I moved on.

I next parked up parallel to one of the perches that the Kingfishers use, this proved to be a far more productive stop and the male arrived within minutes. 

From where I was parked the Little Egret flew in and landed on the bank around 30 metres downstream. A very skittish bird this one and I had to be satisfied with a few shots from distance.

Little Egret
Again I also saw two Goosanders, (both redheads this time) that's three sightings in the last four visits. They were diving and feeding upstream from where I was parked, but just as previous times as soon as I started to drive nearer to them up they went and flew off!

The pair of Grey Wagtails were still showing well along the shallow part of the river, on this visit they kept their distance so I have used an image that I attained whilst visiting the previous day.

Grey Wagtail
These next two images of the male Kingfisher were also attained in better light the previous day (Friday) whilst visiting with Col Green. This first shot the bird held a high erect posture as a rival male Kingfisher darted past.

Back to yesterday..............

The weather was still holding out, just! A few other delights offered nice views as I worked my way along the river, this Wren sat out in the open for a few seconds as it blasted out its territorial song.

An earlier in the week visit didn't offer up any Green Sandpiper sightings, this was the first "non show" for months. I thought that their over wintering at this site had come to an end and they had finally departed to more northern breeding grounds? But I was wrong, as today one of the birds was seen yet again feeding in the river. 

Green Sandpiper
I know it's a real long shot but I am really hoping that the Sandpipers hold this territory and stay here and breed. Because of the chance of this I've been doing a bit of research on Green Sandpipers and their breeding habits, I was quite surprised to read that they actually nest in trees!!! They don't make a nest themselves but prefer to use old nests of other birds, now did you know that?

As the morning drew on the weather continued to deteriorate, that was my call to change tactics and search for other targets. As I previously mentioned I'd not seen a Little Owl here so far this year. The two active sites that use to be so reliable have both been effected, a blown down nest tree at the first site and Stock Doves moving in and evicting the owls at the second site. However, there was some hope as during Fridays visit with Col I did hear a Little Owl calling from the other side of the river, so I knew they were still here but where? It proved to be a fruitless exercise as my usual tactic of moving slowly around the site and scanning every lowdown post and likely roosting spot offered nothing, the high winds and driving rain didn't help.

I was now in the mood for more Little Owl hunting, something I hadn't really dedicated any time to for what seemed to be such a long time. Therefore, that is what I decided to do for the rest of my time out. I left the river location and drove out into the countryside where there were a few sites I knew of which would offer the owls some shelter, and maybe some sightings?

The first site I visited, an old farmhouse offered an owl almost straight away, all I had to do was park up on the sheltered side and scan all the likely nook and crannies where an owl would perch, and there it was sitting on an old rafter. 

Just down the road my second sighting took a while longer to materialise, but again an owl was seen and photographed perched in a crevice on the sheltered side of the nest tree.

The third and final owl was seen at another known site where they frequent a group of old brick building, this was my closest view of the day albeit it only lasted a few seconds!

So that is a catch up of where I am up to, the forecast for later today (Sunday) and tomorrow is still not that good, but given half a chance and a break in the weather I will be out to see what other goodies can be located.

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

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Full frame Rail.......

During the last few visits down to my local river I have been chancing upon a few bird species of note. The main target has been the Kingfishers (see previous posts), it can take quite sometime for these little blue gems to show, if they show at all? Consequently when parked up for hours on end other species do come along and sometimes can show quite well, or not!

A week or so ago I spotted a Water Rail sneaking along in the reedy fringes that boarder the shallow part of the river. This was my first ever sighting of this species down here after eight years of visiting. OK Water Rails are not that uncommon but to have one show here on my part of the river was really quite unusual and a very notable sighting as far as I am concerned. 

On my next visit on Saturday morning (with Col Green) the Water Rail was again seen, it was in the exact same location as it had been during my previous sighting, under a large reed raft and only occasionally venturing to the waters edge where it could been clearly seen. Yes I did manage a couple of distant shots of it (with Col's camera) as it scurried between the patches of dense vegetation. The resultant images were OK but I thought I could do better so a return on Sunday morning was planned.

On the Sunday morning I ignored, the Kingfishers, the newly arrived Little Egret, the pair of Grey Wagtails and the Green Sandpipers, this morning was going to be dedicated to the Water Rail. Now Water Rails are notably cautious and secretive creatures which makes watching them a challenge. For this reason driving slowly up and down the rivers edge (as I usually do) wasn't the tactic for today, instead I parked up opposite the weed raft where I'd seen it on two previous occasions and waited. 

After only 20 minutes the bird was seen as it dashed from one side of the shallow river to the other, the problem was it was 20 metres downstream! Then within seconds it emerged again and bolted straight into the weed raft opposite me, this is when the waiting game really started. For the next hour the bird was occasionally seen, it would come to the edge of the dense undergrowth, over turn a couple of damp leaves, feed avidly on what it had revealed and then disappear. In all that time I didn't manage any images that would be deemed "keepers"  the bird was either too fast or there was obstacles blocking the view.

Then remarkably and uncharacteristically and without warning the Rail just sauntered out from within the cover and just stood there, right out in the open in all its glory! I just couldn't believe my luck and the camera rocked into action.

It seemed relaxed and totally unfazed with the presence of the car or the camera shutter rattling away. It had a bit of a shake then to my almost disbelief it started to cross the river straight towards me!

As it crossed the river it actually started to come too close, I was now completely filling the frame with just the bird!

Just before it disappeared it held one last pose right in front of me, here I was able to attain this full frame shot with the water droplet on its bill. 

What a fantastic encounter, to have photograph a Water Rail right out in the open and up so close was an almost unimaginable encounter, and one I shall not forget in a long time.

Thanks for stopping by, hopefully catch up again soon.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

At long last!

Sometimes, and I do mean sometimes, a long term plan does come to fruition..........

For several years now whilst monitoring the Little Owls at one of my sites I do occasionally see a pair of Kingfishers. Mostly the sightings are restricted to just a blue blur as they blast up and down the river, however they do sometimes rest up on a bank side perch and offer some better views, for a few fleeting seconds!  This noted behaviour tempted me last year into to trying for some perched up images, there was a lot of time invested with mixed results initially. But in time I did manage to slowly gain better views and consequently improved images of both the male, female and juvenile Kingfishers.

But was I content?.........No I wasn't! Don't get me wrong, I was more than satisfied with the slow but sure improvements with the images that I was attaining, but the one image that I'd got in my minds eye that had so far eluded me was one with both the male and female Kingfishers together. So you can probably imagine my smugness when this morning I not only managed an image of the pair of them together and in focus, I actually superseded my own expectations and nailed a few images of them mating!!

It was an excellent and very productive early morning visit with great views of Kingfisher (obviously), Little Egret, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and Water Rail!! I now have over 400 more images to go through from this morning before I can even think of publishing another post on here, watch this space!

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

Monday, 14 March 2016

More Kingfishers

Yesterday morning (Sunday) I made another visit down to my local river, the couple of hours spent there proved to be very rewarding with some great views of both the male and female Kingfishers. These are just a quick sample from over 300 images I rattled off whilst there!


Whilst there I witnessed both birds individually catch a Bullhead for dinner. Just amazing how they can swallow whole a fish of such size in comparison to their body size.


The male bird, below certainly has the more vivid feather colouration, deeper blues and oranges, oh and of course a blacker bill.

After many many visits to this site over the years, mainly to watch the Little Owls I added another "first" to my species list in the form of a Water-rail, it took my very much by surprise when I spotted it walking along the concrete causeway. This alone is reason enough for me to go back asap, oh and the Little Owls, Kingfishers etc...........

Catch up again soon!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Down The River

Early Sunday morning it was clear and bright, it appeared to be just the perfect conditions for a spot of wildlife watching and photography. However, I was deceived because as I started the car the temperature gauge flashed back at me,  it was minus 2 degrees!

I'd decided that I was going to visit one of my favorite local sites over near the village of South Wigston. My last visit here was well before Christmas, recent conditions have limited visits because of how wet the fields have been which makes driving across the soggy grass an almost impossibility (bring back to old Landrover!). The other reason why I haven't visited is because I'd lost the key that the farmer gave me to access the many gates that are encountered, that obstacle was soon overcome though as I went round to visit him and borrowed his!

Upon arrival the first birds encountered were a pair of Green Woodpeckers feeding in the fields, dam things were far to shy and no images attained. I drove up and parked against the side of the river, the next bird seen was a first for this site, a male Goosander! It was around 50 yards up stream and diving on a regular basis, I tried to get nearer each time it dived but after 20 minutes of employing this tactic I gave up, it was far too cute and I never did get any nearer so I went back to the car to see what else would come by.

The next showy subject was in the form of a Green Sandpiper, at first the bird was quite distant but in time it slowly moved nearer and nearer whilst feeding in the shallow water. Eventually it came close enough for me to capture a variety of images, below.

After a good time (20 minutes or so) the Sandpiper wandered off further down the river and out of reasonable distance for photography. My next "within range" bird was a pair of Grey Wagtails, great to watch as they fluttered around catching Nymphs and fly's, sadly no usable images were obtained.

Eventually my main subject, the Kingfisher finally put in an appearance, this was a pleasing sight as last year a pair used and bred on this stretch of the river but there was no way of knowing if they would be here again? So to see a single bird perched up on a post on the far bank was very encouraging indeed!  I would have been more than happy with this viewing of the single bird but my luck was really in when a second bird appeared and landed on a branch just down the river from where I was parked!

For the next 30 minutes I was rewarded with some stunning views of both the male and female Kingfisher as they posed for me. 

Female - red base to the bill


Male - almost all black bill

What made this viewing of the Kingfishers even more rewarding was they must have been nest excavating quite close by as they both had traces of mud on their bills (did you spot it in the images?). So things do look promising that this pair of Kingfishers will breed yet again on this stretch of the river, can't wait, bring on the Spring!

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

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

New Little Owl Site

During the week I had a couple of late in the day sorties out to check on a couple of potential Barn Owl locations. Sadly neither location produced any Barnie sightings but I did stumble upon a new Little Owl territory. 

Initially I was crawling along at low speed down an off road lane that belongs to one of my farmer friends, all the car windows were wide open which enables better listening for any nearby owls that maybe calling. I have found that this time of year (pre-breeding season) it is really good for locating new owl territories as they can become very vocal at dusk, and this is what happened on this occasion. Unlike of late this particular evening the wind had dropped and it was quite still, therefore any calls tended to reverberate around the nearby vicinity. 

When the call(s) were first heard there was absolutely no doubt it was that of a Little owls. I inched nearer to where the calls were coming from and to my delight there right in front of me were a pair of Little Owls perched on an old fence. The hen bird didn't tolerate my close proximity but luckily the male stayed around long enough for me to capture this one usable image, below. 

The conditions for photography were abysmal, it was 6:50pm and in almost complete darkness but the obliging owl remained still enough for me to manually focus on him (with the aid of a full moon) and with the settings at ISO 3200 I did manage to achieve a shutter speed of 1/20 second! Obviously the image was then in need of some post processing but considering the challenging conditions I am very pleased with the final outcome.

I will be returning back to this same location as soon as possible to hopefully get some better viewing and attain a few improved images.

Only a short post but rest assured I will be back again soon.

Bye for now................

PS I forgot to mention that I now have a twitter account, for anyone interested it is @PMRiddle