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 30 June 2010


Got out again tonight but not as early as I would have liked, working late and a front near side puncture put paid to that!! Anyway, I went out to site 107 near to Gilmorton, although I knew there was 3 Little Owl chicks at this site, (because I helped ring them a couple of weeks ago) but I was yet to see them out the nest. Well tonight was the night and it was a bloody brilliant couple of hours, the owls showed really well and considering how late it was the light was good too.  

I had an hunch the owls would be in and around an old hay stack across the road from the nest tree, so this was where I parked up the Landrover and waited. Soon after one of the adults showed, I couldn't believe my luck, it was now up to me to nail a few half decent images.

As usual, double click on any image for a larger and more detailed version.

Adult owl shows.

Ten minutes later two of the juveniles popped out of the gap in between the hay rolls, I wondered where the third juvenile was?

Juvenile No 1 & 2

It didn't take long for my question of the whereabouts of the third Juvenile to be answered, the adult owl was eating it!!!! Something gory had obviously happened to it and like any good parent.......waste not want not!!!

Adult owl and the recently departed juvenile No 3....hmmmm tastes familiar!!

The older of the juveniles decided to go on walk about, I think it was looking for some different type of food as it was fed up with eating its little brother.

Getting brave now, dropped down onto the ground, can you see the ring I helped fit on its right leg?

The parent had had its fill of cannibalism and flew onto a nearby plastic fence post, this could be an "owl in flight" photo opportunity?

So so so nearly nailed it, not quite what I was hoping for but I am well satisfied with the results............for now!

The second Juvenile went on walk about and offered some excellent photo opportunities.

The light had all but gone now so it was time to get going, a hundred yards down the road I came across the second adult sitting on top of a sign post. It posed really well for me, shame I hadn't captured it went the light was better.

I decided to take a detour on the way back through the village of Gilmorton and just as I was leaving the village I spotted a Little owl sitting on top of an old barn in a disused farm yard, another new site without even trying.........GET IN THERE!!!!!

I had to bump the ISO up to 1600 on the camera but never the less it was a record shot of a bird at site 109. I hung around for ten minutes or so to see if it would come any closer..........it didn't but I did see a second bird, maybe there will be some chicks as well, I will investigate this later in the week.

In between Gilmorton and home I also confirmed breeding successes at site No 68, Peatling Magna (2 juveniles) and site No 53, Countesthorpe (2 juveniles). With tonight's counts it now takes this years confirmed juveniles so far to 42 at 19 different sites, beating last years 39 at 20 sites.

What a brilliant and very enjoyable night!

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Site 108!!!

More checking for signs of Little Owl chicks last night, three more sites produced the goods.

Firstly, there was two out of the nest at site No 75 at Peatling Parva, again I located them by sitting quietly within the vicinity of the nest site and listening. After a twenty minute wait the characteristic "hissing" was heard and they were soon located in a nearby oak tree.

I did managed an image of both Juveniles but unfortunately only this one was usable.

The second location that came up trumps was site No 45 at Willoughby Waterleys. Sadly only one young bird was seen at this site....so far!! But the good news is this was the site that I dismissed at being productive this year as I saw a Weasel was seen coming out of the nest entrance a few weeks ago!

The final location that confirmed breeding success was site No 103 at Willoughby Waterleys, and this turned out to be quite a surprise! Previously I had only ever seen a single Little Owl at this site, again it was seen as I drove up the lane. It was sitting on a broken limb in a Weeping Ash (apparently this type of tree is quite rare!!) it sat motionless as I managed a few images, my best of this bird so far.

Just after I bumped into the local land owner (Dave) and we got talking "Little Owls". He had seen the local owls and he was sure there was a pair....and they had young!!!   After a refreshing beer and a tour of his nest boxes (thank you Dave) I was compelled to go back and investigate further. I drove back to the Weeping Ash tree and parked up, by now it was 10.30pm and dark, so seeing the owls was an almost impossibility. So it was a waiting and listening game, and I didn't have to wait long! Out of the silence came a hissing,  once my eyes had become adjusted to the darkness I was able to make out 3 Little Owl silhouettes up high in a tree, 2 adults and 1 juvenile, Dave was right, there was a pair and they had a youngster!!!!

During the evening search I also stopped off at few other sites where only adult birds were seen, I did managed this atmospheric image at site No 19, hopefully chicks here on my next visit? 

And finally, some more good news from last night, Little Owl site No 108 was located, a new site for me over at Gilmorton. He was located sitting in a Pear Tree but I wasn't ready and sadly no photo, that is until my next visit!!!!

As usual, double click on any image for a larger more detailed version.

Monday 28 June 2010

Leaving home!

Sunday morning found me checking out Little Owl site No 6 over at Peckleton, and what a superb visit it turned out to be. Upon arrival I kept my distance and gave the nest tree the once over through my binoculars. To my amazement, and good fortune there were three chicks sitting out around the nest entrance. I knew as soon as I moved any closer they would disappear back into the nest hole so I took a record shot image just in case, although distant all 3 chicks can clearly be seen. 

Landrover parked up and mobile hide in hand I climbed over the fence into the field and true to form all 3 birds had gone! I quietly moved into position and set up my hide about 20mts from the tree and waited.

After about 10 minutes the first juvenile showed itself, but not out in the open, it poked its head out of a tiny hole in the main tree trunk in quite a comical way, I think he was checking me out!

Then at the same time the other 2 chicks appeared higher up in the tree, they too were checking me out!

In an attempt to get some images with better detail I decided to move the hide nearer, this scared them back into the hole..........but not for long! Although I couldn't see them the parent birds were calling from the next tree, this seemed to encourage the chicks back out, they were now all in a very excited and agitated state! What was all the hissing and wing flapping about?  

All 3 chicks now positioned themselves on elevated perches, the parents continued to call, I then realised what was happening......they were being encouraged to leave home. 

Preparing for take off - Chick No 1

Chick No 2

Chick No 3

Over the next half an hour or so what I witnessed was pure magic, one by one they all took the leap of faith and make their first flight to join their parents in the next tree. All three made the short journey safely, although the landings were not that proficient, a little scrambling and holding on for dear life but all seemed to be OK. 

Safely landed.

Double click on any of the above images for a larger and more detailed version.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Not even a sparrow!

A couple of nights ago I erected a permanent hide at one of my local sites, it was made out of some old wooden pallets and a large tarpaulin. It took me a couple of hours to make and if all goes to plan the resident Little Owls will accept it and some super close up images should follow!

Anyway, today I tried it out for the first time, my intentions were to make the most of the early rising sun, so I arrived very early.....4.45am! It was a  great start too, one of the resident Little Owls was sitting out on one of the new stumps that I'd put up, right next to my brand new shiny hide!

At 9.45am I departed...................FIVE HOURS of waiting and nothing, the owl didn't return and not even a dam sparrow showed!!!!

Oh well, all things come to those who wait, I'm sure I'll have better luck next time?

Next stop was South Wigston and site 105, I was hoping for some better luck at this location. I parked the Landrover near to the nest tree and within minutes I picked up the hissing sound of begging Little Owl chicks, the noise was coming from high up in a tree, but not the nest tree. This meant they have fledged the nest, all I had to do now was locate the blighters, this didn't take long, and there was a pair!! They were running, yes running back and forth along a fallen limb that was wedged horizontally about 5 metres up. Although the light was not favourable I did manage some images of them, double click on any picture for a larger size with more detail. 

Getting a little weary now, a big yawn, maybe ready for bedtime?

I thought as much, after 20 minutes of playing around with its sibling one of them snuggled down just inside the fallen limb and fell asleep!

I sat and waited for a bit more action from the youngsters when both the parents appeared.  They skillfully positioned themselves between me and the juveniles, a form of parental protection no doubt. The closeness was quite amazing, something you only really get during the breeding season.....if you are lucky!!!!

I sensed that they were becoming agitated, so a few images later I departed leaving them all to it!

Next stop was site 39 at Countesthorpe, nothing was showing in or around the nest tree but again I heard the hissing from a begging juvenile. It didn't take long to find it, no hang on, I'll re-phrase that......THEM! Superb there was a pair, although distant I did managed a couple of images.

I waited a while to see if the parents would come and feed them but no such luck. It was now time to go but not before I managed this close up of one of the juveniles that apparently had come over to have a closer look at me. Unfortunately the image is not too clear as there was some foliage in the way.

I may go and try the new hide again tomorrow, but not as early as today because I need my ugly sleep and I won't be staying too long as I have a pressing appointment with a few pints of Guinness at a local pub, its time to cheer on England in the footie again.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Shooting in the dark!

After my "chick chase" (see previous posting) I found myself driving home past site 16, sadly no chicks showing here yet but one of the parent owls was out having a right good old flutter around. Although the sun had set (9.45pm) and the light levels were extremely poor I thought I would chance my arm and see if it was possible to get some images? Shooting at an ISO of 1600 and shutter speeds in the region of a 1/40th of a second most of the images were blurred or too dark but here are a few that I thought were ok, as usual double click on any image for a larger and more detailed version.

 A bit of an "arty" image although the owl is difficult to spot, can you see him?

What became apparent after a while was the owl was "on the feed" I watched him pluck several moths from the air in true aerobatic style (something I have only witnessed on one previous occasion).

The next item of prey to be seized upon were a few black beetles taken from the ground, once caught he made his way back into the nest hole, mmmmmmmmm maybe to the chicks????? In this image you can just make out one of the caught beetles in the right claw.

All the evidence points to chicks in the nest, I will be visiting again very soon...........

Meet The Parents.

Last night I was on a Little owl chick hunt, time is now of the essence as soon they will be capable of flying which coincides with them adopting the parents proficiencies as "masters of disguise" and then they are terribly difficult to find.

The only one I managed an image of was this little chap hiding away inside its nest hole at site 19, both parents were in attendance albeit higher up in the tree.

One of the parent owls keeping a very close watch on me!

The second adult owl was also watching my every movement, I was able to walk right underneath it and capture this unusual pose. 

During my dash from site to site chicks were seen in or around the nest at a total of 3 locations, (site 51 x 2, site 22 x 1 and site 19 x 1) this now takes my running tally to 25 chicks seen at 11 different sites. Many many more to come..............fingers crossed!

Sunday 20 June 2010

Fluff Ball

Not much to shout about this weekend in terms of Little owl's sightings, my intentions were to have a nice early start on Saturday. This didn't happen......I think the drowning of my sorrows the night before took its toll, too many toasts to our gloriously useless England Football Team (what a bunch of TO#*ERS!!!!).

After the late start (and still throbbing head) a nice lazy day was planned, but not as lazy as it turned out! I went over to my site 33 at the local quarry. My intention was to hopefully get some adult images bringing in a variety of food for the juveniles. I was in situ and in my hide for 11.30am, after half an hour a juvenile appeared and sat at the nest entrance.  Great the plan was coming together, all I needed now was the adults to appear...........at 7.30pm I packed up, no adults showed after a wait of EIGHT hours!!!!!!

All I had to show for a very loooooooooong day was this "fluff ball" of a juvenile Little Owl.

Sunday found me checking out a few local sites with the hope of seeing some "out of the nest" juveniles. First call was at site 53 near to Countesthorpe, here a juv was spotted almost immediately sitting in a cavity below the nest hole.  

During the morning another 6 sites were visited but all to no avail, no more juveniles were sighted but en route a few adult birds were seen but all too distant for any decent images.

A single bird was located sunning itself at site 77.

Another single bird was seen out hunting from the posts at site 105.

Hopefully the lack of juvenile sighting will be put right in the week to come, that is if they haven't all gone into hiding and don't want to come out to play...........just like our football team!!!!! 

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Little Owl Ringing

On Monday night just gone I invited some members of the Charnwood Ringers Group over to south Leicestershire to accompany myself and my mate Daz around some of my local Little Owl sites. From previous investigations I knew of 5 easy accessible sites that had "Pullus" in the nest, apparently this is the proper terminology for juveniles still in the nest, you learn something every day.......or so they say!.

The intention was to ring the Pullus, obviously the ringing can only be done by qualified and licenced individuals, hence the Charwood Ringers were in attendance. Each ring has its own unique identity on it and if ever the owl (with the ring on) was encountered again it would help to provide vital information on the birds age and movements.

Here we can see the gathering at the first location not far from Kilby Bridge, we were at my Little Owl site No 91 and the only occupied breeding box this year that had any success. 

We had a real good start to the evening and a bit of good fortune at this site, when the door to the box was opened there were  three owls inside, two youngsters and the adult hen owl.  All three were taken out and placed carefully inside a cotton retaining bag. These were then hung up inside the Landrover, one by one the owls were taken out of the bags, they were checked over, weighed, measured and finally rung. It was quite surprising how calm and struggle free the birds remained at all times.

All the vital statistics were documented, here you can see the adults birds brood patch. Apparently in the breeding season the hen bird loses her lower breast feathers, her veins are then closer to the skin surface which in turn allows her to regulate the eggs temperature whilst conducting her incubating duties....another thing learnt!!!!

Ringing and measuring the adult bird, yes the pliers look quite terrifying, but rest assured they are a precision piece of equipment and cause absolutely no harm to the birds what so ever. The correct way of handling and holding the bird is clearly demonstrated in these next two images.

 Weighing the bird whilst it remained inside the retaining bag.

Studying the data!

 Juvenile little Owl, post ringing and just before being returned safely to the nest box.

The next location we visited was my record breaking seven egg site at Whetstone, site No 31. Good news and bad news here. The bad news was, only four pullus had survived so far, but the good news is they are all very healthy, fighting fit  and very very cute!!!

By now the evening was getting on and the light drawing in so we made a quick dash over to Gilmorton to check out the third location, site No 107. After some slight difficulties with a very tight entrance hole the 3 juveniles were rung and quickly returned.

It was whilst at site 107 I had my first go at ringing, a little awkward at first but I soon got the hang of it............with some expert instruction of course!!!!

Yours truly with my first rung Little Owl, first of many hopefully!

After all was complete at site 107 we drove only a few hundred yards up the road to site 92, here we successfully rung another 3 juveniles. It was now 9.30pm and there was still one more site to do, we made a final dash over to the Broughton Astley/Cosby village boundary and site 35. Here we rung another 3, by the time we had finished it was completely dark but that didn't deter Daz having his first go at ringing, judging by his smile he enjoyed it too!

After all was complete we all retired to the local pub for a very rewarding couple of pints, it was a really enjoyable and very educating evening with a total of 16 Little Owls being rung.

Many thanks to the four members of the ringing group who gave up their time to come and help me.

Charnwood Ringers - L to R, Nigel Judson, Chris Flint, Andy Smith and Neil Hagley.