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 31 October 2010

North Facing!

I was to be found owl 'n' about again yesterday afternoon, although very windy the light levels were excellent so a few obliging owls should make it a good day in terms of images.

First stop was site No 79 near to Peatling Magna, I have never managed a "daytime" image from this site before so with the conditions in my favour I was hoping. After an hours wait sitting in the Landrover I was rewarded when a Little Owl showed itself at the nest hole entrance.  

He popped out briefly to do some wing stretching, it was a shame though as too many branches were obscuring my line of sight to get good images. To make matters even harder the nest hole faces north so the sun was never on the owl. I'm not complaining though as these were my best daytime views of the owl at this site.

Next stop was just down the road in the centre of Peatling Magna and site No 68. Again I had to wait a while but sure enough an owl showed in the end, and would you believe it,  the light was in totally the wrong direction again!!!!

This owl didn't hang around long, 2 minutes of good views and then straight back into it's nest hole. I think it was the wind that was keeping them in today, Little Owls just don't like the wind!

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Not much time!

With the darker nights drawing in there is not much time left after work to get out there and see many owls, with this in mind I made sure I had my camera with me today as I knew when I had finished work I would be passing by a couple of known sites.

It was late in the day when I passed site 16, the light levels were poor but my good fortune was in, one of the resident Little Owls was sitting at the nest hole.

The next site that I had my fingers crossed for was site No 101 which is only 400 metres from my house, I look in the tree nearly every day but they have eluded me for the last couple of months.........until today!

I pulled the car up in a verge on the opposite side of the road and gave the tree the usual once over, nothing showing again! Then just as I was about to pull away I spotted him, hiding behind some leaves.

A few moments later he dropped down onto a lower limb and gave me a better photo opportunity, not the best image of this bird I've ever had but it was good to see they are still hanging around.

I think for the next few months my photo opportunities of the owls are going to be limited to the weekends when I can get out in better light levels, that is unless I take my camera to work again!

Sunday 24 October 2010

Bespoke Database.

Saturday afternoon found me "back to owling", it was a late start though as in the morning I was sat in front of the PC for a few hours playing around with a new data base that has been created for me especially for my owl records.

Imputing data couldn't be easier now, it takes a fraction of the time and the data only has to be inputted once, everything is then automatically sorted in to the relevant sections. By simply selecting one of the six tabs at the bottom all the info I want is there, specific site data, nest box info, breeding history, monthly sitings etc. No more manual counting of how many sightings I have made, it does everything automatically...........it is just brilliant!

This is a screen shot of what one of the pages looks like.

Many many thanks to Chris & Jack for creating it for me, it's just fantastic.

Anyway, I did eventually get out on Saturday afternoon, I revisited my most recently found site No 131 to try and get some daytime images. Sadly after a 2 hour wait they hadn't shown so I moved down the lane to site No 124.

Here both adult birds were located in and around the nest tree but they weren't showing too well as they were sheltering from the driving wind and rain. I waited patiently and eventually in between the showers the sun came out and a few images were obtained, my first of the adults from this site.

Site No 124 at Peating Magna  

On my way back I stopped off again at site No 131, this time the owls were out and did show very briefly, sadly though no images were possible. I won't be giving up just yet and will be returning soon.......

Friday 22 October 2010

Sneaking Off!

I've just had a few days in Dorset with the extended family, a great time was had and I even managed to sneak off a couple of times to get a bit of birding in when we went on a couple of day visits.

We visited Portland Bill and whilst everyone else went for a coffee in the local cafe I took the opportunity to have a walk around the lighthouse, here I chanced upon a small flock of Rock Pipits, my best ever views of these very confiding little birds.

Rock Pipits

We also visited the New Forest to see the Ponies (boring!!!!!) but whilst the kids enjoyed them I sloped off for a while and managed to eventually get reasonably close to a Meadow Pipit, after trying for a good 30 minutes! A good number of Dartford Warblers were also seen, a nightmare to get near to let alone photograph!

Meadow Pipit

A visit to Swanage was also a nice day out, again I made some excuse to get sometime to myself and whilst walking around a local public park I located this distant Buzzard..........eating a frog!

It was a nice to get away for a few days even though not a lot was seen on the birding front, but its good to be back in Leicestershire, can't wait to get out this weekend and do some more owling!

Monday 18 October 2010


I located another new site tonight but it wasn't without it's problems!

I'd been out checking on a few sites over in the Countesthorpe area when I chanced upon new site No 131. I was driving back towards home along a very narrow muddy farmers track (with the windows open) when I thought I heard a couple of Little Owls calling. Normally I wouldn't have bothered stopping due to how dark it was but because it was a potential new site I was compelled to investigate.

I stopped the car and listened............yep for sure they were little Owls, I couldn't see them though as it was too dark. So, in an attempt to get them to show and come closer I tried to mimic the sound of a mouse (a pathetic sort of squeaky high pitched kissing sound really) and to my amazement it bloody worked!!!

An owl landed right next to me on a public footpath sign, no more than 3 feet away! It just sat there looking at me screeching its head off. There was absolutely no chance of an image as it was far too dark and to add to that I knew as soon as I moved it would be scared off, oh what the hell, what had I got to lose?  I raised the camera and it didn't budge, it just sat there and continued to stare......it was mesmerised by my mouse imitation!  What a great opportunity, this was one of the closest Little Owl encounters I'd ever had but the problem was I just couldn't focus on it, too close and too dark. My only chance was to get some light on to the subject, so I chanced my arm even further  and started the car, it still didn't flinch! I reversed up about 20 feet, turned the engine off and put the headlights on. That was better but still not enough light, on whet the full beam, the fog lights and even the interior lights, it still sat there. There was now just enough light and I was just about to rattle off a few images when it flew off!

I waited 10 minutes and he returned, the mouse squeak did the trick again, the conditions were still very poor, slow shutter speeds of around a second  but  at least some record shots were obtained.

Eventually it departed, I was pleased with what I had seen and the images captured so it was also time for me to go, I turned on the ignition and nothing, oh my god........the car battery was flat, my impression of the Blackpool illuminations had drained all the power.......what a tosser! It was pitch black, getting very cold and I was at least 2 miles from the nearest village! I had but one option, and it wasn't going to be a popular one, to phone up the Mrs and get her to bring the jump leads up to me, she's was not going to be very happy coming out at this time of night!  

She eventually turned up with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp! Not a lot was said, I think I'm going to be in the dog house for a while, oh well what the hell, it was worth it!

Monday 11 October 2010


Didn't have a lot time tonight to do much owling but the time I did have was very rewarding! First of all I re-checked out the relatively new site No 116 at Saddington, two Little Owls here. I then moved on a mile or so down the road to Smeeton Westerby, I'd seen a really good looking site on a previous visit so the tactics tonight was to park up just before dusk and wait to see if anything showed.........and it did! 

Just as the light had about abated I heard a Little Owls calling, terrific new site No 130! It was too dark to see them though, but after several minutes the calls got closer and then I could just about make them out on a roadside post. In time they leaptfrogged each other along the line of posts towards the car, eventually they sat together literally 10 feet from me. It was far too dark for any images so my only chance was with the aid of the flash, it was very frustrating because as the owls sat together being perfect subjects I just couldn't focus on them, dam and blast a great opportunity lost!!!

Nevertheless, another new site and some superb views, I'm sure there will be another photo opportunity............very very soon!

Sunday 10 October 2010

Hide & Seek!

I've had enough of checking out existing sites just recently, don't get me wrong it's still as much a thrill to see any Little Owl but theres something really special about discovering a brand new site. With this in mind my target for today was to locate a new site, and to get some images! Hmmmmm easier said than done but I wanted to keep up my run of locating a new site every month for the last 26 consecutive months.

So where was this new site going to reveal itself? I decided to stake out an area of lush pasture with a scattering of mature and wind damaged Ash trees over near Lubbesthorpe, a perfect location and only two or three fields from where a local birder (Skev) reported seeing some Little Owls a few years ago.

I positioned myself (in the Landrover) in a vantage point overlooking a meadow which ran downhill away from me up to a hedgerow and small stream. From my location I was also able to scan all the isolated trees, surely if any owls were in the area this would be the place!

I'd been waiting, watching and listening for a couple of hours when eventually as the light started to fade I heard the distinctive call of a Little Owl, get in there site No 129!!!!! It was coming from the hedgerow at the far end of the meadow so tentatively I drove slowly back and forth along the line of the hedgerow a few times but to no avail. It continued to call but I just couldn't locate its exact location, I think it was teasing me! Finally I narrowed down the search to a single bush, then it showed, and showed well. A very tidy and handsome bird with superb markings and brighter than normal piercing yellow eyes.

I had a good views of it for a full five minutes and had ample photo opportunities, the only problem was the light had all but gone, even with the camera set at ISO 1600 all I could managed was a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second, however I think the end results are OK and the image does do the bird justice.

I hung around for another 15 minutes but due to how dark it had got I was just about to call it a day when a second owl appeared, a very poor image in comparison to the first and aided by flash but a record shot never the less.

So thats another new site for me to monitor over the next few years, I will return in the next few weeks to hopefully get some improved "daytime" images........ 

Friday 8 October 2010

Moving Back In!

I have now collated a monthly list of all my sightings by site No's and it is helping me to easily identify where my searches should be focused in order not to overlook any particular site and to keep tabs on previous sightings.

What became apparent after studying at the chart was the lack of sightings at 5 local sites that are all clustered together near to Lubbesthorpe, nothing at 3 of them since March (No's 25, 29 & 86), 1 since May (No 88) and (No 26) none at all this year!! So once I was armed with this info it helped me decide where I went last night.........Lubbesthorpe.

Monthly sighting chart, double click for larger view.

Unfortunately no owls were either seen or heard at 3 of the sites but the good news is 2 of them did produced owls, at site No 88 1 bird was seen flying between two trees (too distant for an image) and also 1 bird at site No 29. This was a particular nice observation because when I went to check the nest site out back in the breeding season I had a shock as it contained 4 Jackdaw eggs!!!! The Jackdaws have since gone and the Little Owls are back..........a welcome return!!!!

Little Owl No 29, perched on top of the nest entrance.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Eyeballed at last!

I had a brief run out over to the Kilby area tonight, checked out six Little Owl territories but only saw birds at two sites, No's 19 & 119. The only image I managed was from site No 19, a very relaxed owl!

It was good news at site No 119 though, although a relatively new site this was the first time I have actually seen one of the resident owls here, all previous encounters where "heard only".  Then just as I was departing I heard another Little Owl call from a couple of fields away, only this one was in totally the opposite direction to the one I had been watching, hmmmmmm, could it be a new site???? Watch this space.......................

Monday 4 October 2010

A change of tactics!

Thank goodness for some half decent weather this evening, a cloudless sky and would you believe it the sun was even shining, a great opportunity to get out there and attempt some late in the day owl images.

The chosen location was site No 128, my most recently found site just a stones throw from home. A great setting in a local orchard, all I needed now to complete the perfect evening was for the local owls play ball and allow me to attain my first ever images of them.......if they showed?

I hopped over the fence and had a walk about the orchard to see if they were showing in the late evening sun. I zig zagged in between all the trees and eventually sighted one, albeit at distance but nevertheless it was my first owl ever image from this site.

I sensed the owl was a little nervous and wasn't going to tolerate my presence for too long. My tactics then changed, I left the orchard and returned in the Landrover, I had to play a bit of a waiting game but it payed dividends in the end when the owl returned and came closer than before when I was on foot. 

A much improved image than the first, shame about the shadow though!

Eventually it came very close, shame that the light had all but gone!

A cracking site that will hopefully offer some great photo opportunities in the future, especially now that I have worked out how to get near to them!

Sunday 3 October 2010

More Boring Facts.

Its still raining and I am still bored, so here are some more nearly worthless statistics from my owl files. This graph shows by month every new site I have located since it all began back in August 2008.

1st sighting graph, double click for larger image.

What is apparent (and I wasn't aware of it until now) is the fact that I have located at least one new site every month for the last 26 consecutive months, not bad hey? If this bloody poor weather continues for October I think my streak could soon come to a premature end!!!


What a frustrating Sunday it has been so far, the weather here in Leicestershire has been absolutely atrocious over the last 24hrs with almost no let up in the rain, resulting in being totally bored and house bound!

So I thought I would make the most of the "inactive" time doing some tiding up of my images and files on the PC. I have been collating some info on my Little Owls and here is a pie chart showing the variety of nest locations I have so far found, I think it is self explanatory..........

Nest locations, double click on it for larger version.

Fingers crossed for some finer weather soon, can't do with not getting "owl n about"!!!!