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 29 October 2012

Owl Rescue!

Last night from the comfort of my home I remotely watched via the Internet the Barn Owls where we have the nest box camera. The chicks are growing by the day and at times they even venture out onto the nest box ledge.
This now allows us to watch via the second camera which is positioned up in the eves of the barn roof. The three of them can be seen here in this first image all lined patiently waiting for either mum or dad to come with with a food delivery.

In this next image the adult owl has just arrived with a food offering (the one on the beam with its back to the camera) and as usual the chicks went mad all trying to be the first to be fed. In all the commotion the third chick got pushed off the ledge, it can be seen underneath the adult owl as a white blur falling to the ground!

I was quickly on the phone to Glyn (he lives next to the barn) letting him know what had happened. "Leave it to me Rid I will rescue it".
And what a good bloke Glyn is, he was soon out of his pyjamas and donning his "headlight" and outdoor clothes to rescued the owl. It took him a while to locate the owl as it was hiding away behind an old door. He can be seen here in this next image returning the misfortunate owl back into the box non the worse for its ordeal.

An hour after all the fuss and once things had quietened down the three chicks were back on the ledge again waiting to be fed, so no harm done.

Sunday 28 October 2012

The great fightback.

Grey, gloomy and very gusty best fits the weather conditions I was met with this morning, not conducive at all for seeing owls let alone any images!
Come rain or shine I wasn't going to give up though, I felt compelled to get out there and at least try, well what else are Sunday's for?
It was a pretty good start too, the very first site I visited had a Little Owl sitting out on a post, superb a 100% hit rate. I watched and waited for it come closer (nearer to the nest tree) but it didn't, it seemed quite content sheltering out of the wind where it was. I had to make do with this distant image, but never mind it was 1-0 to me!

During the next hour four more known sites were visited and nothing was seen, how quickly things turn around, it was now 4-1 to the owls!
I needed miracle if I was going to turns things around, I headed to a very reliable site near to the village of Fleckney. There was no waiting around here, as I approached the nest tree there was an owl hanging out of the nest entrance, oh yes in the back of the net, 4-2.

The said owl then disappeared back inside the tree, only for it to re-appear at another hole, and with it was its mate, yes the Riddler is fighting back 4-3!

After the Fleckney birds helped with my tally another "safe" site was visited. A 30 minute vigil proved fruitless......the owls were now pulling away from me again 5-3. 
I now found myself not far from an area I'd not checked out before, permission was granted last week by the land owner whilst I was out "networking". He told that he had seen an owl sitting out on a low down post but wasn't sure what species of owl it was? Mmmmm, sounded very characteristic of a Little Owl to me so I thought I'd go and check out the area for myself.
It was quite vague in my memory the exact details of the location, well I have had a few pints since then! I turned into the gate way he mentioned and pulled up. I checked out the area and there only seemed to be one tree that gave me the jizz of Little Owl. I checked it out from distance and BINGO two Little Owls were sitting side by side quite high up in the tree, I couldn't believe my luck, it was the equaliser 5-5! I grabbed a record shot of the pair (below) before I opted to move closer. 

As I approached they both flew off, luckily I kept my eye on one of them and saw it fly into a small group of fruit trees in the corner of the field, so I drove down to them and pulled up. It took me five minutes but I did relocated the owl, there was a lot of foliage in the way so I had to revert to manual focusing before I could get an image. Not the best of quality I know but who cares when it was another new site, get in there No 219!

Well that was my mornings owling finished, it was time to head back and I was feeling quite smug that I'd managed to pull the score back to 5-5 after being so far behind, especially considering the weather conditions.
I chose to take a back lane home as it passed a location where I'd seen a Barn Owl out hunting only a few evenings ago. I knew it would be a long shot seeing it again this early in the day but judging how my luck was going I'd got nothing to lose.
I pulled up adjacent to the rough pasture where it was most likely to see the Barn Owl and started scanning the fields. Nothing was about apart from hundreds of Fieldfare's feeding on berries in the roadside Hawthorne's.  I re-positioned the car in a gateway in an attempt to get a few Fieldfare images, but before that I just gave the tree next to me the once over. And you are not going to believe it, sat there looking back at me was a LITTLE OWL!!!!! No more than 20 feet away and huddled up out of the wind. A quick burst of six shots were rattled off before it fled along the lane and high up into the next tree.

After reviewing the image it looks like an adult bird to me and not a dispersing juvenile, therefore it will become my site No 220.........and it also made it 6-5 to me for the day..........YES!!!!!

Thursday 25 October 2012

What a whimp!

It is now getting too dark for photography after work, at this time of year I am limited to weekends & holidays only. But not to worry as it is now the time for more groundwork and networking with the local farmers and landowners. In previous years I have found that if the graft is put in now looking for owl activity in new areas I generally get rewarded come the spring. 
So after gaining access permission from several different landowners this evening I went to investigate some old/derelict farm buildings in search of Barn Owl activity. And what a productive couple of hours it turned out to be, no fewer than 4 new owl sites were located, yes you read right.....FOUR!!

I was in the area of Kilby, Arnesby and Fleckney and the tally brakes down to 3 new Little Owl sites and 1 Barn Owl. All three of the Little Owls were located in the old/derelict barns whilst looking for Barn Owls and ironically the last new site, a Barn Owl was located whilst searching for Little Owls, how mad is that? 
The first Little Owl of the evening was spotted sitting on top of the barn that I was checking out for Barn Owls, no signs of Barn Owls but never the less this was a superb consolation prize. The light was just holding on at the time and with the ISO pushed up I managed this image before it flew off. Get in there new site 216!!
The circumstances of locating the next two Little Owl sites was almost identical to the first, I was creeping about in the buildings looking for Barn Owl pellets when I accidentally flushed them from their hiding places. If they had held their nerve and just stayed put I don't think they would have been seen?  But hey I'm not complaining they were new sites 217 & 218 in the bag, yeeeeees. The third Little Owl site also had fresh Barn Owl pellets on the floor so a breeding box will soon be made and erected there.
Sadly I had another two locations that I wanted to check out but I was beaten by the light, there is no way I was going to be fumbling around in the dark in an old barn so they will have to wait until another day.
On my way home I decided to stop off at a know Little Owl site to see if they were showing or rather calling. They were and I could hear up to four different birds. I got chatting to the farmer about the owls when he casually dropped it out that he had seen a Barn Owl hunting over the different areas of rough pasture during the last few nights.......WHAT!!!  Because of the nature of the farmyard layout it was difficult to see the several different "hunting areas" at once and because it was dark all hope of seeing the owl was lost.......or was it?
He suggested I clamber up on top of the adjacent water tower and from there I would be able to see the different hunting areas. And to aid my viewing the scattered spotlights that were around the farm were all turned on, what a good bloke! Now I absolutely detest heights at the best of times and normally I wouldn't have gone up this tower, not even for money. But the cause was a good one so my fear had to be put to one side for a few minutes and up I went. Bloody hell, it was high, a good job it was dark because I don't think I got the true perspective of being 60 foot in the air!
I was holding on to the railings for dear life, not really daring to move and then whoosh, a Barn Owl flew past. Superb another new location and a nesting box will be in situ very soon. Quite surreal seeing it flying about 20 foot above the ground yet it was still miles below me. Obviously no images were obtained because it was too dark, it wouldn't have mattered though if it was brilliant sunlight there was no way I was letting go of the railings!
Maybe I'll be braver next time..................not a chance!

Friday 19 October 2012


Mmmmmmm, I can image that you are asking yourself what is this blog title of WTO all about?

Well, WTO stands for Water Tower Owl, not very exciting or original I know but coming up with post titles does pose a problem occasionally and that is the best I could muster up, I'm in a hurry because its nearly pub time!
OK let me explain, my Little Owl site No 201 is situated right out in the middle of nowhere and because of the location I don't visit here very often. All previous images were only really record shots, with this image below being the best of the bunch. Nothing too special about the image, apart from it shows the owl has a damaged left eye. It wasn't until I dug this image out from my archives that I realised it was captured in October 2011, the last time I actually made a visit, naughty me! 
Anyway, after bumping into the owner of the farm he told me that he was regularly seeing a Little Owl perched up on the water tower at the back of the farm. Interesting I thought, could be a chance to get some improved images.
As I arrived it was raining and getting late, the owl needed to show pretty quickly otherwise it would be too dark for any images. My tactics were to drive slowly past the water tower and if it was sitting there I'd grab some shots, it wasn't there! I then continued to drive past and positioned myself about 30 yards away where I'd get a good view. Although the tower was not very exciting to look at I thought I'd give you a feeling for where the owl had been seen, below.

As I sat watching, waiting and hoping the owl would appear it did and from out of nowhere? It was on top of the right green tank (I was too slow for an image!) blimey I'd only been there two minutes. It dropped down onto the pipe that connects the two tanks and then disappeared behind the concrete blocks. I then drove down deathly slow so as not to spook it, I managed to get into such a position that I could see under the tanks and there it was! 
The light was terrible so a high ISO was required, even then I was only getting shutter speeds of around 1/100th of a second. It sat there looking back at me, it was at this stage that I realised it had a damaged eye, it was the same bird that I saw on my previous visit nearly a year ago! 

It didn't seem to be bothered about the presence of the car as it didn't flinch as I started it up again and moved a bit nearer. Thank goodness I had enough foresight to put my camo scrim up at the window, it allowed for some good close up views. 
It then moved about underneath the tanks and offered a nice selection of different poses as it settled on a variety of different perches.

The encounter was all too brief though, only about five minutes and then it flew off. I was happy though to see it was still about despite its damaged eye and it allowed me to get some improved images.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Owl flight sequence.

Last weekend when I visited the Peak District the owls showed well at one of my known sites. They stayed quite distant which meant the images weren't of great quality. However, I did manage to rattle off four consecutive shots when one of the owls took off from a drystone wall. Settings at the time were; 300mm, ISO 400, F4 and 1/4000 second shutter speed.
Because I haven't been out recently and consequently have nothing new to post I thought I'd have a play around with the four images to see what was possible? Now I am a self taught novice when it comes to editing images but with the use of my photo editing software even I managed to overlay all the images together to produce this cloned  "take off" sequence.

Click on image for larger version.

Manipulation to this extent this is something I have not done before and probably won't do again, (I'm not out to con anyone), but it just goes to show what is possible..........good or bad?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

More owl boxes.

The weekend before last I went to check out my Little Owl site No 10 not far from the village of Cosby. Although it is one of the nearest sites to where I live it tends to get over looked because when I pass close by I am always on a mission going elsewhere......naughty really!.
It is a very productive site and an owl is seen almost on every visit, and that was the case again during this particular visit, but it wasn't a Little Owl? I was creeping around the old barns (image below) looking for the Little Owls when accidentally I flushed a Barn Owl! It was obviously day roosting up in the rafters, my first ever sighting of one here! 
Since the sighting I had an action plan, the barn owner was informed of my sighting, the first Barn Owl seen on this farm for over ten years!!!!! It was agreed that I would make a new box and then get it erected as soon as possible. So midweek I went around to Carl's house and together we burnt the midnight oil in his workshop making this huge and very heavy box, (below). I know it doesn't look much with the front off but believe me when the owl finds it and settle in they will love it!
Then on Sunday morning Col Green came and picked me up and we went to assess the site/barn to try and choose the best location to erected the box. Col can be seen here pretending he was an owl and why this location was perfect for the box, I dare not disagree with him!
Perfectly in position, how could any self respecting owl not want to live here?
Just before Col and I left we completed another good deed by erected a landing perch for the Little Owls. It was positioned just underneath their nest hole that is in the apex of the barn roof. It will enable the juveniles to drop down onto it and then return to the safety of the nest without the fear of falling to the ground and being predated, which happens all too often at other sites.
Thanks to Carl & Col, the owls love you both!

Sunday 14 October 2012


Yesterday (Saturday) I decided not to do any local owling, instead I opted to do a bit of "general birding" in the Peak District. Not exactly local birding but the hour or so drive would hopefully be rewarded with some Dippers, a super little bird and I knew of a couple of likely locations where if I was lucky enough a sighting or two would be made and you never know maybe some images?
Upon arrival at the "secret" location things didn't look very promising, the river was well swollen and carrying a couple of feet of extra water, a consequence from the heavy overnight rain, doooh! Unperturbed I walked the bank in search of my quarry, the first bird sighting I made was not of a Dipper but of a couple of Goosanders. They were very wary of me and headed off upstream, but not before I was able to grab a record shot of them, below.
The Goosanders were nice to see but they were not what I'd made the 60 mile journey for! It wasn't until I reached the furthest point of the access area that the first Dipper was seen. It had been feeding in a quiet area out of the flow above the weir, my presence flushed it over to the far bank and underneath some overhanging trees, too dark and too far away for any images! At this stage I about turned and slowly retraced my tracks back to the car. On the return journey I did locate another three birds, but because the river had rose so much the rocks that they normally perch on in the middle of the river were completely submerged, this was going to be a struggle.
I did however managed a couple of record shots of the Dippers, but I had to make do with distance shots that I knew were always going to be heavily cropped and quality lost, I guess my 300mm lens was just not up to the job.

I didn't plan on the tough conditions that I found the river in, I wasn't going to waste my time here struggling all day, so what to do now?  Now I know I said I was having a day off from the owls but I  knew a couple of Little Owl sites in this area, I hadn't been to see them for well over a year so it would have been rude not to stop off to see if they were still about?
I needn't have worried, both owls were still in residence at the first owl site and how good was my luck, they were both out! They stayed distant but at least they contributed to it not being a completely wasted journey. The sun periodically put in an appearance, which made for some nice "scenic" images with the owls on the the dry stone walls.

During the trip plenty of other birds were seen, which was nice but the day was a bit flat really because of the condition of the river and the lack of Dipper activity. But I am not one for giving up, I shall return very soon and hopefully next time I'll have a bit more luck?

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Barn Owl Ringing......part 2.

Any regulars readers of this blog will know that we have been closely monitoring a pair of local Barn Owls via a nest box camera that Glyn, Daz and I fitted last year.  Because we can sit at home and remotely view all the activities it makes the decision of when to ring the juvenile birds very easy. The three remaining chicks are growing rapidly and it was decided that this evening was the perfect time to get the task done.
Chris and Andy from the Charnwood Ringers were good enough to come over and do their thing. Andy was voted as being the most agile and experienced with handling young birds, so up the ladder to the nest box he went. He can be seen here carefully collecting each chick one by one and placing them into a purpose made cloth bag.

The chicks were taken out of the bags one at a time and all the relevant data was captured before they were rung.

 Chris gave us an expert class in ringing.

The first one completed, good job Chris!

Then not to be out done, Andy too showed us how it was done.

We were all in close attendance watching the show. From L to R: Daz, Joe (my son) Glyn, Amelia (Glyn's daughter) Chris and Andy.

Once all the ringing was complete, Andy gathered all three chicks between his legs for a family shot.

So that is the last of the ringing for this year, I reckon these chicks will continue to rapidly grow and they should be on the wing in a few weeks time. Considering how wet it has been this year the parent owls have done a fabulous job at this site raising two broods and seven youngsters in total.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

In the meantime.

My studies/watching/photography of the Little Owls has taken a back seat during the last few weeks or so, its not that I have gone off them, on the contrary. It's a combination of circumstances really, firstly the Landrover is still off the road, which doesn't help in getting access to the better "off the beat and track" sites and secondly I have been putting efforts in to two other programmes, neither of which have been successful so far but I'm not giving up just yet, so watch this space as hopefully in time more will be revealed and I will be able to share.
So in the meantime, here is my latest Little Owl image (and new blog header) from a chance encounter I had with a Little Owl at my site No 47. As it happens I was just driving past this particular site en route to somewhere else and as I approached the nest tree a quick glance up and hey presto there was a single owl sitting out getting some late evening sun.  

The little chap just sat and stared back at me whilst I rattled off a few shots out of the car window. Nothing too spectacular about the image (I have thousands similar) but I thought I'd share as I rather like the autumnal backdrop of golds and browns in the leaves of the adjacent oak tree.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Another first!

Its all happening on the birding front in my garden at the moment , yesterday there was the Siskin (see previous post) and this morning I spotted a little brown job fluttering around in the cherry tree. I grabbed my camera and rushed out to see what it was and to try and grab an image.

It hardly stayed still for a second as it searched the tree for insects, so grabbing an image was difficult. But I think the resultant image confirms what it was.......a Chiffchaff. Not the rarest of birds I know but another great garden tick never the less! I wonder what tomorrow will bring? 

Friday 5 October 2012


My house is smack bang in the middle of a suburban area and "exotic" visitors to my garden feeders is a rarity in itself. Plenty of the common tits, finches and doves do a good gob in eating all the white hearts that I put out but on the rare occasion I might entice the odd speciality.........but not often.
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit and Bullfinch are about as good as it gets when it comes to rarities but today I had a very welcome visitor, no it wasn't an owl but a solitary Siskin!
Two years ago I did have a small flock of six individuals hang around for a few hours (no images as they were far too timid) but that is as good as it has got during the last thirteen years. So when I looked out today and saw this individual feeding amongst the Gold and Green Finches it was quite a treat. After a quick dash for the camera luckily a few record shots were captured. It was quite a confiding individual too, probably feeding up after a long migration? I'm not a lover of images which also shows the feeder but I had no choice in this instance. I'm happy with my solitary visitor, I just hope it hangs around long enough to maybe entice a few more individuals to come down and feed.