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!!!

Friday 30 November 2012

Close views, site 218.

Glorious sunshine earlier in the week allowed for a very rare opportunity to get some owl images in brilliant light, makes a change I suppose as I am all too quick to complain if the conditions are poor.
This particular owl (at my site No 218) doesn't take kindly to cars stopping within the confines of his territory and more often than not comes for a closer look, he's quite an inquisitive guy! He seems to have three or four favourite perches with the bright yellow footpath way-marker being one of them.

After I'd captured a few shots of him from distance I chanced my arm and shuffled the car back and forth to get closer, oh he was having none of that and flew to another perch only a few feet further away, there was now a Hawthorne bush between us but he continued to watch me through the gaps. A quick change over to manual focus and I was still able to capture him giving me the stare.

For the next five minutes he sat quietly assessing the situation, he couldn't see me as I was obscured by my camo screen. I think that once he realised there was no threat it was OK for him to return to another of his favoured perches. I'd seen him on this particular gate post before but never managed an image, the car was always at the wrong angle.
I have "a thing" for images of owls with dark backgrounds, (don't ask me why, I don't know?) but I do know that I was very pleased he landed on it as these next two images are easy my favourites from this session.

He bobbed and weaved his head from side to side in that characteristic way that owls do checking that the coast was clear, once satisfied all was OK he returned back to his favoured "yellow post". He was now very close, and the next two images are full frame shots taken at a focal length of 300mm.

And finally just for good measures, the owl duly obliged by landing on the footpath sign again that I captured him on during my last visit.
Only this time I managed to zoom out enough (120mm) to get all of him and the sign in the frame, thanks owl!

Thursday 29 November 2012

Stupid Owl.

Yesterday evening I re-visited my newest Barn Owl site that I first located a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping it was still hanging around and if so would show whilst the light levels were still OK? I haven't yet managed an image of it that I'd say was "a keeper" so I keep turning up night after night hoping that eventually it will be captured. 
It did eventually grace me with its presence but sadly it was too dark for any quality images. There was however enough light left to admire its grace as it quartered the rough pasture seeking out its prey. But after tonight this individual is really concerning me, on a couple of occasions it floated up and over the boarding hedgerow and then drifted across the adjacent busy road just missing the passing cars!
The proximity of the road to its preferred hunting area is just too close, as can be seen in the image below, the owl is flying only feet from the passing cars which are zipping by at 50mph!      

It is only going to take a slight glance from a car travelling at that speed and the consequences for the owl are going to be terminal, I feel totally hopeless and fear a carcass is going to be found very soon.
Just what can I do?

Sunday 25 November 2012

Staying Put.....For Now!

When I had a some time off from work a couple of weeks ago I couldn't believe my bad luck, the weather was pitiful at best and it ruined all my birding plans. But now on reflection I consider myself to have been quite fortunate as I could have been off work this week. The conditions at present are  atrocious, with the high winds and persistent torrential rain getting out at the moment is an absolute no no!
So with any kind of birding abandoned for this weekend myself and four buddies decided that Saturday would best be spent making the relatively short journey up the M1 to watch the mighty Leicester City FC play the Owls? The Owls being the nickname of Sheffield Wednesday FC, it was a rather damp visit to the steel city but the 4,000 travelling away supporters were rewarded with a fine display and a 2-0 victory.
So that now brings me to today (Sunday), looking out of the window this morning the rain has ceased a little but the flooded fields means that yet another birding day  has to be abandoned. This got me wondering as to how the local owls will be coping in these adverse conditions? I don't think it will effect the Little Owls too much as the high water levels will offer them plenty of drowned worms to feed on but I fear the worse for the Barn Owls. They are very reluctant to hunt/feed in wet weather  tending instead to just sit it out in some sheltered barn or tree hollow getting hungrier by the day.
This got me thinking as to how the three juveniles at the "owl cam" site would be fairing? A quick look through yesterdays recordings and all three of them were found to be safe and sound roosting in the barn. They all looked to be in pretty good condition with no apparent weight loss, so for these guys the local hunting/prey doesn't seem to of been effected too badly.

As I flicked through more recordings to see what else had been happening they all disappeared!! Could they have gone out "day hunting" during a rest bite in the rain? No that wasn't the case, what they did was hop up on top of the nest box and spent the rest of the day roosting up in the eaves. In this screen shot (below) the most developed of the three youngsters prepares to go up, the other two followed suit shortly after.

So for now these owls are doing OK, I think that the layout of where they live helps because they can hunt/move into a complex of adjoining barns without having to venture outside, other local Barn Owls don't have that luxury and I fear the worst for them if this weather continues.
But in order to help these three youngsters and their four siblings that fledged from this same site earlier in the year I have saturated the local area with more nest boxes. They have all been erected in barns/old building (rather than on trees) and fingered crossed when they eventually be used once they are found. But it doesn't stop there, more boxes are needed in suitable sites a little further a field, so if you would like to assist me in getting more boxes up you can! Please do not forget that there are still some of my 2013 calendars available (see at the top of this blog for more info) all the proceeds will go towards more boxes.
Cheers Paul.
PS For those of you who have very kindly ordered one of my calendars (and the payment has arrived) they are being posted out to you tomorrow (Monday 26th)..........thank you!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Little Gems

There is no doubt about it, owls are without doubt my favourite bird species, big uns, little uns, fat or thin it doesn't matter. It would be frightening if I actually knew how many hours I must have spent watching, studying and photographing them? But occasionally it is good to leave them alone and spend sometime with a different species altogether.
Last week when John and I went to Norfolk we saw loads of different bird species, it was a refreshing change to spend time watching something else rather than owls. But for me none of them really hit the spot. Yeah they were good to watch for half an hour or so but where was the  "character" that the Little Owl for example just oozes? None of them grabbed my attention and I quickly got bored and wanted to move on. That is apart from the Sanderling, what a brilliant little wader, I was absolutely captivated by them. The Sanderling is a small plump sandpiper of 18–20 cm in length. It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor and passage migrant in spring and autumn, journeying to and from their high Arctic breeding grounds.
Several were seen on the beech at Hunstanton feeding along the edge of the surf, and if one employs a bit of stealth and patience they can be quite approachable. I reckon John and I got to within about 20 feet before they got nervous and scampered away along the beach. And when they move they really move, they are very energetic little birds that hardly stand still! Their little black legs are just a blur when running so as to freeze the action high shutter speeds were needed, and that is where our problems started because the light levels were atrocious. But I did my best under the conditions allowing and here below were my best efforts from the day with my 300mm.

So if you have never had the chance to watch these stunning birds you should make the effort and get down to a beach near you now, you won't regret it! I for sure will be returning to see the ones at Hunstanton again and hopefully next time the light will be more forgiving?

Thursday 15 November 2012

Birding Week - Thursday

Firstly I did not do a "birding post" for yesterday (Wednesday) as it was an utter disaster. I did get out for most of the day but my three target species evaded me, yes that's right no Kingfishers, no Jays and not even any owls! Aside from all that the weather was glorious, bloody typical.
So today (Thursday) my mate John Starie and I opted for a change of scenery, we went to Norfolk. We had a smashing day but the photography opportunities were very limited indeed, we had heavy fog all day!
Anyway it has been an extremely long day and I am far too tired to waffle on about what we got up to so as to give you a feeling for what we saw (when the fog lifted slightly) here are a few images.
Bar-tailed Godwit - A beautiful bird with striking plumage, shame it never came close.   

Brent Goose - Pretty boring I know but we were limited to what came within range.

Spotted Redshank - A bit distant but never the less a nice find in Thornham Harbour.

Turnstone - These comical guys were everywhere.

Little Egret - Feeding at Stiffkey, possibly the closest I have ever been to one of these birds, nearly frame filling images with my meagre 300mm lens! 

Redshank - Several of these were seen feeding in the muddy estuaries.

Absolutely my favourite bird from the day, the Sanderling. A small flock were feeding along the coastline on the beach at Hunstanton. It took a while but eventually we got close enough for some nice images. I have never photographed these before and I can highly recommend them, they are a super smart bird.

I can't recommend the north Norfolk coast high enough, the variety of species is just unreal, even if  it is foggy and you can't see the birds most of the time! We stayed away from the more popular Titchwell and Cley and instead  concentrated on the harbours and desolated beaches. One word of advice though, Wells Next The Sea is a total rip off, £4.50 to park the car and then to make matters worse £9.50 for Burger and chips at the Sea-View Restaurant, stay away or take plenty of cash!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Birding Week - Tuesday

In comparison to yesterday the weather today was an improvement, it was still overcast and blustery but at least it was dry!

My first port of call today was the new Barn Owl site that I located late last night, I was there at first light hoping to catch it out hunting. And would you credit it, just as I pulled up it flew straight past me and into the lower of the two holes in the tree. It did poked its head back out for a few brief seconds to have a quick look at me and then that was that!

I waited around for an hour but it wasn't coming back out, so I moved on. My second location was to check up on how the Jay feeding station that I set up yesterday was progressing. No joy there either, the nuts hadn't been touched! Oh well, I suppose it is early days yet, I am sure it won't be long before they find them?
The rest of the morning was spent looking for SEO's, I was positive that after all the rain we had yesterday any local birds would surely be up hunting early, none were seen!
I also called in to see my new Little Owl site No 220 again. So far I have only seen the solitary bird here, and guess what the story was the same again today, and it was sitting in exactly the same spot!
Moving on down the road I went to a local reservoir, recently I have seen a lot of Kingfisher activity here so my intentions were to go and position a few landing/feeding posts. No Kingfishers were seen whilst there but the posts are now up, maybe later in the week they will pay dividends?
On my walk back to the car I did see this Cormorant perched up on a log, I got down low and crawled through the long grass to get nearer. True to form, as soon as I raised my head above the cover off it flew!

On my way home I called into see the owls at my site No 19, both of them showed well up high in the tree.
And finally I returned back to the first location of the day, the new Barn Owl site. I got there an hour before dusk hoping it would be out hunting in some reasonable light. It wasn't, it waited until the light had all but gone and only then I got a very brief glimpse of it as it headed out into the fields in the distance to hunt!
I am not going to give up on this owl, I now know it has spent the last two nights at least roosting in the same tree. If there is any justice in this world tomorrow will be my day!

Monday 12 November 2012

Birding Week - Monday

What a bloody wash out today was, rain rain and more rain!

I knew all my plans for the day were scuppered as soon as I opened the curtains this morning, doohh!
OK a change of plan was needed, rather than concentrating on getting images I thought I'd do some groundwork and preparation for some images at a later date. Currently the UK has an influx of Jays from continental Europe, the reason is an apparent acorn crop failure in their home lands so they are now here in their thousands gorging themselves on our acorns.

To date my best Jay image is shockingly bad at best and what better time than now to try and improve on it. I went out in search of some nice oak woodland and as one would expect the Jays were there too. But they are a naturally shy bird and getting close to them for an image is not easy. Therefore I have set up a feeding station to try and encourage them out into the open. This consisted of a sawn up tree trunk that will act as a table and on top of it I have piled it up high with peanuts. I will return each day for the next week and top up as necessary with more nuts, that is if the Jays find them? Once they get into the routine of being fed I will set up my hide and hey presto my best Jay images will be captured.........oh how I wish it is going to be that easy! But we will see, fingers crossed I may get lucky towards the end of the week?
Setting up the Jay feeding station took up most of the morning, in the afternoon I flitted from site to site searching for Short Eared Owls, no luck there either! Because the rain continued to lash down I headed for home around 3pm, a quick stop off at my new Little Owl site No 220 that was first located last week did give me a chance to take my first image of the day. The owl was located in exactly the same place as I saw it last time, sheltering up against a tree trunk out of the wind and rain. Don't be fooled by the image though, it gives the impression that it was dry and bright. But believe me the conditions were awful, it is amazing how today's modern day camera equipment and editing soft wear can brighten up even the worse of days.   

I left the owl at my site No 220 where I found it and continued my journey home. It was now getting quite dark, but not dark enough for me to miss the unmistakable white face of a Barn Owl poking its head out of a hole in a roadside tree! Little Owls use to reside in this tree and even though I haven't seen them for well over a year I always slow down whilst passing in the hope of seeing one again. And what I saw this afternoon  took me totally by surprise.
Where had this Barn Owl come from? How long had it been there? Was it one of the previously rung birds from another site? Currently I do not have the answers to the origin of this bird, to be honest I wasn't really bothered at the time, all I wanted to do was get some images of it. For a good few minutes it sat there at the hole entrance watching me watching it, then it leapt out and took to the wing.

It didn't fly far before it landed on a fence post 90 degrees to where I was parked. It seemed curious of my presence and just stared back at me! 

Eventually it ignored me and went off hunting. 

Despite the conditions for photography being absolutely abysmal I did get a flight shot before it departed, below and new blog header above. Again the wonders of my camera soft wear made the image just about usable?  Shot at 4.10pm, ISO 3200, F2.8 and 1/300 second. 

So another new Barn Owl site has been found locally, I think my nest box programme is slowly but steadily starting to pay dividends. I am now making more sitings than ever before, or is it just a coincidence? 

Barn Owls - Roof Cam.

A quick video from the local Barn Owl site where we have the two camera's. This footage is from the camera that is situated up in the barn roof, it shows the three juveniles messing about, just as youngsters do!

Click on the arrow to view.

As can be seen they are well developed and well feathered now, this could well be the last siting we have of these guys before they finally fledge the natal site.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Birding Week - Sunday

After a curry and a load of beer last night this morning was never going to be an early start, or so I thought? Col was due to be picking me up at 9.30am, we had four more owl boxes to put up today. So when I rose at about 7.30am my head was pounding, it was OK though as I still had a couple of hours to wake up properly before our work commenced. A nice hot cup of tea and a couple of paracetamols was what was needed to kick start the repair job of last nights alcohol abuse!
I was sitting supping my cuppa and happen to glance out of the window, we'd had a good overnight frost but the sun was rising in the clear skies and although cold it looked as though it was going to be a beautiful and bright autumnal day. I glanced up into the Rowen Tree in the front garden and it was alive with birds, they were busily gorging themselves on what remained of this years berry crop. Normally I'd have ignored all the commotion in the tree but because I am having a bit of a "birding week" I thought I'd make an effort and get the camera out. I was hoping for a Waxwing to be among the feeding Tits, Finches and Thrushes but no such luck! There was also a couple of Starlings, now this is a species that I would normally overlook but when they are feeding 15 feet from you and in good light too how could I turn down the chance?  I went upstairs and grabbed an image out of the bedroom window, and I am glad I did, what a gorgeous bird. 

The Starlings didn't hang around too long, I think the noise of the camera shutter spooked them? I then saw another small finch sized bird fly in, it was obscured by some twigs but there was no doubt what it was, a Lesser Redpoll!!

This is the first time I have ever seen a Redpoll in my garden, what a shame I couldn't hang around longer and wait for its return and a better image, the reason........Col was here an he was an hour early!!! I greeted him at the front door still in my dressing gown! After a bit of abuse from him it turns out I rang him last night and brought forward our meeting time an hour, I'd had too much beer and didn't remember?
After another quick cuppa we were soon on our way via a quick stop off at Carl's to pick up the boxes, oh and another cup of tea!
At the first site one of the larger boxes was up in a matter of minutes, I never seen a Barn Owl here or any evidence of them but this remote location is only a mile from where a pair of Barn Owls have raised seven young this year, so hopefully there will be residents in the coming months?

It is a very quiet complex of around a dozen old buildings and some of them are quite large, see image below. It just oozes Barn Owl and if a pair don't move in here within a year I will eat my hat!

The second site we decided to put up one of the smaller Barn Owl boxes, yet another good looking site with plenty of potential. Col was happy with the site too. 

Apparently the owner of this barn sees Little Owls around it on a regular basis, I've never seen one here so it will be on my "hit list" for a re-visit very soon.

At the third site we put up another of the larger boxes, I didn't take a photo because I accidentally left my camera in Col's van and it was too far to walk back to fetch it, yes I am an idle so and so!  We did see a Little Owl in the barn where we put up the box so there will soon be a box up for that too.
At the last and fourth site of the day the local land owner has been seeing a single Barn Owl hunting around the farm almost every night for the past month. He told us to go and have a look around all the buildings and put the box up where every we wanted, a nice guy! In the furthest building from the farmhouse we found two fresh owl pellets on a stack of straw, obviously this was selected as the site for the box.
It wasn't until the farmer wandered down to see how we were getting on that he informed us that his teenage son plays in a rock band and this building is where he practises!!! We needed a change of plan quick, good job we hadn't already put it up! So more buildings were investigated and we selected one that the farmer told us no one ever goes in, it was perfect. 

As I was writing up this post I had a call from the farmer at the last site we went to, he was very excited as this evening for the first time he'd got two Barn Owls hunting around his farm, looks like we got the box up just in time?

Not sure yet what I am up to tomorrow or even where I am going? I think it depends on how much beer I have tonight!!!

Saturday 10 November 2012

Birding week....the start.

Today (Saturday) marks the start of a long overdue "birding week" I have the whole of next week off work and I am going to make the most of it!  Thankfully I have no long lists of jobs or chores to be done around the house so all the time will be mine to do what I want with it. I have on purposely called it a birding week and not an owling week. The reason being the owl scene tends to be pretty quiet at this time of year, unless of course I am able to locate some more Leicestershire SEO's (Short Eared Owls)?
So a bit of variety is on the cards, I am planning a few day trips out, going to the coast is a deffo and hopefully a few wader species will put in an appearance? Another trip back to the Peak District is also planned, I just love it up there!
So I started the week off as I mean to go on, a nice early start was had this morning. I hadn't got that much time so I stayed local because I'm off to the footie later. The mighty Leicester City are playing near neighbours Nottingham Forest, (hiss boo) at 12.15pm, my prediction is a 3-1 win for city!!!   
So this morning I flitted from site to site looking for some SEO's, no luck there but I did bump into a Little Owl at my site 120. It was perched up at the entrance to its nest hole, the images (below) are a bit drab looking and rather grainy but that unfortunately is what your up against when the weather/light is poor.

Hopefully the weather will hold out for me next week and there will be a nice variety of bird images to come?

Sunday 4 November 2012

Black Sunday.

Around a week or so ago I discovered some new Barn Owl activity in a couple of local derelict buildings, that was it I was compelled to make some more boxes and get them erected as soon as possible.
It was arranged with my buddy Carl for the two of us to get cracking straight away and last Tuesday night we got on with the task in hand of making two more boxes. Luckily Carl has a huge workshop (see image below) that lends itself perfectly for a bit of wood chopping and nail whacking.
But before Carl could even think of box making his stomach had to come first! I wasn't going to argue with him so it was a pie and chip supper before the work started. 
After we had both filled our faces the work commenced.
It wasn't long before we had two identical box frames made.
The panelled walls and landing platforms we soon in situ, nothing too fancy with these boxes like sloping roofs and baffled compartments, they don't need to be weather and wind proof because they are going to be situated inside buildings. 
I have added this next image just to wind Carl up, he wasn't aware at the time but when he went off to make a cup of tea I had a sneaky fag. On purpose I stood next to his NO SMOKING SIGN and took the picture in the mirror that hangs on the door.........sorry mate, please don't ban me!
The next part of the plan was to get another mate, Col Green to help in putting the boxes up in the derelict buildings today (Sunday).  But my professional box putter-upper called me late on Saturday night to ask for a rain check? He wasn't able to make Sunday morning because of some feeble excuse about being up since 2.00am. He'd driven to Scotland and back to see a poxy warbler, a round trip of over 700 miles, mad or what?
So my plans for putting the boxes up had been scuppered, what to do now? The weather was atrocious so any owling was out of the question, then just as I was contemplating my next move a text message came in from LROS (Leicester & Rutland Ornithology Society). A Black Throated Diver was at Stamford Reservoir, a good county bird so I thought what the hell I'd not got anything better to do, let's go and have a look. 
Upon arrival a couple of local birders were already there, but the Diver wasn't! Whilst they continued to scan the vastness of the reservoir for a sighting I opted to go and have a look in the small settling pool across the road, and bingo there it was! A quick dash back to the car for my camera and luckily on my return it was still there. I rattled off a few shots, and this image below was just about the best of a bad bunch, low light and torrential rain wasn't helpful. Again I made the mistake of having my 300mm lens and not my 500 with me, but even after being heavily cropped it is still by far the best image of this species I ever managed, so it's going on my blog.
I did return later in the day but wasn't able to relocate the Diver, not to worry though as the weather was still terrible. Hopefully it will hang around and when the weather improves I will go and try again.

Friday 2 November 2012

Roadside Distraction

I was driving through the quiet country lanes of Leicestershire in an area that looked just perfect for them. My slow speed allowed me to continually take me eyes off the road for a few fleeting seconds at a time, glancing left and then right. The camera was at the ready on the passenger seat, just in case! I was expecting it to happen, no that's not right, I was hoping it would happen and when it did I was still surprised!
Yesssss my first SEO (Short Eared Owl) of the winter.

Hand held and shot through the open window of the car, not the best of light for good quality (lots of noise) but considering the conditions I am well pleased with the result. It came at me head on, it was hunting the roadside grassy verge and luckily as it approached it deviated across the road and passed by on the drivers side. The whole episode from start to finish was over in a matter of seconds, but it was still time enough for me to pull up (stalled engine) grab the camera, focus and rattle off a few shots. Only two of the images were "keepers" the one above and the new blog header.
The owl then lifted up and over the hedgerow not to be seen again. Not sure yet if it has settled in this area or was just passing through?  I do hope it stays here for the winter, as I will be back!