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 29 May 2013

The apprentice.

Like most 14 year old boys of today they love their fast cars, gaming systems and are just starting to show an interest in beer and girls! My brothers son Sam is no different, he is a typical lad of today but he also loves the Army and that is where our interests collide. No he isn't bothered about birds and owls but he does like my Landrover!

Sam Riddle - A typical 14 year old boy!

Sam stayed over at our house on Sunday night after a party and we came to an agreement/action plan for the Monday. I was due to go out and check a few owl boxes and as going up and down ladders is a main requisite for the job, but it shouldn't be done alone! So Sam reluctantly agreed to accompany me and help and in return I was going to allow him a ride in my beloved Landrover.

We set off to one of my favourite owling locations not far from South Wigston, I chose this area as I hadn't been there for a while and a visit was well overdue. It is a privately owned complex of 4 or 5 huge fields and Sam could have a drive (although he didn't know it at the time) of the Landrover in complete safety........that is if I allowed him!

On route Sam mentioned that he was hungry and thirsty, this I couldn't understand as he'd only just had his breakfast but reluctantly I pulled over and loaded up with fizzy pop and chocolate. He'd got no idea at the time that he WAS going to earn that "boys breakfast". As we pulled up at the closed gate Sam soon realised he wasn't just there for the ride, he was going to be the gate opener for the day (a tough job that many a better man before him had failed!). He completed his first job without any moaning or whinging, mmmmmmm a good start I thought!

Once we were in the fields I pulled up and gave him a five minute introduction to Little Owls. He did seem slightly interested (nodding at the right times, good boy!) as he swigged his pop. I briefed him on what we were looking for and that we were going to drive very slowly up and down a line of old Willow Trees. I decided that to keep him keen and enthusiastic I should try and use "army terminology" when ever possible. So Sam was appointed as "chief lookout" and he eagerly took on his role and grabbed the binoculars.

We'd only covered a hundred yards when Private Riddle spotted the "enemy" hiding in a bush, it must be an ambush uncle Paul!! He'd done a fine reconnaissance job and was well on his way to earning his stripes. There 50 yards from us was a Little Owl, it was perched up low down in the hedgerow, its distinctive silhouette giving it away.

I was really pleased to see this particular owl (site No 105) as its usual nest site had been completely wrecked during the winter storms. If it was still going to be around I suspected it would have relocated to the Willows, and it had! We drove very slowly to the other side of the hedgerow as the light was much better on that side. Sam kept the owl in view the best he could and directed me into its rough location. Here we parked up and erected the camouflage nets up at the windows, goodness knows what what going through Sam's mind but he was "playing along". 

We spent the next hour parked up and eventually the owl came close enough for me to grab some shots. 

It wasn't long before Sam started to yawn, I knew he would tire of this boring activity that his uncle pursues so passionately. So we moved away from the owl into a clearing in the field  (away from any trees) and Sam was over the moon when I gave him a "crash course" in changing gears, clutch control etc.

And the lad picked it all up pretty dam quick and he couldn't believe it when I told him he could have a drive. He was soon bombing around the field all on his own whilst I grabbed a few shots for the family photo album as he whizzed past.

We did check out some boxes later in the day and one of my boxes was found to have a pair of Barn Owls roosting in it, (yes a nice surprise!) but more about them at a later date. I think Sam has now got the bug for driving the Landrover, I am sure that it will be arranged again for him to have another go but that will be when he has perfected opening more gates and ladder carrying!!


Although over the years I have been lucky enough to have made thousands of Little Owl sighting across hundreds of different locations this site that Sam and I were at is definitely one of my favourites. I am so pleased the owls are still here and this prompted me to look back through my archives of previous images that I have taken over the years from this site. For this reason (and the fact that there is not a lot else happening at the moment) I have decided to showcase a few of my more memorable images from this site.



And finally this last image ranks up there in my top ten of Little Owl images that I have ever taken. 

That's all for now folks, thanks for stopping by and all being well I'll be back soon....................

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Catching Up, two new sites......

My apologies (again) for the lack of recent posts, images and replies to comments that you good folk have left me. This enforced hibernation period isn't because I am still in a "lazy can't be bothered mode" or even from a lack of interest on my behalf. Actually I have been going out but just not able to update this website because of some conflict between Blogger and Internet explorer 9. I haven't changed any of my settings so why I have been having so many problems with various different aspects of it I just don't know??
Anyway, after hours of pulling my hair out and very nearly throwing my PC out of the window I think it is all now back up and running. I have had to resort to changing my web browser over from Internet Explorer to Firefox, certainly different and the jury is still out at the moment on whether or not I like it, but at least it has got me back up and running. To be fair there is not normally much to post about at this time of year anyway as it tends to be very quiet whilst all the owls are incubating their eggs. The lull will soon be over though when the frenzy of feeding starts and with a bit of luck and good weather some excellent viewing will be on the cards.

During the last week or so I have ventured out on a number of occasions, mostly checking on breeding sites/boxes. And whilst out I have stumbled across two new Little Owl sites bringing the overall tally to 233.

The first of the new sites was actually a referral from one of my mates, we were down the pub having a few beers when he casually dropped it out about a sighting he made a few years ago. I drilled him for as much info as I could and the next evening I went off to investigate. His memory was pretty good too as almost everything he could remember about the location was bang on! And he remembered the nest tree was on a busy road, which made it very dodgy to check out let alone get an image.

I did a couple of slowish drive passes of the tree and amazingly there catching the late evening sun was a pair of Little Owls. The only plan I could muster up was to get all the camera gear ready and to have the passenger window open. I then did another drive by at the pace the volume of traffic dictated, I then stopped  for a matter of seconds and my "record" shot was grabbed much to the annoyance of the irate driver behind me!

Little Owl Site No 232
The second of my new sites was a real chance encounter, I was cruising along the back lanes in between two different known sites. I slowed up for a passing horse rider and whilst waiting for the attractive young lady to trot past me I was giving an "owly" looking tree the once over (a few years ago my eyes wouldn't have moved off the horsewoman, ya can't beat a nice pair of jodhpurs!) anyway there in the tree looking straight back at me was a Little Owl! 

I was soon parked up with my camo netting at the window and got some nice views of the bird. The light levels were good but not from a favourable direction, an early morning site this one!

The owl then started to call frantically, this confirmed to me that I was observing a male bird. Another owl could be heard calling too but I wasn't able to locate where it was? 

I predicted that it was about to take off, so I quickly pre-focused on a small branch a little nearer to me and then switched over to manual focus, my aim was to capture it coming at me head on in flight.

I have tried this method on many occasions and it usually ends up with the image being a load of rubbish and then deleted. The depth of field where the birds eyes are in focus is so narrow (literally millimetres) even with increasing the F stop it is still very rare to get a "usable" result.

After taking flight he then posed on a couple of different perches before going up higher in the tree where he was joined by his mate.

A super encounter and I'm sure some improved images will be attained on my next visit which will be on a bright sunny morning.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

50% occupancy...........

I must apologise for the lack of posts recently, I'm slowly getting back into it and I'm sure things will soon be back as they use to be..........???

During the weekend I did make an effort and went out checking for any signs of Little Owl breeding activity with my mate Col Green. In total we checked out 12 boxes and of these we found Little Owl activity in six of them with clutch sizes ranging from one to four eggs. Now I suppose 50% is a pretty good return when one considers that Jackdaws, Great Tits and Squirrels are all partial to using them too! 
One of the first boxes we checked out was deffo a "no hoper", it is perched precariously on the top of a very decayed Ash tree and very very rotten.  It was put up nearly four years ago and because we haven't been able to persuade the owls to vacate the Ash tree and move into it so its just been left. But because we were passing we stopped off to check it out........just in case? I went up the ladder and to my utter surprise when I opened up the door both owls were inside along with three eggs!! Unfortunately we didn't take any record images here as the tree was far too high and no branches to hang onto whilst taking an image, its just not worth the risk!
The next box was far easier to check out as it is only four feet from the ground! It has been used now during the last three consecutive years so we had very high hopes here. Col can be seen here posing prior to me getting in the ditch and checking it out.
Upon opening the door I was confronted with what looked like a very angry hen owl, I don't think she was too pleased to see us? Unperturbed though she just sat there giving us "the stare".
After a wee bit of encouragement she moved to the back of the box and her pride and joy was revealed. One egg and two chicks along with a dead Shrew in her larder.
After a couple of quick record shots were taken we left her alone and departed.
Not such good news at the next box, although the ladder wasn't quite long enough to get all the way up to the box (we left the third piece at home) Col was still able to open the door at arms reach. Dam and blast something other than an owl had taken up occupancy because I could see that it was full of nesting material.
We know that there was no owl in there as they do NOT use nesting material, such a shame as only two months ago I witnessed a pair of Little Owls coming and going from this box.
It wasn't good news at the next two boxes either, although very rotten this box had three well developed Starling chicks in it. The parents had gained entry through a hole in the roof! We have since learnt our lesson on how best to protect the boxes from the elements and all will be revealed later.
The disappointment at the next box wasn't that it had rotted away through poor location or bad timber protection but the fact that ivy had virtually smothered it to death. I cleared it all out of the way and it now awaits its first owl.
I was volunteered by Col to go up to the next box, a pretty tatty box again that had never before seen any previous owl activity. Because we forgot the third piece of the ladder I had to stretch to reach the door, and to make matters even more awkward this door had been screwed rather than using a catch. After opening up the door I was very surprised to see a pair of owls inside guarding a single egg! We are hoping that they have just started their clutch so a re-visit will be on the cards soon.
Whilst out we went and checked on a relatively new box that was only but up towards the end of last year. And it was more good news here, a pair had obviously found it and it must have been to their liking as the hen owl was inside with her precious four eggs. What a result get in there!!!
Our final task of the day was to erect another new box, and I had just the perfect location. No owls are present here at the moment, well not to my knowledge there isn't? A super quiet setting that I am hoping this time next year the box will be fully occupied and brimming full with owlets. This box is encompassing our new design, a slate roof. Both Col and I are convinced that if we can protect the roof from the elements they will last for years to come.
The next batch of boxes are to be checked this coming weekend (time allowing) and if we can have the same level of results as on this day it is going to be a bumper breeding season.

Friday 17 May 2013

I've returned!!!!!

Since getting back from my break in Spain getting out and about has been bit of a premium, and to be honest I just couldn't be bothered! I have fell into a bit of a rut of not going out in the evenings, strange really as the light is better and more time is obviously available. I know from previous years that there is a bit of a lull in activity with the owls just before, and at the start of the breeding season, then BANG there is activity all over the place. So I suppose I am in a sort of limbo waiting for the explosion of activity to start.
So when I had a call from my buddy Carl telling me of a location where he had stumbled upon a Fox's den with four cubs I was semi-woken from my period of recent slumber.  I nearly didn't bother going though as when I went to gather up all my camera gear it was all still packed away from when I went to Spain. But he had stirred me into life and I made the effort and went to investigate.
I found the location without any problem and it was just as Carl had described. I parked up parallel the the wooden gate and waited. Carl said the cubs came very close to him on his last visit and managed a few shots of them through the gaps in the gate. I'd been quietly waiting for around half an hour and nothing had been seen apart from a pair of Long Tailed Tits that were busy feeding in the nearby bushes.
Previously when I have seen Foxes out in the wild I have successfully "squeaked" them nearer by making a noise with my puckered lips, a trick that I learnt from an old gamekeeper! I think that the Fox believes it is an animal in distress and maybe an easy meal is on the cards. So I'd got nothing to lose and tried it, and it worked very well but it didn't attract a my intended quarry???
Initially I'd given up "squeaking" as it was making my lips sore, but my attentions were drawn to the previously seen Long Tailed Tits, they were now frantically calling and fluttering around, something had disturbed them?
I was watching the far side of the gate but no Fox could be seen, I then noticed a movement low down to the left and there staring back at me was a Little Owl!!! 
My squeaking had obviously attracted the owl, he couldn't see me as I was behind my camo scrim. I managed the above image just before he flew off down the nearby track. Superb, a new Little Owl site No 231! 
I gave it a couple of minutes and tried the squeak again, but this time it didn't return, the owl was too clever to be fooled a second time! I then settled back down and waited for one of the Fox cubs to show. I guess another 30 minutes had passed when I was alerted to the alarm calls of the Long Tailed Tits, I looked up and there on top of the gate was the owl, he had returned! 
He was staring straight at me, I was now making no noise apart from the camera shutter rattling away. He then nonchalantly turned away and watched the Long Tailed Tits, he then flew to a nearby bush and disappeared inside it. The Tits were now going mental, it was at this point that it dawned on me that I'd never attracted him with my squeaking at all, it was the Tits he was after all the time. I think he was looking for their nest that must have bee deep in the bush? They hassled him so much he was soon popped back out on to the gate post.
The owl then proved his persistence and whilst doing his best to avoid the Tits went back into the bush. I could just about make him out as he moved about inside  with the Tits in close attendance. Again he popped back out empty handed but this time landed on a different and more natural looking perch.
Although I did hang around for another hour or so until the light started to fade the owl didn't return and I never did see the Foxes but I was very pleased with the resultant images of the owl.
Big thanks must go to Carl for firstly putting me onto this site and secondly for giving me the theoretic kick up my ass to get me back out there again!