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 11 July 2014

An hour with an owl......

I am currently very fortunate that a number of my monitored Little Owl sites now have fledged juveniles. At the majority of these sites I have to be satisfied with distant views, but still good to see. However, one particular site (No 42) not far from the village of Kirkby Mallory has offered some very close views indeed! 

The parent owls here have successfully bred in one of my boxes for the last four consecutive years, but due to where the nest tree is located (in the middle of a field) getting near for juvenile images has proved to be almost impossible. This year the fledged juveniles (I have seen 2 so far) have taken up temporary residence in a Rabbit burrow! This burrow is situated under a Gorse bush alongside the track leading up to the farm, they obviously feel safe here whilst they wait for the parents to come in and feed them.  Although owls have an inbred fear of humans in their DNA the same can't be said for a whacking great car parked up no further than 20 feet from them! 

This first image below was taken from out of the car window at a focal length of 120mm, hopefully it gives a feel for the general location and the owls bolt hole?

Normally on my blog I attempt to keeps thing varied by not reproducing similar looking images, it is difficult to keep offering something different but I do find loads of similar images repetitive and boring, however in this instance I am going to make an acceptance to my own rule.

During the hour I spent parked up adjacent to the "owl burrow" not a lot happened and it was quite boring really, or at least whilst there that is what I thought. But now I have had time to assess the images I now think they are a little different. Yes the owl spent nearly all the time sat on its little perch, but there was various expressions and poses so I have decided to share.

An alert owl watching the world go by.
A bit of wing stretching.
A bit more wing stretching and one legged balancing.

Having a scratch!
A quick snooze.

A bit of company
Going for a wander
Getting vocal
Hopefully a bit more variety in my next post, thanks for stopping by.

Catch up again soon.............

Monday 7 July 2014

And they are off!

In my previous post I concluded with a snippet about how I was attempting to capture some video footage of the Barn Owls at one of my breeding box sites. My buddy Adey very kindly lent me his Bushnell Trophy Cam and it was very much trial and error to begin with. It took seven consecutive evenings of tweaking until I'd finally got the camera positioned in the correct place in order to capture what I was after. On two occasions the batteries went flat on me (sensitivity set too high and all I got was a piece of Ivy swaying in the wind!). On another occasion I forgot to turn the camera on, and another visit I even forgot to insert the memory card, what a plonker! Anyway god loves a trier and after trying several different camera positions and alternative methods of holding the camera I eventually captured some footage, and apparently it was just in time too!

Here below is an image of the final set up that worked, the camera was mounted on a pair of telescopic fishing poles that took it up the required 10 feet that made it level with the box .Yes it does look as though the camera is very close to the box and could cause an obstruction for the incoming adult birds as they fly in. But it is an optical illusion, the camera was set six feet away and caused no problems at all.

Once the camera is set up correctly it will detect any motion and then start to record for the pre-set duration, in this case 20 seconds. It can still record during the night via the use of infrared although the quality of the footage is not too good. In this first recording two of the juveniles can be seen out of the box practicing their wing flapping. 

If you look carefully in this second clip one of the birds can be seen with a vole in its beak, sadly the parent owl wasn't captured coming in and out, it must have been too quick!

Nothing too spectacular about this third piece of footage apart from it is good to compare the quality as it was taken in the middle of the day. 

As it turned out this was my last chance to capture these two particular juveniles on video as later on that evening when the camera was collected I took the opportunity to check the box and they had fledged! I had a quick look around in the nearby bushes and trees but they were not located, so it is now fingers crossed they manage to survive and in time they with help to populate the local Barn Owl population.

Catch up with you all soon..............

Wednesday 2 July 2014

A morning of Juveniles.

Getting out of late has proved difficult, too busy doing other day to day chores and other family commitments taking priority. However, I did manage to sneak a few hours to myself over the weekend and managed to latch onto some recently fledged individuals of the "hooked bill" variety! 

Firstly a bird that I have never really had any good close up views of, the Peregrine Falcon. I have seen plenty of them over the years but they have always had a knack of eluding me when it comes to attaining any usable images. So when I heard through the birding grapevine of four recently fledged juveniles that were quite "showy" I just had to investigate further, especially as they were only a few miles from home. 

My main aim was to see if I could get some flight shots, so armed with my trusty 300mm F2.8 lens and great light levels I was confident that with a bit of luck I could achieve my objective, so as long as the birds were still there? I know the site in question very well and if I was to get the shots I was after it was going to be an early morning visit because of the direction of the sun. 

I arrived at the "secret" location at about 6.30am and it took all of 10 seconds before I spotted the first bird, then another and another, the three of them were perched up in a distant dead tree. The next 30 minutes offered nothing different other than the 3 falcons sitting in a distant tree! Then the distinctive calls of adult birds was heard, I honed in on their calls and finally they were spotted up high circling around. And for the duration of my stay that was pretty much how it stayed, adults circling around and the three juveniles in the tree, all too far away, doough!! However, there was a fourth juvenile at this site and that bird proved to be my savior, it was spotted perched on the roof apex of a nearby building and there it too stayed all the while I was there. Initially I wasn't able to get that close so I had to be satisfied with distant shots (albeit my best ever of this species) that still had to be consequently cropped, below.

Peregrine Falcon - Juvenile
I was able to get nearer to the bird on the roof but the steep viewing angle only allowed for a head shot.  

In total I spent a good hour with the Peregrine family before I opted to move on. At the next location I was on the trail of Little Owls, the weather was just perfect, (IE no wind and very bright) to hopefully discover a fledged owlet or two perched up sun bathing. 

A couple of different sites did produce some owl sightings but too distant to capture an image. At the third site, I investigated an old dilapidated Ash Tree that in the past has proven to be a good breeding site for Little Owls. Before I got too close I scanned the tree through my binoculars and what came into view was a bit of a surprise, poking their heads out of the nest hole were not Little Owls but four Kestrels!!

I made my way closer to the tree trying to be as quiet and as inconspicuous as possible, not easy in the Landrover! Before I'd even got even halfway to the tree the young Kestrels took to the wing, obviously I wasn't inconspicuous enough! One of the Kestrels did return to the tree but it kept partially hidden behind the Ivy, below.

Recently fledged Kestrel.
For the duration of the morning I did see juvenile Little Owls "out of the nest" at another 7 different sites, but only the one site offered a "usable" image below.

Little Owl - Juvenile
As any regular visitors/readers of this blog will know I am currently in the midst of the best ever breeding year for the local Barn Owls. So I have set myself a task to capture some video footage at one of the nest boxes. My mate Adey has very kindly lent me his Bushnell Trophy Cam, this brilliant piece of equipment has the ability to "see in the dark" and once it detects movement it then records it! It will be strategically positioned at the selected site with the aim of capturing either the parents coming in with feed or the young owls leaving the box, watch this space...........

Thanks for dropping by, catch up soon!