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!!!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Kingfisher with the Thrushes.......

On Sunday morning I managed a few hours out with camera in hand, it was quite a pleasant morning and for the first time in what seems to be ages I had no other distractions like checking and maintaining my owl boxes. This was to be just a few hours out with nature and hopefully some subjects would show and allow for a few images.

My main objective was to find some Little Owls, sadly after visiting several known sites not a single bird was either seen or heard. Whilst out it became quite noticeable just how many winter Thrushes (mainly Redwings and a few Fieldfares) were about, for the best part they would settle on one of the berry laden bushes and gorge themselves stupid, however, getting close enough to them to obtain an image proved to be quite a challenge. Trying to drive up slowly was a complete waste of time, as soon as I was with 30 metres or so they would erupt en-mass and move down to the next laden bush. After 30 minutes I gave up on this tactic and instead opted to park up near what seemed to be a favoured bush and waited for them to come to me. This new tactic proved to be slightly more successful than the last and the odd Redwing did come close enough for a few images (nothing good enough to share here though!).   

Then to my complete surprise a Kingfisher suddenly appeared in amongst a small flock of Redwing! This was very bizarre indeed but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth and a few images were rattled off. The Redwing didn't stay for long, they ate a few berries each and then off they flew again, but the Kingfisher stayed for at least 5 minutes!



 
A very strange encounter indeed, all my previous encounters with Kingfishers have been close to rivers, lakes, ponds etc and not in the middle of a field! Well that's all for now folks, maybe an update on how my Barn Owls have fared this year in the next post?

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

Friday, 25 November 2016

2017 Owl Calendar

Hi all, as any regular readers/followers of this blog will know, I have over the years (with the help of my buddy Col Green) been designing, making and erecting owl nest boxes in south Leicestershire,  over 130 so far. This is definitely a labour of love and when owls find one of the boxes and go on to use them as a breeding site it makes all the effort worth while. However, completing all this work and sourcing the required materials doesn't come cheap! In order to help maintain existing and to fund more new boxes I compile a unique owl calendar each year with all profits going back into the scheme.

My calendar for this year has just been finalised and ordered with my supplier, each month features an owl image (four different species) that was taken by myself during 2016, see draft of each month below.



The calendars are professionally manufactured using a high quality glossy 235g/m premium paper stock which gives the images a vibrant and vivid finish. The approx size when opened is 11" wide x 17" high and would complement any kitchen/study wall!

This year I have again committed to a large quantity from the supplier, this has enabled me to keep the pricing as of previous years! 1 x calendar is £10.00 or two for £18.50, (plus p&p at £1.50).

So would you like one of my 2017 owl calendars whilst also helping the owls? If so please either leave a message on my blog or email me at littleowl123@icloud.com and I'll get back to you asap with more details.

Many thanks to anyone that is able to order a calendar, your support is greatly appreciated!

Thank you!

Paul


Friday, 7 October 2016

MERLIN!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hi all!

Yes it has been a while since my last post, my apologies but for personal reasons I decided a while ago that I was going to take a break from the social media (Blogger) that I participate in. I will be back when the time is right and post a catch up of all the activities that I am still actively pursuing, especially my Barn Owl breeding programme which is thriving and 2016 has proven to be my best year so far!

However, I am going to break my own self imposed rule on "no posts for a while" by offering this quick post following a most enjoyable few days break up in Ayrshire, Scotland with my mate Adey.

We were on the Isle of Arran, (a beautiful place and would highly recommend a visit) our main objective was to search for Hen Harriers and then if luck was on our side maybe a few photo's of them too. After three days of solid searching two separate Hen Harrier sightings were made, one of a ringtail and the other of a very handsome male, some images were achieved but of rather poor quality due to the distances involved.

For anyone who is a long term reader of my blog will probably recall the odd time I have mentioned that the Merlin has been my life long bogey bird. After many years of visiting potential sites (Scotland 4 times) my first ever sighting was made in Norfolk in January of this year, since then I have made a further 3 sightings at different locations, albeit all from distance and or very brief.  Although no "record shot images" were obtained I was still very satisfied to have just made the sightings, until now!

We were driving slowly along the west coast of the Isle near to Black Waterfoot when I spotted up ahead a small raptor like bird diving out of the sky at speed down near the seas edge. There was a scattering of small passerines (Rock Pipits) and the raptor species re-emerged catchless and disappeared further along the coast. We both witnessed this explosion of activity but couldn't be sure of the raptors identity although Merlin was suspected? I continued to drive slowly along the costal road hoping to see it again, then as we turned a corner there it sat on top of a small wooden building about 100 yards from us. The car was stopped and the bird was viewed through our binoculars, 100% it was a Merlin.

Windows opened and cameras at the ready the car was started and we inched nearer and nearer, 90 yards, 80 yards, 70 yards etc., we got to within 30 yards and the car was turned sideways so as to get an image out of the window then whoosh, off it flew, not even a distant record shot was obtained, sods law strikes again!

For the next 20 minutes we drove slowly up and down trying to re-locate it, then Adey called out that there was a bird in a tree the other side of the bay to where we were, within seconds I got it in view in my binoculars, there it was again!! A painful and tentative drive around the bay commenced, we slowly got nearer and nearer until I dare not push my luck any further and the car was stopped. I poked my lens out of the window and BOOM, GET IN THERE my first ever image of a Merlin was in the can!!!

Merlin
I rattled off over 150 images of it (Adey 300+) before it flew off at speed along the coast, I haven't as yet had the time to go through/edit all my images but what a bird, (female/1st year juvenile) I suspect? I couldn't get over how lucky I was to have witnessed it hunting let alone to have captured and image of it, I do feel truly blessed.


Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon, hopefully...........

Monday, 20 June 2016

Kingfisher catch up........

Its been a while since my last post, apologies on that count but any free time I've had recently has been spent checking out my owl nest boxes (initial signs are looking promising but more about that in a future post). Add to the lack of free time the fact I have been in France for the last week or so following England in the Euro's it's no surprise my blog has been dormant!

Anyway, earlier this morning (Sunday) found me out at dawn, my initial target was to visit the Kingfisher family that I have been monitoring for the last 2 months. I knew there was a chance that whilst away I'd miss the juveniles fledging the nest? Upon arrival the male was seen on his usual perch guarding the nearby nest hole, occasionally another Kingfisher would dart by and the male would drop down off his perch and follow in hot pursuit. I was initially confused by this activity but then one of the "fly by" Kingfishers landed on a nearby post and I was able to confirm that it was in fact a juvenile bird! This was great news that they had raised a family, but slightly disappointing I wasn't here to witness all the action. With the lack of sightings of the female Kingfisher I can only come to the conclusion that she must be tucked away inside the nest chamber busily laying her second clutch? 

Before the rain became too heavy I was able to spend some quality time with the male bird and captured a few images of him in various poses, below.




 

Hopefully back to my owls very soon, it's fingers crossed that all this heavy rain we are having at the moment doesn't have too much of a detrimental effect on their breeding success.

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon................

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Nosy Neighbors........

Whilst out checking owl nest boxes at the weekend one of my landowner friends told me he'd seen a woodpecker flying away from a newly excavated hold along one of his tracks. I needed no further encouragement and went off to investigate.....

The said tree and then the hole were soon located, it was a bit awkward getting the car into the right position as the track was very narrow, but after a bit of back and forth shunting I was ready. As is the norm with most woodpecker holes it was quite high, this meant pointing the camera up a quite an angle, this made it most uncomfortable as I sat there straining my neck.

As I waited for a bird to show matters were made worse when it started to drizzle, this obviously lowered the light levels which in turn made getting a usable shutter speed even more demanding than just coping with the heavy shade from the tree canopy. I could cope with the additional challenge of the low light but then it started to rain heavier and due to the angle of the camera the lens started to get splattered with water droplets. I persevered and after the camera had been brought back into the car for its sixth or seventh wipe down a woodpecker showed.

I was surprised it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker as all along I was expecting a Green Woodpecker? Anyhow, it was a nice male bird (red on the back of the head) it shuffled slowly upwards around the tree trunk, most of those images were too blurred to use as all I could muster at ISO 1000 was 1/50th of a second shutter speed. However, when it reached the hole it did hold its pose long enough for me to attain this first image.      

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Male
The Great Spotted didn't hang around long and was soon on its way, this gave me another opportunity to withdraw the camera once more for yet another quick dry off.

The next half an hour or so was very quiet, then the rain ceased slightly which coincided with another woodpecker visit. But this is when I got totally confused as this time it was a Green Woodpecker that visited the cavity?? 

I rattled off a few shots and made the most of the slightly improved light levels (now at 1/200 second). This woodpecker, a female (lack of a red mustachial stripe) posed lovely at the hole entrance for me, I was reveling in this viewing, by far the best ever I'd had of this species.

Green Woodpecker - female

The brilliant views of her then came to an abrupt end as she flew off, initially I couldn't understand why she'd left but then I noticed the male Great Spotted Woodpecker had returned, he was this time a little closer and in much better light which lent for much better photography conditions.



Then the fun and even more confusion (on my behalf) set in, the Green Woodpecker again returned which in turn shooed off the Great Spotted. This time she held her pose for a good while and I was allowed (by her) to spend a bit more time trying to get a better exposure. 


Then whilst I was watching and photographing her another movement caught my eye up near the hole, no it wasn't the Great Spotted that had returned yet again but the male Green Woodpecker (red mustachial stripe) that had stuck his head out of the hole!


So after all that confusion it appears that the cavity did after all belong to the Green Woodpeckers and the Great Spotted was just being nosy, or maybe just a good neighbor?

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again I hope?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Watching and waiting..........

During the course of the last two evenings I have been spent quite some time parked up at two different potential Barn Owl locations/buildings where boxes have been recently erected. Things seem to be on a real roll at the moment as at both locations single owls where seen, I can't as yet confirm if they are actually using the box (or if there is a pair) as I didn't enter either of the buildings to check.

Last night (Weds) this bird below offered some nice views as it perched up in the fading light. 


At the second site that I visited this evening (Thurs) this single bird was seen perched up on this old rustic gate after a wait of almost 2 hours. At the time of showing it was pouring with rain and consequently it didn't venture far from the barn.   


I will be re-visiting both sites again within the next week or so to see if there is a pair in residence and if any breeding has commenced?

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

Monday, 16 May 2016

What a surprise!

Due to the fact that my owling wing man is currently laid up recovering from a hip operation our Barn Owl box checking this year has been somewhat delayed. It isn't really a job I can do on my own as it involves climbing up and down ladders, so things will just have to wait until Col is fit again. Anyhow, I was pestered last night by the Mrs to accompany her with a bit of dog walking, reluctantly I agreed, (but unknown to her at the time I secretly had another motive to go?).  

About this time last year Col and I made and erected 4 Barn Owl boxes that we sited in the western part of our study area. These were the first boxes in this area and we didn't even know if there were any Barn Owls local or not?  So after agreeing with the Mrs to take the dog (Patch) for a walk I suggested where we should go, (oh you can see where this is going now).  

The 4 boxes in question are all situated in old buildings/hovels within an area of approx 2 square miles, too far to walk between them all during an evening stroll but maybe we could have two or three small walks? Obviously I didn't have any checking equipment with me (ladders, drills etc) otherwise the Mrs would have smelt a rat right from the off, therefore I had to be content with the casual walk past an old building and then just casually pop in to see if there was any activity or evidence that Barn Owls had been visiting?

At the first location the plan went perfect (well nearly!) just as we approached the building I pointed it out to the Mrs and said "oh look a barn, I'll be back in a mo, just going to check it out". Luckily in this building there was a couple of old oil drums that allowed me to climb up to the box. I quickly got the screwdriver out of my pocket (I'd stashed that earlier) and started to unscrew the door, just then the Mrs walked in. She saw I'd got the screwdriver with me and instantly knew what I'd been up to, I was rumbled!! But luck was deffo on my side as before she could speak a Barn Owl flew out of the box, yeeeeeesssss!! I could see that she was as excited as me to see the Barn Owl and no further explanations on my behalf were necessary, thankfully. 

In this box were four chicks and 1 unhatched egg, the eldest chick was nearest to the door, (see crappy i-phone image below) and I'd estimate it to have been around a week old?


Walking back to the car I obviously had some explaining to do, but I managed to wriggle out of getting a rollicking and persuaded her that beings we were in the area we may as well go and check the other 3 new boxes, see agreed!

At the second site my good fortunes continued, just as I walked into the building a pair of Barn Owls were flushed from a post they'd been perched on against the far wall, they had obviously been using this location for a while as the floor was littered with pellets and poo!  The nest box here is quite high and there was no way I could check it out without my ladders, I was more than satisfied to just see them and I'm sure that this pair were new residents and almost certain breeders, get in there!!!!

The third site/farm we checked belongs to my cousins in-laws, here we chatted on the front lawn for a while and they said that no owls were using my box but I was more than welcome to go and have a look. As we all entered the building the first thing I saw was a fresh primary feather from a Barn Owl, it lay on the floor right beneath the box!  I suspected it must have belonged to one of the birds from either of the two sites we'd already visited, maybe it was using this site as a roosting location? 

Dave (the farmer) eagerly fetched me a pair of ladders, up I went and after a light scratch on the side of the box out flew a Barn Owl!!! It flew over the heads of the observers below and out of the window, if you could have seen the look on Dave and his Mrs's face, it was of utter disbelief! 

I didn't need to remove the door on this box as I could peer into the entrance hole, it was now my turn to disbelieve what I was seeing, (image below) two chicks and three eggs, unbelievable!!!


By now the Mrs was very eager to go and check out the fourth box, here we parked up opposite the old barn and whilst I was explaining to her that there was no way I could check out this box as again ladders were needed a bloody Barn Owl flew out!!! 

This was a crazy crazy Barn Owl evening, I just can't believe that we have managed to encourage Barn Owls into these four different boxes so quickly, and because they are quite close to each other too, just what is going on????

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Cuckoo......

Not much doing at the mo, too busy celebrating Leicester City winning the premier league. It has been one long party and booze up since last Monday when it was official that we were champions of England, unbelievable!! 

I did have one evening out in between all the chaos, I went in search of some newly arrived summer migrants and photo opportunities. Along the Hamilton to Goadby field road in the east of the county I located up to a dozen Wheatear, nice to see but too far for any images. Also there were two Yellow Wagtails, a single female Whinchat and a fly over Hobby, again all too far away to capture any decent images. 

However, during my "migrant search" I did chance upon this stunning male Cuckoo. Initially it gave its presence away by its distinctive call, it didn't come as close I'd I have liked and the below image is quite a heavy crop, but I am happy!


The only other "usable" image I managed was not of a migrant bird but a resident that I just don't see that often anymore? A superbly conditioned male Grey Partridge, he gave me a great showing calling and wing flapping along the side of the car.


Sorry but this is a very short post, not because I don't have much to talk about but more to do with I'm leaving in an hour to go to the King Power Stadium to watch the mighty City play Everton in our last home game of the season. Regardless off the outcome, after the game we are going to be presented with the Premier trophy, (I'm sure you have heard about it on the news, ha ha) let the party begin!!!!!!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Leicester City

My team, Premiership Champions, DREAMLAND!!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Catching up, late April.......

Hi all,

Since the finding of the White Stork a couple of weeks ago (see last post) things have somewhat settled back down to the norm. The weather of late has been a bit hit and miss but now the lighter nights are with us there has been a few opportunities to get out and about.

During early April Col Green and I made a few more Barn Owl boxes, these have now been erected in some carefully selected locations, time will tell if our strategy was creditable? We have also checked a few older nest boxes, in some the usual non invited culprits have taken up squatting rights, namely Stock Doves, Squirrels, Jackdaws and Starlings. It hasn't all been bad news though, we've also got Barn Owls in three boxes and Little Owls in a couple. It is still early days and our box checking will gather momentum in a few weeks time when Col has recovered from having his new hip fitted, oh yes he's going to be a blur as he zips up and down those ladders.........

On the owl/bird watching front I've had some superb viewings at various different locations around the Leicestershire countryside, obviously owls do dominate. Now that the breeding season is upon us the male Little Owls do seem to be easier to locate than in the winter, that is if its a nice sunny windless evening! It is still very much a waiting game and not every site has owls in residence (or not ones I've seen yet?) but when a bird does show it can be amazing just how bold they can be?




I've also invested more time over the weekends with my "church owls" (featured in a couple of posts ago). Here it is very much a case of how lucky you can get? As with the majority of my owl photography I initially spend a long time (sometimes years) making observations from distance, you get to know when its a good time to visit and also when its not! You also get to know which perches the owls prefer, I then set myself up in an advantageous position and wait.............. At this site I have gone through this same routine on many occasions and come away with nothing! However, when luck is on your side you do get rewarded for all the preparation and dedication. I'd had my minds eye an image of one of the owls perched up on a headstones, I did fulfill this objective on a recent visit but at the time I was too close and the light not so good. So another few visits were made and eventually I have got nearer to what I'm trying to achieve, this next set are not the best Little Owl views/images I've ever had but I'd like to think they are a little more interesting?





 Away from the Little Owls I have also been very privileged to have seen the Osprey hunting again at a body of water in the south of the county (no not Rutland). Mostly the views are distant but occasionally it does come a little closer and an image is attained. In this next shot the prey fish that the Osprey has just caught can be clearly identified as being a Jack Pike. 


There isn't much time that elapses without me going down to the local river and parking up with a hope of seeing the Kingfishers. I think breeding has commenced here too because only the male has been seen lately, and that is not too often either.  


As we all know now is the time when the migrants start coming in to the UK, I haven't had much luck with photographing any of them yet, however this handsome Yellow Wagtail proved to be a very confining individual and as it sang its head off it allowed me to get incredibly close!


The best bird during the last few weeks has been the on off showing of a Short Eared Owl in the east of the county. I've stood for hours in eagerness of it coming out to hunt whilst at the same time questioning my sanity as I braved the dropping temperatures and cutting winds.


But the brief and fleeting evening views were well worth the wait as it hunted back and forth in front of me whilst being bathed in the glorious golden setting sun.





Without a doubt the image of the Short Eared Owl that I was most pleased with was this next one. I was very lucky with the diffused and uncluttered background that makes the bird stand out all the better. But just as it flew past it dipped its nearest wig down slightly allowing great views of the whole of its back, in great light too!


That's all for now folks, hopefully catch up again soon......................

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

White Stork!!!!!!!

Col Green and I were conducting some more checking out of our owl nest boxes late yesterday at one site in the south of the county where (not too far from Countesthorpe) where we have several boxes sited. Whilst there the land owner told me and said there was a "strange white bird" walking around in one of his fields. I initially suspected Little Egret but he was adamant it was something else so I agreed to go and investigate......

We drove along some farm tracks to the last location the bird had been seen. As soon as we pulled up the bird came into sight, although distant (200 yards or so) I knew straight away that this was no Little Egret.

Blimey I was looking through my binoculars at a White Stork!!! I still didn't get too excited as it could be an escapee, from this distance no leg rings could be made out so it looked promising? I then called Col (who was checking boxes at another location on the estate) and he initially though I was pulling his leg. Ten minutes later we stood shoulder to shoulder watching the bird, it was at this stage that we both agreed this bird must be the real thing as neither of us could make out any leg rings and it was absolutely spot on for the time of year.

We then discussed putting out the news, sadly the landowner was adamant that he did NOT want hoards of folk all over his land and we had no option but to respect his wishes. We did try to work out a compromise but as the only access point and viewing location meant going right through the middle of the farm we reluctantly agreed. 

Luckily both Col and I had our camera kit with us, so after taking some distant record shots we drove along a dirt track and parked up. Our theory was the bird would hopefully work its way towards us enabling some better and closer up images. This plan worked perfectly and as the bird gorged on earth worms it did come closer and closer (50 yards would be a guess?) and the images below were bagged.

Posing nicely

Feeding on earth worms
Whilst watching the bird we did make a couple of phone calls (county recorder, LROS news line) to explain the dilemma we were in with respect to the restrictions of putting the news out, we made assurances that if there was any change we would call back. Well there was a change, sadly it was a negative one, as without notice the bird took flight and headed off high in a westerly direction.  

Flying off
So a great bird for Leicestershire, great views were had even though it was for only a short period. Apologies must be made to any birders who would have welcomed viewing the Stork, we tried our best but the logistics just couldn't be agreed.

I'll be back again soon with another post, more Little Owls I suspect!

  

Friday, 8 April 2016

Right place, right time!

Yesterday evening I was out with Daz doing a spot of "general birding" in the south of the county. We hadn't seen much of note apart from a single fly past Red Kite. We weren't surprised that none of our main target, Little Owls hadn't been seen as the weather was very intermittent,  one minute sunny the next it was pouring down.

As we ventured along the lanes of South Leicestershire we neared a body of water (no not Rutland) where we parked up to see what was about. A couple of Little Egrets at distance, a few Tufted Ducks out in the middle, plenty of Sand Martins skimming the waters surface feeding on flys, a Grey Heron in the reeds and several circling Buzzards up high.

Then out of the blue a flying Osprey came into view!!! It was flying straight across the lake towards us. Through my binoculars a fish could clearly be seen in its talons. At the time neither of us had our cameras out and before we knew it the bird had passed overhead without a single image being taken.

As the bird was flying away from us it seemed to be keeping parallel to the lane where we were parked, we were soon in the car and in pursuit.  As I drove Daz kept an eye on the bird and within a minute we'd caught it up and then overtaken it. Once we had managed and good lead we pulled up and got the cameras out, we then waited and as if to order the Osprey deviated slightly away from the fields and flew straight at and over us!!!



All of this action, from stopping the car to the Osprey flying overhead was over in a matter of seconds, luckily I have pre-set a custom function on my camera for just such indecencies, I turned the dial to this setting and prayed I'd be lucky! I did manage a sequence of 14 images with these two above images probably being the best? 

A superb encounter and a great bird to see, especially as it had a fish in it's talons. Obvious we have no idea as to where the bird was going, I suppose it could have been a bird from the Rutland breeding programme that was having a wander about (although that's miles away!) or maybe a Scottish bird still on it's way north or even better still maybe a bird that has set up a new territory in Leicestershire?

Thanks for stopping by, catch up again soon..............

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Kingfishers - Still showing.

Another visit has been made down to the local river, an hour session parked up near to one of the favoured perches that the Kingfishers use resulted in two "stop offs". Initially it was frustrating as the birds whizzed up and down and didn't stop, however the female bird (orange lower mandible) did eventually oblige and posed nicely for a few fleeting seconds.

Female
I watched the male bird land on a perch further down the river, from here he dived into the water and emerge with a fish. Lucky for me he then landed on the perch right in front of me and then devoured his catch.

Male
I was surprised to see both birds as I would have thought by now they'd be sitting on eggs, especially as I witnessed them mating over a week ago?

Only a short post, catch up again soon...............

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Holy Owls.......

A pair of Little Owls that I have been monitoring for at least seven years have recently been evicted from their nest location by a pair of Jackdaws. Not good news I know but after several return visits to this site I have eventually managed to re-locate the pair, in a nearby church yard. 

As with most sites that I stake out there is always an element of luck as to when the birds will show? One has to be prepared for loads of waiting around when nothing happens and this site proved to be one of the more stubborn ones! However, when the birds did eventually come out (after five visits and about ten hours of waiting in total) they did put on a great show for me.  As with most rural churches there are lots of interesting features and choices for perches around the grounds. The birds didn't disappoint at all as they landed on a variety of headstones, walls and fences. 







This unusual location offered up some quite unique photo opportunities for me, the time invested was well rewarded even though the birds only showed for about ten minutes!

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