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Monday, 10 October 2016

Catching Up With The Little Owls - 22nd Sep. to 9th Oct., 2016

This year has not been the happiest of years for me, as far as the observation of  Little Owls is concerned. The year started off well enough, but then, in March, the observation rate plummeted to levels way below previous years. After three months of this, I lost heart, and found that I was putting very little effort into owl watching, primarily just recording the birds on the route that pal John and I regularly take between home and Rutland Water.

In mid- September, we noted a small upturn in the number of birds we were seeing, and I found that I was starting to take heart. I've now started actively going out owling again, and already I'm feeling more positive about matters.

Thursday, 22nd September

My two previous posts have covered other aspects of this day, but I've saved the Little Owls until now. This was a Thursday on which John was unable to accompany me to Rutland Water, so I was left to my own devices.

My first Little Owl sighting was at my Site No.23. This is, I believe, not a nesting site, but an irregular roosting site. Only once have I seen two owls here. The place they favour most is an RSJ roof support. If disturbed, they just disappear up the web of the joist behind the cladding.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
Further on, at my Site No.42, I found another LO. The owls share their time between a building that is used as a store room and a nest hole in a nearby tree. There was breeding here this year, although only one juvenile was seen. The owls here are the most nervous I  have come across. Often they will disappear the moment John or I get out of the car in our parking spot, 120 metres away on the other side of the road and behind a hedge! On this occasion, I was a little more lucky, and managed to get a shot from the roadside, standing behind a hedge and tree only 65 metres away.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.42
It had been well over a year (possibly two years?) since I'd tried a closer approach to an owl at this site, so I decided that a walk along the footpath that crosses the field was in order. I did my usual trick of not looking at the owl until I gauged that I'd reached the position that I wanted to take my shot from. I then turned with the camera in front of my face - and it was still there!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.42
I'd got to a point 45 metres from the owl (measured on Google Earth). However, as soon as it saw that I'd seen it, it was off.

On the way back from Rutland Water, I found a LO at my Site No.34. This site is one of constant ups and downs, with the birds getting evicted from their nest tree by Jackdaws and/or Rooks most years. This year was no exception, although we found that they'd had a successful breeding (again, only one juvenile observed), by using a hole in a nearby tree. After this, all the birds, except the juvenile seemed to disappear. Recently we found an adult bird had returned to the original nest tree. Here's an image taken this day.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
The last owl sighting this day was back at my Site No. 23, where the owl had moved from the RSJ down onto the drainpipe below it - possibly just the fourth time I've seen it there. It is very rarely, however, that the owls are seen here anywhere else but on one of those two perches!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
Thursday, 29th September

This was an afternoon out with John, for another visit to Rutland Water.

I found a LO at my Site No.02, on the way to pick up John. This site is now giving considerable cause for concern as the roof is in an advanced state of collapse. Sightings here are currently somewhat sporadic.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02
We had another sighting at my Site No.34, but the owl was on a distant fence post in poor light and I didn't attempt any photos.

Friday, 30th September

My wife, Lindsay, and I went out to a café for lunch at a place that was opposite my LO Site No.03. The old Horse Chestnut tree that was the nest site has rapidly been decaying and by spring last year only had one branch left on it! My last sighting of an owl here was on 30th April last year. 

This year I was disappointed to see that all that was left of the nest tree was the lower half of the trunk. As my wife and I approached the café, I gazed wistfully at the nest tree and the nearby favoured roosting trees.

We had a most enjoyable lunch, and in the course of a conversation with the proprietor, I mentioned the long-departed owls that were once over the road.

My wife and I left, and as we pulled away, there was a Little Owl on the old nest tree!!!! I didn't have a camera with me - not even my phone!

That evening, I had a disturbing thought - last time I chatted with the land-owner where the nest tree was, he was saying that they were considering remodelling their garden but hadn't made their minds up about what they would do with it. The weekend was coming, and what if they decided that it was time to take down the remains of the tree!!

Saturday, 1st October

Armed with a note to inform the landowners of my discovery the previous day, I returned to Site No.03. I pulled up on the road at a spot where I had a fair view of the tree and sat with my window open. No owl was in sight but, a couple of minutes after my arrival, a familiar shape flew from below my horizon to a tree which was the owls' favourite daytime roost. I went to check it out but, sadly, it had stopped in a position where only a record shot could be obtained. I headed back towards the car to pick up the note to put into the letter box, intending to then sit it out in the hope the owl would return. 

On my way back, I bumped into the couple who own the land, who were both armed with strimmers and about to have a clearing session in the garden. They seemed genuinely excited to know that they had owls in the garden again, and assured me that the remains of the tree would not be disturbed. Happy in this knowledge, and seeing little point in hanging around if there was going to be a protracted period of disturbance, I set off to investigate a location where I'd seen a Little Owl the previous November. Unfortunately, it started raining just before I got there, and when I was ten minutes from my car, so I headed back across the fields, getting a mild soaking for my trouble!

Sunday, 2nd October

I was back to my LO Site No.03 and the owls was there once more. This time I got a shot.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.03
I didn't hang around here, as I wanted to check another site, where I last saw an owl in July, but had found the nest building (an old army mess hut) had been taken over by Jackdaws.

I arrived to find an owl sitting out on a distant post and with difficult lighting conditions for photography.


Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.17
I then went to investigate round the nest site buildings, first checking a building that I've only twice seen an owl in. There was no owl there but, as I turned round, this sight greeted me - only about 7 metres away in the nest hut!

'The Self-Framing Owl'   -   Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.17
I was more than a little surprised by this sight, and even more surprised that all the images were in focus in spite of being taken through dirty glass. Here's a tighter crop from another frame.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.17
I'm relatively certain that this is a different owl to the first one seen.

Thursday, 6th October

On my way to John's for our regular afternoon out, I called at my LO Site No.02. Here a LO saw me before I saw it as it flew - which is unfortunate, because it had been sitting in a place where I'd never seen one sitting before.

A Little Owl was seen at Site No.23, but it was on the usual RSJ so I won't bother you with another photo.

A LO was also seen at Site No.34, and I did take some photos, the first of which were badly over-exposed. However, if I hadn't taken the over-exposed ones I might not have noticed the second owl sitting in the shadows behind the first. You can just detect it in this next image.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
Sunday, 9th October

Owling sessions don't always yield results, and visiting two sites (not visited for a few months) drew a blank, and an attempt to visit a third site was thwarted by a boisterous herd of young cattle. I ended up photographing Marsh Tits in Calke Park!

I'm feeling quite fired-up about owling again. Long may it last!!

I'm not sure what the subject of my next post will be.

Thank you for dropping by

30 comments:

  1. Wonderful photos of this beautiful owl!

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    1. Thank you, Linda. They are delightful creatures to observe!

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  2. I am delighted that your interest is back and that the Little Owls are around again. I only wish I could get a photo of the ones around here, but the only ones I have seen, are distant on fields that belong to French farmers who I do not know. I hear them often when in the garden but I have just not seen them recently, they used to sit on the wires right by our house before I acquired a telephoto lens!!
    Glad that you have appeared to have rescued the tree and that it will not be cut down.
    Have a good week Diane

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    1. Thank you, Diane. One day you'll get some photos of the Little Owls near you. I await that day with eager anticipation!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  3. Hi Richard, that header window shot is an absolute stunner, love the cobwebs. See what you mean about site 34, you can see a second bird so we did have a three Owl day. Good walk this afternoon. See you Thursday. Regards John

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    1. Thank you, John. I suspect that might be my favourite photo this year!

      It seems I've actually got a shot from yesterday that is recognisable (just!) as a Jack Snipe - I think it was a bit ambitious trying to photograph it when the light was so bad, and it was so far away, that most of the time we couldn't even see where it was!

      Looks as if it's going to be a bit windy this Thursday - but there's still time for it to change.

      All the best - - Richard

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  4. Hey Richard! Oh, how lovely pictures you have taken. That's a little owl! Greetings

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    1. Thank you, Anne. Little Owl is my favourite bird!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  5. They really do have so much character in their faces. Brilliant pictures.

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    1. Yes, they really do have wonderful faces, Fin. Thank you for your kind words and for dropping by.

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  6. Fantastic Little Owl photos, you make them look prefect Richard.

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    1. Very kind words, indeed, Bob. Thank you!

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  7. Hello Richard!:) I have devoured each word of your fascinating account of your various sightings of the endearing Little Owl. I'm so pleased that your enthusiasm has returned and you got some really great shots of them. I must try out your technique, when a bird and I are aware of each others presence,..crossing my fingers that it will still be there when I turn around to take a photo.:))

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    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words, Sonjia. I'm not sure if my technique will work for other birds, but it often does with the owls. The other trick is never walk directly towards them but approach in a long zig-zag. It might mean that you walk ten times the distance, but that way the owl thinks you are walking past it, and not threatening it.

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  8. Hi Richard: Wow! This is like a Pegler post of old. I am glad to see you reconnecting (if that's the right term) with Little Owls. Perhaps you and John will rededicate yourself to finding new sites. Given your past successes in doing this I have no doubt that concerted searches would be fruitful. Good luck!!!!!

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    1. Thank you, David. I'm hoping to spend a fair bit of time this winter seaching for new sites, although trecking across fields is difficult these days.

      It certainly feels good being back with the owls again. It's a great antidote to the winter blues!

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  9. So lovely to see the Little Owls again, it's great you are finding them. I love the picture of the Little Owl looking out of the window :-)

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    1. Thank you, Lin. I'm sure that the Little Owl loking out of the window will always be one of my favourites!

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  10. Great post and great to see LOs back in your posts!
    I can certainly understand how frustrating it can be not to find them at the sites you usually checked.
    Is your local nature conservation interested in your obs?
    I find this LO behind the window pane fantastic.... The observed observing you from its 'home'! Quite funny!!
    Many thanks for your kind comments Richard, as I was busy with friends :)
    Looking forward to see more LOs now!
    Keep well and share warm hugs with Lindsay

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    1. Thank you, Noushka. Yes, I do keep quite detailed records of my owl sightings, recording (for every sighting) date, time of day, weather (including temperature), where the owl was, and what it was doing. These records are submitted to the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society and to the County Recorder. I used to submit records monthly, but I do it much less frequently these days, but always submit the full set.

      I don't keep records(other than photos)of any other birds - except those in my garden, for which I keep a daily record of numbers and species (and include mammals too - we have Hedgehogs, Squirrels, and Foxes). These are just for my own information, however.

      I'm sure that the Little Owl behind the window pane will be my favourite for a long while - delighted that you enjoyed it!

      Take good care - - - Richard

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  11. Hello Richard, I am glad you are optimistic again about the LO and the sites you observe them. The photos are wonderful and I agree with Noushka that the one behind the glas window is a great succes. Just love it. Thank you for your reaction on my latest blog and I put an answer on your question in a reply.
    Take good care and regards to you and your wife Lindsay.
    Roos

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    1. Thank you, Roos. The last few weeks have been a real boost to my spirits, but that day with the owl in the window was very special for me. It was a really lucky situation. The last time I saw an owl in this window was on 3rd July, 2011, when it was a juvenile looking out, and I was not in a good position for a photo.

      My very best wishes - - - Richard

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  12. I have to laugh at the LO behind the window. Some really positive news not only on the LO front but the couple who have decided not to remodel their garden and seem happy to have the owl in their garden too.

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    1. Thanks, Doug. I hope that things are starting to pick up again with the owls. The picture will become clearer when the leaves are gone off the trees. Sadly, I find off-road exploring a bit difficult these days.

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    2. Oh, and thanks for the 'likes' and 're-tweets'!!

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  13. Brilliant post,so pleased the little owls are doing well,it's very rewarding to see how much you care and monitor there numbers,a big well done to you Richard,loved the images from behind glass,amazing captures.
    John.

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    1. Thank you, John. Just seen I never replied to your comment - sorry!!!

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  14. I think this is so great!
    I love these little owls and you let you host some wonderful pictures. You had not seen a lot of owls and that was with me this year. A litter of which a young owl was under the eaves death in the garden. I'm alone and the parents have seen this year and beyond no small stone owls.
    My compliments for your photos of this lovely little owls.
    Greetings, Helma

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    1. Thank you for visiting, Helma. I'm very sorry that I missed replying to your comment until now!

      I'm sorry to hear that you had a dead young owl in the garden. It must have been very upsetting for you.

      With my best wishes - - Richard

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    2. Thank you for your comment Richard.
      It was very disappointing to find a young owl dead :-(

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