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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Little Owls In July, Part 2. - 13th to 18th July, 2013

In my last post, I noted that I'd found a new Little Owl site (No.41) and that I'd now seen a juvenile at this site, and at my LO Site No.02, although I could do with better photos. I'd also only confirmed single juveniles at these sites.

On 13th July my wife, daughter, and granddaughter set off for a week's holiday in Devon. I had been looking forward to a week's wall-to-wall owling. However, two things messed up these plans somewhat. Firstly, I made the mistake of promising my wife that I'd have got to a specific point in a construction project in the garden. Secondly, it turned out to be one of the hottest weeks on record! This last fact spoilt my progress on the garden project - I was having to take numerous refreshment breaks! It also messed up the owling as, generally, it was too hot for the owls to be out during the day. This meant that there was double pressure on my time in the early morning and late evening and, sadly (a promise is a promise), the garden project took precedence.

However, I got off to a good start. Immediately the girls had departed, I set off with my hide to Site No.02.  I set up in a slightly different position to that on my previous session and, after a couple of hours, a juvenile Little Owl appeared pretty-much exactly where I hoped it would. If only its feet had been more visible!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02
After a while, one of the adults appeared on the chimney, and the juvenile flew to join it. The adult was looking rather dishevelled, but I didn't manage any photos.

After returning home to cook my lunch, and a session with the garden project, I packed myself a picnic and headed off to do some evening owling. My main focus was my new Site No.41, but on the way I found three Red Kites at my LO Site No.21.

I stopped just short of my LO Site No.41 and put the camo netting over the roof of the car (I was in the Smart) so it obscured the driver's side window, and then continued and parked on the grass the opposite side of the road to the nest tree. Because of the netting and a relatively limited field of view it was a little while before I noticed an adult owl dozing in the branches almost above the road. This owl stayed there for well over an hour, most of the time with its eyes closed.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
It was about half an hour after the above photo was taken that a juvenile emerged from the nest hole. Unfortunately it didn't stay long as the farmer and his wife appeared on the scene in their vehicle and loudly called the sheep in. The bird dipped back into the hole. I'm never going to get a good image of a bird at this nest hole unless someone does me the favour of pruning some of the dead twigs in front of the hole!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.41
About half an hour after the juvenile emerged, a second adult bird appeared and landed on a distant telegraph pole. At first it was on one of the footholds on the far side of the pole, and I could only see the tip of its tail. Then it sat on top of the pole, but the photos included an unsightly confusion of wires. After that it favoured footholds on the near side of the pole, but it was still well concealed here, and was not easy to see through the netting in the low light which now prevailed.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
As the darkness drew in, the sleepy one in the tree flew off, directly away from me. The one on the pole was then paying visits to various parts of the field before returning to the pole. It then disappeared for a short while, and then it was suddenly on a fence beside the nest tree, feeding a juvenile. It was a very difficult shot as, although it looks 'back lit', in fact the birds were in deep shadow, but there was still some light (from behind me) on the grass behind the birds, so a record shot only.

Little Owl (juvenile and adult) - my Site No.41
I'm not sure if this was a second juvenile, particularly as I now know there are two entrances to the nest cavity! After this, it was time to go home, with no other owls seen on the way.

The  next day (14th July) I took an evening ride out to Calke Park to check on my LO Sites Nos.31 and 32. I'd all but given up, as it was getting dark, when a Little Owl flew from an area I'd not seen one in before, and landed in the tree that that I was standing under. I think that this is the closest that I've been to a Little Owl when not in some sort of hide, or in a ringing (banding) situation. Unfortunately, I was right in the corner of the area that I had access to, and there was no way I could move to a better position without trespassing onto a well-monitored property! It was frustrating, as the bird was behind a branch and leaves almost directly above me!

frustrating Little Owl ! - my Site No.31
The next day 15th July was also an evening only session, although I took a picnic meal out with me. I first called at my LO Site No.17, previously visited on 6th July. As I arrived, the farmer leaned out of his window and shouted that he'd seen three owls on the roof the previous night - this sounded promising!

A quick recce produced an adult bird on a post the other side of a paddock (which flew off as soon as it saw me) and a juvenile was seen through the window of the old Second World War hut which is their home.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
As the objective was to sit in my car and look out for owls whilst I ate my tea, I moved on to somewhere I could do this - sort of! - my Site No.03.

On arrival I didn't risk disturbing the birds by getting out of the car and looking round. Instead I just sat eating my picnic, and waited. I was half way through the first half of my ham baguette when, looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw an owl sitting on a telegraph pole. I've never seen one on a pole at this site before. My first reaction was "great - the sun's going to be perfect for a shot", and turned the car round to get a bit closer to it.  However, I'd reckoned without the tricks that can be played by a mirror image - it was on the opposite side of the road, and straight into the bright sun! I'm amazed, therefore, that I got any sort of image. It sat there quite happily whilst I sorted myself out.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
I went back to finish my picnic and, half an hour later, spotted a juvenile in a chestnut tree. Its position wasn't visible from sitting in the car, and I only got a record shot, but it was the fourth of my sites with a juvenile in evidence.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.03
I decided that I needed a good session at my Site No.17, so settled on an earlyish start the following day (16th July). I arrived at 06:03 to find, through a gap in the hedge, a juvenile out on the roof of the nest building about a hundred yards (metres) away. It was only seconds before it spotted me and was off.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
I went back to my car, fetched the hide and tripod, and set up in the sheep pasture opposite the hut. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before a juvenile owl (presumably the same one) appeared on the roof of the nearby tractor shed, and checked out my hide, doing the usual cute dipping and stretching thing that young owls do when assessing a new situation.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
It didn't stay long but, again, I am assuming that it was the same juvenile that appeared 5 minutes later, not far from where I hoped it would appear, and again checked out my hide from much closer quarters. This time it stayed a long while, and I got through a fair few frames! Here are a few.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
I had to wait another 40 minutes before my next owl arrived. This time it was an adult, but it appeared where I hoped that a juvenile would appear, as this was the 'framed' shot that I wanted.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
The owl stayed there for about a minute, before flying back into the hut. The last frame I took of it was in flight, but I'd been set up for the static shot with slow speed and small aperture to get a good depth of field. so it was unusable. This is the shot just before it took off.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
Inspired by this nearly flight shot, I altered the camera settings to give me much higher speed and the hope of another opportunity. This never happened, but resulted in my next images being of a poorer quality, due to a vary small depth of field. 

The next owl to appear was the juvenile again - this time on a different part of the roof edge.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
As you can see, this image (and the next one) would have been better if the structure of the building was more in focus. 

I heard a warning call from an adult owl and the juvenile disappeared, to be replaced almost immediately by the adult in exactly the same place!

Little Owl - my Site No.17
As soon as this owl departed I decided that, as it was now gone 08:00, it was time to pack up and go home for some breakfast.

An excursion on 17th July resulted in absolutely no owl sightings, but my pal Titus and I were on Osprey duty at Rutland Water on Thursday 18th. On the way there, the 'pole sitter' Little Owl was out at Site No.41, but in a new position. He certainly likes man-made structures!

Little Owl - my Site No.41
Titus and I got out of the car, and it was soon off to the roof of a nearby farm building.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
On the way back home, after our turn of duty, we saw juveniles at Site No.41, and at Site No.31 - the first confirmation of successful breeding at this site. However, no photos were obtained.

This was my last owling session before the girls arrived back home on the Saturday - I thought that I'd better get on with the garden project, and I actually fulfilled my promise!

Since then, I've only seen two owls, with no photos, but I hope to rectify that soon!

I still do not have any evidence that I've got more than one juvenile owl at any of my sites, although I have my suspicions!


  1. Fancy knowing where theres 41 little owl sites,unbelievable.
    Fantastic images Richard,keep them coming.

    1. Actually, John, this is the tally since I first became interested in owls nearly four years ago - so just over ten new LO sites a year on average. Sadly, many of these sites are now 'sterile' - i.e. the owls are no longer there. This last winter seems to have resulted in a massive loss of active sites. I will probably not get a clearer picture of the situation until the leaves are off the trees in the autumn.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

  2. Lovely images, the juveniles are cute and comical.

    1. Thank you Linda. They're even more cute and comical watch live because of their behaviour. Maybe I should try a session using the video facility of my camera - don't think I've ever uased it before?!

  3. Great images Richard, even if some are missing their feet:) I still haven't found any juveniles at my old sites, it seems they've failed this year or are late.

    1. As usual, I thought of you when I saw that the feet were missing on some, Doug. (for those of you that are not regular readers of my blog, no, Doug is not footless, but he and I both have a thing about birds' feet!!).

      I am under the impression that this last hard, and very long, winter has had a dramtic effect on the owls (as it has on many other species too). As noted in another reply above, I am convinced that owls have disappeared from many locations. In some cases it will be due to the demise of both birds, but there will also be cases of one of a pair perishing, with the obvious imapact on breeding. Also, until comparitively recently, I think that the food supply has been severely reduced, and owls don't reproduce if there is a shortage of food. The vole population is said to have plummeted. Waterlogged ground has made it difficult to get worms. Then the ground suddenly became as hard as iron (also making it difficult to dig for worms). Thankfully, things have improved now, and there are plenty of beetles around to supplement the diet. Fingers crossed for some late broods!

  4. Hello Richard!
    Long time no see!!
    I haven't been blogging much, I have to admit, but this is usual in summer!
    I see you have been quite busy with these Little Owls!
    Good to read things are finally improving them.
    I think many birds and most of the fauna has suffered these last couple of years in Europe.
    You have taken excellent shots although some feet are missing on some pics! LOL!
    Cheers and congratulations, I wish I could see them like this around my place!

    1. Hi Noushka. Sorry I haven't visited for a while. Life's been a little hectic lately! I hadn't realised that you were another foot fetishist!! I'll try and do better next time!

      Thank you for your kind comments - always much appreciated! Richard

    2. Well-well!
      There you go tagging me as a foot fetishist! LOL!!
      That is really very funny!... So don't be surprised if I remember this and remind you in the future.... But it seems that I won't be the only one!! ;-)
      Great, I got a good laugh at this reply of yours, always a welcome treat!!
      Enjoy your bird watching, I am more into dragonflies these days!

    3. Thanks Noushka - I'll await my punishment with eager anticipation!

      I can understand your conversion to dragonflies - could go there myself if I had the right kit!

  5. Stunning 'owl fest', Richard. I particularly like the one on the telegraph pole with the lovely 'ladder' effect of the cable attachments (don't know the proper noun!). Nicely composed.

    1. Thank you Chrisitian. I don't think I've taken a photo of an owl in a more unnatural situation, but the geometric effect of the arrangement appealed to me too! Incidentally, I suspect that it's an electricity pole rather than a telegraph pole - three phases and a neutral.

  6. Richard I just wish I could get a shot of a Little Owl. I suspect they have moved from around here as I used to hear them regularly but not any more. I was lucky enough to see one catch prey the other day just down the road. It landed on the ground just in front of the car, but it was one of the very rare occasions that I did not have the camera with me. I won't tell you what I muttered under my breath! Love your photos, well done. Have a great week Diane

    1. Hi Diane. Thank you for your kind comments. Sorry to hear that you'd left you camera behind when you spotted that one! I can imagine your reaction! Sadly, Little Owls are not known for their longevity, and if the male dies, the female will probably leave and try and find a new male who is holding a territory.

      I hope that you are enjoying Spain. Last time we were in Barcelona, someone snatched my wife's bag from her shoulder, breaking the strap. Amazingly I flew in and managed to retrieve it, but it was an upsetting experience. We went to sit outside a bar in The Ramblas so that my wife could have a drink to steady her nerves, and we witnessed someone else have their bag snatched whilst we sat there. I's put me off going back there. It's nearly as bad as Napoli!!


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