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Monday 22 December 2014

A Celebration - on 22nd December, 2014

The real trigger to my interest in Little Owls started late in 2009 when I was seeing some wonderful images of Little Owls taken by someone (who has now become a good friend!) in my home county of Leicestershire. Having contacted this person, I was very privileged to be taken out on two mornings to learn the field craft associated with Little Owls (my eternal thanks to you - you know who you are!). Three days after my second session, on 20th December, 2009, I found my first Little Owl site. Sadly, the owl disappeared from here early in 2010.

However, it was on 22nd December (only two day after finding Site No.01, and exactly 5 years ago today) that, on my way back to my car after a fruitless walk on the footpaths round what has now become my local patch, that I spotted a Little Owl on top of the chimney stack of a derelict building - beside where I'd parked my car!

This is, therefore, a celebration of five years of my Little Owl Site No.02 - a site which is still going strong today!

- and here is an image taken of that first sighting.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) at my Site No.02 - on 22nd December, 2009
I soon established that there was a pair of owls here, although it was a while before I managed an image of them together.

Little Owls at my Site No.02 - on 16th February, 2010
This next image was taken that same day.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 16th February, 2010
My excitement at the prospect of this pair mating and producing young was dashed when, on 27th May, I found the remains of a Little Owl on the footpath that runs past the building that is their home. I understand that, because the feathers have been plucked rather than severed this is indicative of predation by a bird of prey, rather than something like a fox, and as a Sparrowhawk had been regularly staking out the barn I reckon this was the culprit.

Little Owl feathers from my Site No.02 - on 27th May, 2010
Sightings here became somewhat more sparse that year, as one might expect(!), but the remaining owl did hang on.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 16th November, 2010
The snows in December brought a couple of photo opportunities.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 3rd December, 2010
This next image is not from the same frame as the header that is current when this post is published. The snow flakes are genuine, caused by a gust of wind! This is possibly my favourite of all my Little Owl images.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 7th December, 2010
The following image is never to be repeated as this area was bricked up by the farmer shortly after this was taken.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 21st December, 2010
Sightings continued to be quite sparse during the first half of 2011 and then, to my utter confusion, I saw an adult with two fledged juveniles at the barn on 7th July, 2011! Here are some images from that day.

Little Owls (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 7th July, 2011
I ended up the day with the distinct impression (but no 'proof') that there were three juveniles here, and that I'd possibly seen both adults too.

As usual, when juveniles are starting to 'spread their wings' an adult is never far away. This one was keeping an eye open from a low roof, probably whilst trying to get some rest!

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 13th July, 2011
The juveniles got more and more adventurous and then, all too soon for me, they were gone!

Little Owl (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 22nd July, 2011
The winter that year brought more photo opportunities, including the first one below (from Christmas Eve, almost exactly three years ago) that features on my 'business cards'.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 24th December, 2011
Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 6th January, 2012
Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 26th February, 2012
Both owls were being seen during the first half of 2012, and the first juvenile was spotted on 11th July. At least three juveniles fledged from the site, but I managed very few photos of them that year. Here's a couple.

Little Owl (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 22nd July, 2012
Little Owl (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 4th August, 2012
Little Owls are none too fond of wind and rain, but there are exceptions to this. One day in August, 2012 I was watching an owl from the comfort of my car when, suddenly, the skies blackened and the rain came down like stair rods. To my amazement, the owl did not duck back into the shelter of its home, but spread its wings and took a shower. This was the first time (but not the last) that I'd seen this behaviour.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 16th August, 2012
Opportunities to take photos of the pair of owls together are few and far between at this site. On most sites, where the nest is a hole in a tree, it's not unusual to see a pair together in, or near, the nest hole entrance. My Site No.02 is a very large space by comparison (which means the juveniles can fledge without setting foot outside) and with several exit points available. So, although it's not unusual to see a pair, they are usually apart. Such opportunities are, therefore, not to be missed!

Little Owls at my Site No.02 - on 6th September, 2012
I didn't take many more photos at this site that year, but here's one I rather like.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 22nd September, 2012
For one week only each year, the foliage on the Russian Vine which covers much of the east side of the roof of the barn turns bright red - and then, suddenly, the leaves are all gone. I've tried a few times to capture this with an owl in the frame, but not succeeded in achieving this to my satisfaction. This is my best effort so far.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 6th October, 2012
The owls survived the winter snow that year.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 21st January, 2013
On 10th July, two juveniles were spotted. The next day I set up my hide to try and get some photos, but the only juvenile seen stayed distant, and an adult bird kept a watchful eye on the hide.

Little Owl (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 11th July, 2013
Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 11th July, 2013
Another session in the hide two days later gave me a closer image of a juvenile here. If it had been three inches to the right I'd have got its feet in!

Little Owl (juvenile) at my Site No.02 - on 13th July, 2013
I only have evidence of two juveniles fledging from the site in 2013.

This is another of my favourite images from this site.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 3rd August, 2013
An attempt, in October that year, to capture an owl in the crimson foliage failed completely, but I did get my first 'Little Owl in flight' image (sort of!).

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 17th October, 2013
Here's a couple of images from later in that year.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 22nd November, 2013
Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 26th November, 2013
The year 2014 started with promise. The owls were being seen and seemed settled enough.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 26th February, 2014
Little Owls at my Site No.02 - on 25th March, 2014
I was conscious of the fact that most of my images from this site feature the decaying building that is the owls' home. I'm always happy, therefore, when I find an owl away from the building.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 21st April, 2014
Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 29th April, 2014
Around May time, I stopped seeing the pair of birds, and assumed that the female was already sitting on eggs after a very mild winter. However, after 19th May, sightings became very sparse, with only three sightings in June and just one sighting in July (on 6th). To put this into context, I probably pass, and check on, this site around three times a week. There had been a roof fall on the barn, and I wonder if one of the birds (and perhaps eggs or young) had fallen victim to this event. No young fledged from the site in 2014.

By the middle of August I'd come to the conclusion that I'd probably lost the birds at this site, but then on 14th there was an owl on a pole beside the barn, and it seemed very active during the short time that I was there.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 14th August, 2014
Thankfully, I continued to to see a bird here, although not as frequently as I would hope to.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 18th September, 2014
You can probably understand my excitement when, on 22nd October, there were two Little Owls present on the barn, and they've been seen together since then too. Possibly the remaining owl attracted a 2014 juvenile. More recently, sightings have increased again and I feel very encouraged for the future

I consider myself extremely lucky that this site has been continuous for five years. There's virtually no chance that either of the current occupants are 'original', as the average life span of a Little Owl is only around three years. I am, however, keeping my fingers crossed for a mild winter and renewed breeding at the site in 2015.

Here's another image from the site - not the best, but my most recent.

Little Owl at my Site No.02 - on 11th December, 2014
Recently I've become more aware that I'd like to concentrate a little more on capturing owls in their environment and not being so occupied with trying to get close portraits. I also need to capture more action, including flight shots. The environment aspect with Site No.02 might be a little one-dimensional, but maybe there will be opportunities for action images. Virtually all my photography is opportunistic, but I may have to set up a project in 2015!

Sorry if this post has been a little self-indulgent on my part. I hope, however, that you've found some interest in the story, and enjoyed some of the images.

Thank you for dropping by, and for all your visits to, and comments on, my blog in 2014.

It just remains for me to wish you a Very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year

Wednesday 17 December 2014

An Owl-Free Post!! - November/December, 2014

Well, almost owl-free - there will be an owl in the header image whilst this post is current!

Owling Incidentals

There have been a few 'incidentals' whilst out owling and here are some images of these occasions.

On 21st November I was out in the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Wood, trying to find the Short-eared Owl that had been seen here over a few days. Somehow I managed to go there on the days it didn't appear, and then it was gone. I didn't manage any usable images of the Stonechats that were there, but a Meadow Pipit obligingly, but briefly, sat on a fence wire quite close to me, a Reed Bunting sat on a distant sapling, and a large flock of Linnet (well over 200) flew over and a few of them landed where I could take some record shots.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - QE Jubilee Wood
Reed Bunting (female) (Emberiza schoeniclus) - QE Jubilee Wood

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - QE Jubilee Wood
The following day (22nd November) I went out to buy garden bird food. Near the village of Edingale a Buzzard was out on exactly the same pole as last time I'd passed this way, when it decided to evacuate its bowels before departing. It did exactly the same this time! Approach this bird with caution!

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Edingale
Two days later I went to Calke Park (this was the day I found my Little Owl Site No.49 there). Nothing desperately exciting was seen, but it was good to find Marsh Tit here again. They're none too common these days.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) - Calke Park

Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) - Calke Park
My next offering is from 4th December, when I had an afternoon out with Titus. Half way between two of my Little Owl sites, Red Kites were spotted. The only half-decent shot I managed was a distant one of one in a tree.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - near Queniborough
 One week later, I fared little better. Although the light was brighter, I didn't manage to get a bead on the bird without clutter in the background. One day I'll get a proper image of one of these!

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - near Queniborough
On our way home, later that same afternoon, I spotted a Buzzard on a barn roof. By the time I'd stopped and raised my camera, it had flown to the ground around 120 metres from our position. It then started behaving strangely, bouncing up and down on the ground by wing flapping. Having looked at my images, I think I know what was happening. At the foot of the barn were several mole hills and the Buzzard seems to have landed on one of these. I believe that the Buzzard had seen, from the barn roof, the soil moving where a mole was busy underground, and was trying to reach it. 

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Queniborough
 Eventually it gave up, and flew to a nearby hedge.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Queniborough
It was still over 100 metres away at this point, but it then decided to move down the hedge towards us, and stopped only about 60 metres away.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Queniborough
We hoped that it would continue towards us but, sadly, it only stopped there very briefly before flying off to the far hedge around 150 metres away, and then continuing to get further away along the hedge line.

A couple of days later I was out delivering Christmas presents and cards, and doing a little owl prospecting too (nothing found), but I couldn't resist snapping a shot of this squirrel having a snack.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - near Shenton
The Garden

Last year our garden bird list (birds that put a foot down in our garden - fly-overs don't count) reached a record 37 species (previous record = 32). Last week we equalled this, and then topped last year's record by one! Sadly, no images of the species concerned (Carrion Crow, and then Fieldfare) were obtained. In fact, I've indulged in very little garden photography lately as the weather has been so foul, and when the light has been good enough I've tended to go out. Here, however, are a few recent images from the garden.

Bullfinch, for a while, became a frequent visitor, but now we are not seeing them very often.

Bullfinch (male) (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) - our garden
Goldfinches are visiting in record numbers this winter - on one occasion we had more than 40 in the garden at once!

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
The Grey Wagtail had been visiting our garden several times a day for the past month or so, but we've not seen it for a couple of days so, although these are poor images taken on 5th December, they may be the last I take of this species in our garden.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - our Garden
Song Thrush, whilst not a rare bird (although it does seem to be seriously in decline), is only usually seen in our garden once or twice a year, so I was pleased to get a record shot when it visited a week ago.

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - our garden
That's all for now folks. My next post will probably be published on 22nd December and, hopefully, will be a celebration!

Thank you for dropping by.