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Friday, 12 December 2014

A New Little Owl Site - on 24th November, 2014

With a resolution to check up on some of my Little Owl sites that I've neglected this year, and also to try and find some new sites, I set off for Calke Park on 24th November, with a picnic lunch.

Some five minutes or so away from the entrance to the park I stopped at a place that looked rather 'owly' and had a look round. Up a track, which had free public access, I looked at a tree and thought that I might be looking at an owl (it was in deep shade at about 280 metres - as measured on Google Earth). As I approached on foot I became aware that it wasn't an owl, but I continued to look and lo-and-behold there was a Little Owl sitting on a post about 40 metres from the 'non owl' and about 50 metres from the track. I grabbed a few quick frames before departing. This is my new Little Owl Site No.49.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my new Site No.49
I continued to search the area for signs of other owls, but without success. As I returned past where I'd seen the owl, I found that it had now moved up into the tree above the original post that it had been sitting on.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my new Site No.49
No more owls were seen during that relatively brief excursion, but I was delighted to have found a new site.

An owling expedition with Titus, three days later, on a rather dull day resulted in the unexpectedly high number of eight Little Owl sightings, but no images worth bothering with. However, one week later and again out with Titus, on 4th December I managed the same number of owl sightings and fared a little better with the photography, although it was still very dull weather. I was delighted to get an image with both owls showing (see 2nd image, below). These were taken with my new Sigma 50-500 OS lens (my Christmas present from my wife!). It's looking like it was a good choice!

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
At site No.34 we found an owl outside the nest cavity. I don't think I'd have managed this next image with the old lens in the very dull conditions.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
The following day I had to pay a visit to the farmer on my local patch, and then went off for a walk around the farm. Both birds were out at my LO Site No.02, but only one was reasonably well presented, although it was horribly dull weather again.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02
My walk took me to LO Site No.11, where its been a few months since I've seen an owl there, but there was no immediate evidence of continued occupancy.

I continued on to site No.30, where I'd last seen owls in May. This site is very difficult to get to in the summer because, although it can be approached from two directions, both directions involve passing through two adjacent fields which usually contain cattle. This means that if you find yourself being stampeded towards by a herd of cattle (as has happened to me on this farm several times!) and manage to escape into the next field by diving through the electrified fence, you're likely to find that you've jumped out of the frying pan into the fire! My last sighting had been from a gate just over 200 metres away and, frustratingly, this was the only time I'd ever seen two owls here - surrounded by a herd of killer cattle!

Now, however, the cattle had all been taken in under cover for the winter (these fields get extremely wet), so I could approach with the only danger being that of drowning! A traverse past the site didn't yield any sightings, but then my approach had been from the windward side, and it was cold and windy! I did a stealthy traverse of the leeward side, turned with camera to my eye, and there was a Little Owl tucked well back in a hole in the tree trunk.

That night I was giving a talk on Little Owls and used this site to explain some of the difficulties that I encounter when out owling, and told them that I'd been delighted to see an owl here that very morning for the first time in 6 months. You can imagine my delight when I got round to looking at my photos the next day, and discovered that there were two owls in each of my photos.

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.30
From here I went on to inspect my LO Site No.45. This is where I'd heard owls on several occasions over the years, but spotted one for the first time in January this year, then again in February. The next time I saw an owl here was in May, in a cavity in a tree some 150 metres from the presumed nest tree. I put this down as being an owl roosting away from home. I was, therefore, delighted to find an owl back in this second tree on this day. It was well covered by twigs (the first image, below, shows the problem), so this is the best that I could manage.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.45
I then went to inspect, at a distance through a hedge, the tree in which I'd first seen an owl here - and saw through the hedge that there was an owl sitting in what I believe to be the nest cavity. I now have to find out whether I'm seeing single owls at two different sites or a pair, with one tending to roost away from home.

I didn't get any photos here because of the intervening hedge and to approach from a different angle would have meant a diversion of around 700 metres to end up 5 metres away from where I was, but on the other side of the hedge! I didn't bother. 

I'm not sure if I've ever before seen three pairs of owls on my local patch in one visit, which lasted less than an hour and a half in this case!

Yesterday was a cold and very windy day, but Titus and I still went out for a short afternoon, and I was quite surprised to find three owls, one of which is shown below. Fortunately the sun was shining and the owl was, unusually, sitting out in a relatively exposed place.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.43
That's all for this post. My next post will probably not feature any owls, and the header which accompanies this post is possibly (as usual) a 'trailer' for the next post.

I hope that you're not having any last-minute panics over arrangements for Christmas - I think (for a change!) I'm in relatively good shape in this respect!

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Wow Richard,these images are spot on,look's like the new lens is performing well,what camera are you using.

    1. Thank you John. I've not had too much use out of the lens yet, but I'm very pleased so far! You'd think that a 50-500 wouldn't perform as well as a 150-500, but it's got superior glass, the focus seems quicker and the VR/OS seems more effective. What's more the new one will focus down to 2ft at a 200mm zoom (and just under 6ft at 500mm), so I'm hoping that it will be usable for 'macro'. I'm using it attached to a Nikon D300s.

  2. What a wonderful present from your wife. And it shows the result with great succes. Love those little owls. Good to read that there are much more of them to enjoy in England compared with Belgium. This all because the farms, and landscape are too clean here. Old trees are cut down and old sheds torn down. Such a shame.

    1. I'm a truly lucky man, Roos, as although my wife doesn't share in my hobby, she is fully, and generously, supportive of it - and even let me have my Christmas present early. However, she did say something about making the most of enjoying it while I can!

      We are not totally immune to farmers 'cleaning up' the landscape here. However, various bodies of people make it their mission to ensure that the farming community are more wildlife-aware.

  3. It is truly enjoyable reading about your exploits with these owls, Richard. It is kind of like a serialized drama where one regrets the end of an episode, but can't wait until the next one is shown. Apart from the glorious pictures of the owls, the detail of the tree in photograph 5 is quite incredible. I would enjoy the picture even without the owl. All I can say is, roll on next July! I know that I owe you an email, but we have been having trouble with our server, and a whole series of messages are stranded in our outbox. We'll either get it resolved this weekend or I'll try something else.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words of encouragement, David.

      Have you got a smartphone? If so, you could try WhatsApp (a free app that gives you free messaging). I use it from time to time, although I don't know many people that use it - which I find strange as it's a great app, but dependent on both parties having the app. It's Lindsay's prime method of communicating with our daughter!

  4. Despite the dull weather at times you got a lot if great images and encounters with the owls. I think the Sigma lens with image stabilisation is going to come in handy with slow shutter speeds. Great to hear you done on a talk about Little Owl's too.

    1. I'm well pleased with the new lens, Doug. The old one had image stabilisation too, but this one seems better. My talk on "The Little Owls of Leicestershire" lasted about one and three quarter hours. I did, however, include a section on other owls in Leicestershire. It's my intention to cut it down to just over an hour for any future talks - for my sake as much as anything else!

      Best wishes - - Richard

  5. Oh my!!!
    This tree in the first picture is fabulous!
    No wonder LO's have adopted it!
    My favorite pic is definitively N°2!
    You must be thrilled with this new lens, it will allow much flexibility in distance to the subject!
    A great post!
    Sorry for not visiting you sooner, but I was again quite busy ;-)
    Keep well, enjoy the rest of your day!

    1. Thank you, Noushka. I'm looking forward to putting the lens through its paces over the next couple of months. So far, so good. Must try out the 'macro' aspects soon.

      Hoping you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. I look forward to following you in 2015 - - - - Richard


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