Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

“Winter is an etching…”

Yesterday, the short drive from Driffield to Tophill Low was and exciting prelude to my day’s photography. The main road was clear but the three miles of road between Watton and the reserve required some ‘grit’ in more than one sense of the word. The pre-dawn glow gave the snow coloured fields a magical golden hue. Pity then that I had to concentrate on my driving.

The car park at Tophill Low was covered in about nine inches of snow. This made parking particularly difficult and I ground to a halt opposite the member’s hut. The usual ten minute stroll to the hide at North Marsh took a little longer than usual but the animal tracks in the snow were fascinating. I could distinguish fox (they’re easy as dogs are not allowed onto the reserve), deer and pheasant and wished I could translate the others too. I remember my mother buying me a pair of ‘pathfinder’ shoe when I was about seven. These had animal track embossed onto the soles of these shoes—I wish I had paid more attention.

The hide was cold but comforting. Everything was frozen, including the window mechanism. I unpacked my gear, sat down on the cold bench an prepared myself for a long wait. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the first red fox to appear. It strolled around the margins of the frozen lake looking for opportunities. I knew that the ‘click’ of my camera’s shutter would alert the fox so I waited until I had a clear view and more importantly, an interesting background before I pressed the shutter. The fox only stayed a few minutes before it wandered off towards the bank of the river Hull.

Thirty minutes later, two Roe Deer bounded across the top of the river bank at some speed. I had attached my 1.4 x tele-converter to my 500 mm lens in order to obtain some shots of the fox. However, the deer were actually too close with this combination and I didn’t have time to remove the T.C. No time to hesitate, so I fired of a sequence of five or six shots and hoped for the best.

Every thirty minutes or so, I left the hide and took a short walk in order to regain some feeling in my cold-numbed legs. During one such foray, I saw a hooded figure in the distance walking towards me. It turned out to be Richard Hampshire, the warden who had braved the weather and the long drive from Malton. Richard has a plastic bag containing the carcass of a rabbit that had been killed earlier by a stoat. His intention was to position the carcass near one of the reserves cameras and record use the rabbit as bait. Please see Richard’s blog for more information and some excellent pictures of a Stoat (and PG rated pictures of it’s prey).

An hour or so later, Mandy & her husband, Richard joined me in the hide. Mandy & Richard actually live on the reserve— a fact that always leaves me with feelings of great envy! We were all rewarded with sightings of a Kestrel and Sparrowhawk but unfortunately, they were a rather camera shy. A Barn Owl made a brief fly-past but by then, the light levels were quite poor and I had great difficulty obtaining a focus lock on the bird. When I reviewed the sequence on my computer monitor later that day, I discovered to my horror that the sequence was vastly over-exposed and I had to use all the magic of Photoshop to recover the details in the Owl’s plumage.

Once again, the pheasants provided much entertainment. I quite like this one of a hen pheasant running across the ice—both feet off the ground. (Could this be a flight shot?)

Many thanks to the warden, Richard who waited for me in the car park and ensured that I made it back to the main road in one piece.

Anyway, another memorable day. So, go on…brave the weather and see what’s happening in your local countryside. Just wrap up warm and stay safe.

A final reminder to all wildlife enthusiasts who would like to see my talk on ‘The Winter Wildlife of Japan.’ It’s definitely on in The Maple Room of The Bell Hotel in the centre of Driffield commencing at 7:30 pm tomorrow evening (Monday 6th December). Please come along and introduce yourself. Admission is free!

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