Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

National Velvet



Last Saturday dawned dull and cold, so I decided to stay at home and do some long overdue chores. One of these chores included calibrating my 500mm Nikon lens with the Nikon 1.7 x converter. I have never been really satisfied with the performance of this combination; blaming the poor results on my technique. However, my tests finally proved that this combination was ‘front-focusing’ and required a massive -17 adjustment on my D3 to bring it back into focus and put a smile on my face.

Sunday saw me at Tophill Low once more. I arrived shortly before eight, armed with my flask of tea and peanut butter sandwiches. A pair of Little Grebe kept me amused for a while. I then spotted two Roe Deer on the embankment at the far end of the lagoon. A young buck and a doe, still in their charcoal grey winter coats, but with the buck sporting a fine pair of new antlers—still in velvet. I waited patiently and hoped that the deer would come a little closer. Just after nine, something must have spooked them and they began to run southwards along the top of the bank. I managed to get several photographs of the male, including the image above and one really sharp shot of the male in full flight.

My framing of the image below wasn’t too good as there was insufficient space between the deer’s hind quarters and the left side of the frame. This is where Photoshop came to my rescue. I cloned an area of background from the right side of the frame, increased the width of the canvas, and pasted the cloned background to give me a much better composition. As Eric used to say to Ernie… “you cannot see the join.”



The next six hours were pretty uneventful. It was only the antics of the Little Grebes that kept me sane. It was fascinating watching the pair diving under the surface of the lake for up to twenty seconds at a time. I took many photographs but didn’t realise my ambition of photographing one surfacing with a fish. Yes. I had a few near misses but the final shot always eluded me. At three in the afternoon, a Barn Owl made its appearance. Now that was definitely worth the wait. Unfortunately, it didn’t come close to the hide and I only managed a record shot or two before it disappeared over the fields. I waited for it to return but to no avail. Mandy & Richard turned up around five to see if I’d fallen asleep? Together, we watched the Barn Owl return and fly over the lagoon. I finally gave up when the light eventually failed just before six—after a marathon session of almost ten hours.



The following day I managed to get the afternoon off work. So, it was back to Tophill Low once more to see if I could improve on Sunday’s performance. This time the Little Grebe were more entertaining and much more co-operative. I was delighted to get two pleasing images of them feeding. The second of these images was almost directly below the hide so please forgive the horrible ‘zoo perspective.’ Never mind, the image is so clear that I could even identify the prey as a Stickleback. It was intriguing to witness the way that these Little Grebe dealt with their prey. They would grasp the fish firmly in their bill and shake their heads vigorously, followed by a quick dip of the fish in the water. This was repeated several times until the Grebe was satisfied that the fish was dead. A quick swallow and the fish was gone.


I managed to get several photographs of the Teal that were present at North Marsh. The very attractive plumage of the male bird is always a delight to photograph and the fine sunny conditions enabled me to make the most of its gorgeous colouring.


I was a little disappointed that the local raptor population seemed to be absent. This was probably due to the huge number of gulls that were flying high in the air above the lake. Occasionally, the calm surface was peppered with bird lime as the gulls used the lagoon as target practice.

The Barn Owl turned up again around four and I did notice that it was ‘ringed.’ However, I didn’t manage to improve on the previous day’s images but it was great to know that at least one Barn Owl managed to survive the severe winter weather.

As I wandered back to the car-park I was treated to a fine red fireball sunset over D reservoir. A splendid end to a great couple of day’s photography.


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3 thoughts on “National Velvet

  1. Alan on said:

    Fine photo of the deer & ducks Tony!Seems the calibration has payed off,improving even more on your quality pictures.You’ve given the new Watton hide a rest for a while?Must have a look at that one!Which is the best way to get to Watton hide?
    See you soon mate Alan

    • Hi Alan. Thanks for your kind comments. The quickest way to reach the new Watton reserve hide is to take the next turn after the Tophill road (going south from Driffield). It is signposted to Wilfholme, Drive to the bottom of the road and park in the Yorkshire Water car park. Go through the gate and walk past the horses and follow the bank of the Barmston drain until shortly after surmounting a stile, then take the left fork to the hide. Cheers – Tony McLean.

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