Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag “‘Grey Heron””

History Lessons – Grey Heron with Eel

Heron with EelGrey Heron with Eel – 14 July 2013 – [500 mm + 1.7 T.C. 1/800 sec f 6.3 ISO 320]

For the eighth in my ‘History Lessons’ series I have chosen my photograph of a Grey Heron with an eel.

On the evening of Saturday, 14 July 2013, I was sat watching a group of four Herons and a few Little Egrets on the opposite shore. Nothing much was happening—just a few dabbling ducks and a lone cormorant perched on a nearby mooring post.

You can read about what happened next in an earlier post , ‘Hard to swallow‘. That was certainly an evening to remember and I still have around three-hundred RAW files from that encounter—all taken in the space of fifteen minutes.

The wetland areas of Tophill Low provide a perfect habitat for the Grey Heron. The number of herons breeding in Britain and on the Continent has been growing steadily for many years probably due to the recent run of mild winters. Despite their plain grey colour, they area wonderful species to photograph. Large enough to ensure perfect focus and sufficiently stationary to enable an interesting composition—try to avoid using the central focus point on your camera and hence positioning the subject in the dead-centre of the frame.

Here’s a few more of my photographs of the Grey Heron taken over the past few years at Tophill Low:

Summer Heron

Heron shadow

Heron silohouette

Heron misty dawn

Heron flight

Heron chase

Heron and Cormorant

Thanks for reading. By the way, did you notice the butterflies in the second photograph? Honestly?





Spring, slowly turning into Summer

Fox - paddling pose

Firstly, please let me apologise for the long wait for my first blog-post of the year. I’ve been spending a lot of my free time preparing a self-published book of my black & white street images.

I have managed to get out with my camera most weekends and now that the daylight hours are at their longest, I’ve ventured out on the odd evening too. I plan ahead as best as I can and try to pick the days with a favourable weather forecast but animals and birds can be fickle creatures and I often return home ’empty-handed’.

I’ll save my readers a long boring summary of the year so far, except to say that it has been good one for my photography and I was extremely fortunate to photograph a rare Common Crane as it flew over Watton Nature Reserve on 12 June.

[As usual, please click on any picture to see a much larger version that will look great on your tablet or screen!)

Common Crane in flight

Curlew - dawn flight

Great Crested Grebe - Dawn Light

Black-headed Gull - dawn

Female Reed Bunting

Dawn goose

Roe deer buck - Spring evening

Another Dunnock with insect

Otter watching me

Fox with rabbit

Wren watching

Early morning Barn owl

Long-tailed tit singing

Lady Linnet

Cormorant landing during a thunderstorm

A Perched Kingfisher

<aGrey Heron evening light

Marsh Harrier hunting_2


“…the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it”.

Heron Teasel and Butterflies

I believe that this unusual word accurately describes my approach to wildlife photography and in common with most people, I do like surprises. Today, I’ve reached the ripe old age of 58, so I guess I should continue to savour each and every one of these special moments.

To illustrate my point… late one evening, I was carefully studying the grey heron in the photograph above. The warm light of the setting sun was illuminating the reeds and providing a perfect back-drop to the plain grey of the heron’s plumage. As the heron slowly stalked its prey along the line of the reeds it eventually reached a point where several butterflies were feeding on the purple flower heads of the teasel bushes. I made a few exposures and then suddenly, the heron took off. I immediately pressed the shutter and hoped that I had captured the moment, but still had to wait until I saw the enlarged version on my monitor a home.

Yes, I was lucky. The heron was sharp. Compositionally, there was a strong diagonal line running across the frame and the trail of water from the heron’s feet gave the image a sense of dynamic movement. With a perfect background too; you can tell I was pleased.

A few days earlier, I was in another hide with John, a fellow photographer, trying to explain the best camera settings to use for ‘bird-in-flight photography’. I needed an example to demonstrate these settings when an immature gull suddenly came into view. I quickly made a couple of exposures. I thought about deleting these example frames but must have got distracted. Later that evening, I met up with ‘gull guru’ Martin Hodges in the car-park and I quickly showed him the two images of the young bird. He suggested that I e-mail the images to him but of course, I forgot.

A day or so later, Martin sent me a reminder e-mail and I quickly sent him my photograph of the young gull. He then asked me if I had other pictures as well, so I sent hime the second frame. Marin eventually concluded that it was a juvenile Herring Gull; but a rather rare leucistic variety. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather…even a gull’s one!

leucistic juvenile herring gull

Well, that’s enough talk for now. Here’s a few more special moments from the past few weeks I hope you will enjoy. Please don’t forget to ‘click’ on an image to see a much larger version on my Flickr page.

Fox - summer stroll

Fox cub wink

Marsh Harrier and rabbit

Greenshank-Summer passage

Hard to swallow

Grey Heron - flying with eel

I was watching a group of four young herons a couple of weeks ago when one bird suddenly grabbed a huge eel from the shallows. The eel must have been at least a metre in length and was almost as tall as the heron. The bird struggled with the slippery, writhing creature but eventually made it to the safety of the shore. Almost at once it was surrounded by the other herons, who all wanted a piece of the action. The young bird flew-off with the eel dangling from its beak to another part of the lake that was thankfully, just as close to my position.

The heron took all of fifteen minutes to swallow the eel. Repeated proddings with its dagger-like beak and multiple dunkings in the lake failed to despatch the eel. After a quarter of an hour, the heron finally summoned up the courage to swallow the eel.

The heron may have been replete but it looked decidedly uncomfortable afterwards. It kept sipping water from the lake and repeatedly wiping the eel-slime from its beak on nearby rocks. I guess it was a case of severe indigestion. I was very fortunate not only to witness the whole episode but I was also lucky enough to capture a few hundred frames from the fifteen minute sequence.

Grey Heron with Eel

Grey Heron - swallowing eel

Three young fox cubs have also provided me with some entertaining moments during the recent long hot summer evenings. It has been fun watching them exploring their new territory and chasing each other with their boundless energy.

A pair of fox cubs

Three cubs

Fox cub running

The roebuck has been rather reclusive during the past few weeks so it was great to see it a couple of days ago with its shiny new antlers and beautiful new summer coat.

Roebuck and ducks

Finally, I watched with awe as a young kingfisher hovered in the air like a hummingbird, some twenty feet above the lake. It seemed to hover for ages but in reality, it was only for a few seconds; enough time to allow me to capture a couple of dozen frames. Another wonderful and infrequent sight.

I guess I must be blessed.

Hovering Kingfisher

Herons, Harriers and a Halcyon

Grey Heron - early morning flight

I have been lucky to experienced some wonderful morning and evening light during my recent trips to Tophill Low. The significance of good light should not be underestimated and often make the difference between a standard photograph and one that excels. Of course, as a nature photographer, a well-lit stage is one thing but without a leading actor, the performance would be dreary. Fortunately, the last couple of weeks has seen a siege of local grey herons on the reserve and the presence of these marvellous birds has become the focus of my recent photography.

The grey heron is rather a large bird, almost a metre in height and with a wing-span the height of a tall man and like most of us humans, their crowns get whiter with age. My first experience of photographing of herons was in Amsterdam. I turned a corner to see a large heron perched on the roof of a car and looking down into the canal below. I suppose the locals get used to having paintwork to the roof of their cars damaged by their sharp claws!

Heron Stretch

Grey Heron reflection

Heron posing

Grey Heron-summers evening

I’ve also spent a couple of hours checking on the progress of the nesting marsh harriers. Their young are due to fledge within the next week or so but unfortunately, work commitments mean that I probably won’t be around to witness the event. Never mind, at least I was able to grab a few more images of both the male and the female harriers as they flew in and out of the nest. I must admit that I much prefer photographing these birds against a natural setting rather than against the sky. However, this is not easy and requires quick reactions and good technique. In these circumstances, I always set my camera to manual exposure and hope that the autofocus acquires the target rather than the background vegetation.

Marsh Harrier (male) evening light

Female Marsh Harrier landing_2

Male Marsh Harrier with prey_2

I was sitting in the hide at Tophill one evening when this beautiful fox appeared out of nowhere and peered over the recently constructed sand martin retaining wall at the lake a few metres below. I managed to fire-off a series of exposures before the fox stared-up at me and calmly wandered away. Always having you camera ready has its rewards.

Fox exploring

I recently spent a couple of days photographing Kingfishers in Norfolk with some degree of success. I hope to give a few more details about the experience in a future blog, so do watch this space! I also spent a quiet evening at the north marsh hide on a rather dull evening. I was luck enough to capture this beautiful young kingfisher as it posed at the end of this thin, diving perch. I was also delighted to have both of these kingfisher images selected for a few days each on the BBC Nature web site. Thank-you, aunty!

Kingfisher triumph

Kingfisher perched

Finally, Tophill Low is having an open weekend on the 20th and 21st of July in partnership with the BBC Summer of Wildlife. I will be leading a guided walk at around 7:15 pm to look for the local barn owls. I’ll also be showing a few barn owl images as a slideshow before the event, so everyone is welcome to come along but places will be limited. Please see Richard’s blog for details…

Barn Owl at dusk


Richard Hampshire (the warden at Tophill Low) has just contacted me to tell me that my picture of the ‘female marsh harrier’ landing was in fact the first view of one of the fledgling chicks, probably taking its first flight. It’s the middle picture of the three marsh harriers in my above post. Please feel free to click on the image to see a larger version. So my work commitments doesn’t mean that I will miss out after all!

Thank-you Richard; what would I do without your expertise?

Water Rail-amongst the undergrowth

The last couple of Saturday mornings have seen me trudging through the mud and water-logged fields to Tophill Low. Long, cold hours in the hide and surrounding fields have been tough on my body and mind. I finally replaced my Sorel Caribou winter boots that developed two large splits in the rubber. Ok, I may have had them for four years but I don’t exactly use them every day. Let’s hope my new North Face winter boots will keep my toes warm and dry during my trip to Iceland in a couple of weeks time.

This will probably be my final post before I return from Iceland in the middle of March. I don’t know how many winter wildlife opportunities there will be but fingers-crossed, I hope to be showing you some wonderful landscape images from my trip—later next month. So, please watch this space.

As I write this entry, it’s a dreary Sunday morning with snow forecast later. I hope you don’t mind if I just show you all a few images I’ve taken over the past couple of weeks. Here goes…

Mallard pair in the snow

Mute Swan-winter light

Grey Heron-winter flight

Teal (female)-escaping from the ice

Sparrowhawk-hunting (2)

Goldeneye (male)

Fieldfare in flight

A New Dawn…

Sunrise-Tophill Low

I promised myself that when I bought my Nikon D3s last year, it would be my last camera. After all, it met all my needs: a fast frame rate, wonderful low-light performance and a battery that lasted for ever. Here we are six months later and I have already broken that promise. When Nikon announced the D800 a few months ago, I admit that my interest was more than a little perked . With a resolution of 7360 x 5812 against the D3s 4256 x 2832 and a pixel density of one-third the size was definitley tempting. I could envisage the possibilities long before the glowing reviews began to be published.

In wildlife photography, reach is everything. My 500 mm lens, even with a teleconverter, often meant that with the D3s, I had to severely crop an image in order to obtain the image that I had pre-visiualized. So, I took a deep breath and ordered the Nikon D800. I have had the camera now for less than a week and I’m already impressed with its capabilities. To me, cameras are tools; I don’t follow trends or buy equipment to boost my ego. I rarely discuss my purchases and although I treat my equipment with respect, I have long since stopped reading the pixel-peeping reviews of the latest and greatest.

It’s far too early for me to report any firm conclusions of the D800. I will leave that to another blog entry when I have fully explored the camera’s potential. Suffice to say that my early impressions are extremely positive. So rather than bore you with any further technical details, here’s a few images that I have taken with the D800 during the past week…

As usual, please click on a picture to see a larger version.

Swans-misty morning

Barn Owl in flight-profile

Barn Owl-hovering

Grey Herons-in the rain


Duck at dawn

Yes, I know that in my last post I said goodbye to the fox cubs. Well, maybe not!

Fox cubs chasing

Fox cubs-fighting

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