Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag “Kingfisher”

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

Advertisements

Another year over…

Dawn Fox and Mallard

It’s been three long months since I posted my last blog entry and I would like to apologise to my regular readers for my tardiness. The debacle over the sale of Watton Nature Reserve dented my enthusiasm for wildlife photography and following a period of reflection, courtesy of a short spell in Scarborough hospital, I decided it was time to re-evaluate my photography. I felt that I was becoming stale and needed a change of direction and a new challenge, so I eventually decided to revert to my former interest in monochrome ‘street-photography’. So, for the past few months I have been pounding the streets of the coastal towns of Yorkshire and documenting the life of these sea-side resorts.

I did consider selling my long lens and camera(s) but a good friend and mentor suggested that I should suspend my decision for a year or two. Three months later and I am very glad that I heeded his advice. I am enjoying my new project and to be quite frank, there are a lot of similarities between these two photographic genres. They both require excellent observational skills, a good sense of anticipation and more than often, fast reflexes too. In fact, I believe that they compliment each other and I can see me participating in both fields for the next few years.

One of my resolutions for the 2014 is to put together a book of my wildlife images taken at Tophill Low. It will be a self-published book, probably using Blurb and I intend to include the best of the photographs I have captured over the past four years. I don’t suppose it will ever make it to the shelves of a book shop. However, I hope it will provide me with a permanent record of my visits to Tophill Low and a reminder of the many friends I have made at this very special place.

Anyway, that’s enough of my struggles with my inner-self. It’s 2014 tomorrow and a whole new chapter. I would like to thank Richard Hampshire and all the volunteers at THL. A Happy New Year to everyone and may at least some of your dreams come true! I’m off to northern Norway in two weeks time to witness the frozen landscape and photograph the aurora. It should be fun!

Oh! and here are some pictures taken at Watton Nature Reserve a couple of days ago…

Fox running

Fox - geese and teal

Northern Pintail in flight

Little egret - blue sky

Winter wren

Kingfisher on willow

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 a car and looking down into the adjacent canal. 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 witnessing 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…

http://tophilllow.blogspot.co.uk

Barn Owl at dusk

Addendum:

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?

Halcyon days and short nights

Badger emerging from sett

A few weeks ago, my young friend and gifted wildlife photographer Rory Selvey, invited me along to a well-hidden badger sett in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds. We sat there together with his mum and grandmother in the fading light waiting for a badger to appear. We spoke to each other in hushed tones as we watched and waited for these beautiful creatures to appear. After about an hour, a badger poked its head above the tall nettles, sniffed the air and swiftly disappeared. That was it. The moment was all too brief and neither of us dared to press the shutter to capture the moment as we didn’t wish to alert the creature and spoil the moment for each other.

A couple of nights later I returned to the sett alone. Once again, I waited for an hour or so and the inevitable happened. A badger appeared, sniffed the air and promptly disappeared. This time I did click the shutter and got two reasonable exposures. I felt guilty that Rory wasn’t there too and I’d like to thank him for sharing the location with me. I decided to leave them in peace and have not returned. I do hope they have a long and happy life!

Common Tern panorama

Back at the ranch, the local wildlife at Tophill Low appears to be flourishing. The common terns have made a temporary peace treaty with the black-headed gulls and are now sharing one of the floating rafts. The terns are always fun to photograph as they reel, spin and dive into the lake for a small fish before returning to the raft.

Common tern turn

I’ve also been fortunate enough to spot a fox cub or two as they practice their hunting skills amongst the tall grass and nettles.

Fox cub running

Young Fox cub

A pair of Roe deer I’ve been observing for a few months are both looking healthy, resplendent in their new summer coats.

Roebuck - spring evening

Roebuck sillouhette

The local raptors are busy as well and I have been lucky to get some clear photographs of Barn owl, kestrel and yesterday evening, a splendid male sparrowhawk.

Barn Owl

Kestrel perched

Sparrowhawk - male on willow

I’ve also had fun watching the whitethroats and sedge warblers collecting food to feed their respective families.

Whitethroat with blue damselfly

Sedge warbler with spider

Last but not least, several kingfishers are taking advantage of the warmer weather and delighting everyone with their colourful presence. Richard Hampshire (the local warden at Tophill Low) even constructed a humorous perch over at North Marsh which has become particularly popular venue for kingfishers and photographers alike.

Kingfisher toss

I watched and photographed this beautiful male kingfisher attempting to dismantle Richard’s handiwork…

Kingfisher vandal

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to the Norfolk Broads for a few days next weekend to capture some of their wildlife residents. Meanwhile, please watch this space for a very special posting on Wednesday 26 June!

Christmas at Tophill Low

Kingfisher-Xmas day_1

Unfortunately, there was no white Christmas this year. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the break and an opportunity of reacquainting myself with the wildlife at Tophill Low. I arrived at North Marsh hide around dawn on Christmas day. A Kingfisher turned up briefly but flew off to explore a less windy location. I waited patiently for a fox to arrive but to no avail. Another chap turned up shortly after 9:00 am and we sat together in the golden light waiting for some activity. A few moments later, I heard some voices outside the hide and suddenly saw a black labrador dog dashing around in the undergrowth at the edge of the lagoon. I opened the door and informed the two young men (as politely as possible) that dogs were not allowed on the reserve.

After an hour or so, I disappeared into North Woods with my camera & tripod and eventually managed to get a photograph of a Great-spotted Woodpecker that had been taunting me all morning with its call and tapping. I returned to the hide and to a lovely female Kingfisher. The Kingfisher stayed for about thirty minutes of fishing before departing. The light was perfect and I was happy to get some more photographs of this delightful bird.

Roe Deer-Boxing Day

I visited Watton Reserve on Boxing day. After a short wait, I was joined by a chap who was intent on viewing a Green-winged Teal that had been reported a few days ago. He waited around for a couple of hours but left somewhat disappointed. Nothing much happened until after lunch, then a couple of Roe Deer ran across the spit of land separating the two lagoons. I managed to capture a short sequence with almost perfect, golden light. The fox didn’t turn up all day but that’s the way it goes with nature photography.

Short-eared Owl-winter

Yesterday dawned warm and clear and more importantly, the wind had dropped. I headed over to Hempholme to photograph the Short-eared and Barn Owls. A couple of Short-eared Owls turned up around lunch time and spent an hour or so hunting over the scrub. For most of that time, they were either too distant or obscured by the trees and grasses. Still, I persevered, and was eventually rewarded with a couple of close-up photographs that did justice to those haunting, yellow eyes and magnificent plumage. I used my 500 mm lens with a 1.7 T.C. on a tripod with a gimbal head. I must admit that getting a focus lock was tremendously difficult as the birds flew low between the trees.

Barn Owl winter_2

A pair of Barn Owls appear to share the same hunting ground but usually they wait until the Short-eared Owls have moved on to another location. The photograph above illustrates that the relationship between the two species is rather aggressive and competitive. This photograph was taken a fraction of a second too late but you can see by the flying feathers that the Short-eared Owl had attacked the Barn Owl from above, pushing it downwards with its talons.

Finally, this must be my most unusual photograph this year. On Christmas day, a child’s balloon in the shape of a fish (with a plane suspended below) suddenly appeared drifting NE on the wind above North Marsh hide. I couldn’t resist taking a few photographs before it disappeared from view. It certainly made me smile!

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that 2012 is a successful year for one and all.

A Concentration of Kingfishers

Kingfisher-fledgling

Kingfisher-swallow

I’ve been visiting Tophill Low on most evenings during the past week or so. The Sparrowhawks continue to scream their presence in ‘D’ woods and frighten off most of the smaller birds. I’ve not had much luck during the evenings but Kingfishers have paid sporadic visits to North Marsh. In fact, two fledgling Kingfishers appeared yesterday morning, full of youthful enthusiasm and almost a year to a day since their first showing last year. I enjoyed watching the youngsters develop their angling skills. How do I know they were juvenile birds? Well, to be frank—they were both pretty useless at fishing. One young bird surfaced with a water-snail (see picture below) examined its hard shell for a few seconds and then dropped it back into the lake. Several other attempts to catch a fish were also unsuccessful. Eventually, it did catch a small minnow at which point, I almost felt like clapping in celebration. Another ‘give-away’ behaviour that immature Kingfishers exhibit is frequently landing on the ground instead of a perch.

Kingfisher-in-the-rain

Kingfisher fledgling with water-snail

So, if you want to see the Kingfishers at Tophill Low then you will need to go armed with a big bagful of patience. Maybe, the situation will improve when the two young Sparrowhawks are fully fledged and fly-off to their new territory. We’ll just have to wait and see…

BBC Autumnwatch Unsprung



Kingfisher_dive, originally uploaded by Tony McLean.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover an e-mail from the BBC on my return from my holiday on Arran. The producers of the programme wished my permission to discuss the above image of a Kingfisher (taken at Tophill Low) on their programme next week. Of course, I gave them my permission!

The programme is broadcast on Thursday 7 October on BBC 2 at 9.30 pm. The famous wildlife photographer Charlie Hamilton James will be giving his opinion on this and other Kingfisher images. I do hope he is not too critical! Charlie is a fantastic wildlife photographer and his recent series ‘Halcyon River Diaries’ featured some superb images of Kingfishers and was the inspiration behind my long hours in the hides at Tophill Low. If you get a chance, do watch and let me know what you think. – Tony McLean

Post Navigation