Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag ““Nikon 500 f4G VR””

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

It’s an ill wind…

Jökulsárlón winter sunset

For those of you who may be waiting for an update from my recent trip to Iceland, I’m afraid you may have to wait a couple of more weeks. I’m still processing my images and exploring different compositions. The good news is that I am now the proud owner of a brand new Nikon D4 and a 24-70 f2.8 lens!

The story started back in Iceland. We were marooned at a small hotel near Jökulsárlón when the weather closed-in. High winds and blizzard conditions meant that we could not travel so we spent the time braving the brutal conditions on the nearby beach, photographing the sea-ice against the fine, black volcanic sand. I had my Nikon D3s and my favourite landscape lens on a tripod when a sudden large wave caught me off guard and the whole kit and kaboodle ended up in the sea! I was furious with myself but I can tell you; sea-water and sophisticated electronics are not the best of bed-fellows. I e-mailed my home and contents insurance company from my hotel and informed them of the accident. Within two weeks of me returning home, I had a brand new camera and lens and since Nikon no longer manufacture a D3s, I was told that my replacement would be the new Nikon D4. Well, I wasn’t going to argue! I must say that my insurer was first class. I don’t usually endorse products or services on my blog, but I will make an exception and say that Hiscox people were fantastic; with great communications and a very prompt, friendly approach to my first, and hopefully last ever claim.

Barn Owl-rear view hover

The arrival of my replacement camera coincided with B.S.T. and extra of hour of light in the evenings. Though the weather has been cold, it has been very dry and the evening light simply marvellous. It’s been a real pleasure to watch the golden light and deepening shadows at dusk. Tophill Low was unusually quiet for the time of year but at least the local Barn Owls and Roe deer have been active. Richard Hampshire, the warden at Tophill Low has told me of the death of two Barn owls following the recent spell of cold weather. It could be that their food source (mice and voles) has had their population reduced by the flooding. So my advice to anyone photographing these birds is to do so with a heightened sense of empathy. Please be aware that these creatures hunt to stay alive and not just for our photographic pleasure.

Barn Owl-early morning flight

Barn Owl-hunting over drain

Apart from the local Roe deer and Barn owls it has been relatively quiet. I did spot the local one-eyed otter very early one morning and a pair of Kingfishers has been very active. I spotted a pair of Great-crested grebes one morning too. A lonely Redshank is often about and the Pied wagtails have returned to the reserve.

Otter-first light

Great-crested Grebe pair

Roe doe leap

Roebuck & Jackdaw

So how is my new camera performing, I hear you ask? Well, I’ll let my latest pictures do the talking!

…that blows nobody any good.

Cormorants & Swans

Cormorant-dawn silhouette

So far, it’s been a rather quiet autumn. The good news is that sunrise is now at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately, it’s now too late in the season to enjoy a leisurely hour or two of photography after work. Never mind, the rich autumnal colours and the sweet earthy smells more than compensate for this minor inconvenience.

Cormorants and Swans seem to have provided the best photographic opportunities for me during the past few weeks. The good news is that these birds both possess contrasty plumage and are rather large too; so autofocus issues haven’t been a problem. In fact, I have been delighted with the performance of my D800 in that department.

I have been tending to use my Nikon D800 in DX mode with just my 500 f4 lens. This combination gives me an effective focal length of approximately 750 mm and still at f4. I have found that I prefer this combination to my Nikon D3s with a 1.4x on the 500 mm f4 lens, as this loses me an additional stop of light and to be frank, the quality of the image detail is far superior without a converter.

Of course, the D3s comes out to play when the sun has set. I have started to bring my D3s and a 300 mm with me, ever since I met face to face with an Otter as I returned to my car. The family of Mute Swans that have been defending the lake for the past few months are still resident and quite remarkably, still displaying their combined aggression to any unwelcome visitors. The resident fox has been laying low and the Barn Owl seen very infrequently, and usually well after sunset.

Anyway, here are a few images taken during the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy them and please don’t be afraid to leave your comments.

Cormorant-returning to roost_3

Cormorant-returning to roost



Mute Swan-flight in the rain

Mute Swan-dawn flight

Wren-in autumn

Finally, here’s a picture of a A Cessna F150M ‘G-HULL’ from Beverley Airfield. How I wished it was a Heron or a Raptor!


Sea Anglers at Filey Brigg


Last Sunday evening, I returned to Filey Brigg with the intention of capturing some more exciting seascape photographs. The forecast was good, the sun was shining and the tide predictions favourable. I carefully descended the treacherous slope to the top of the cliff on the north side of the Brigg to a large ledge at the top of the cliff, where the fisherman is standing in the image at the head of this post. I dumped my heavy sack and peered over the edge of the cliff. To my disappointment, the sea was flat calm and very undramatic. Time to re-think my plans.

I had brought along my 500 mm lens as I had spotted a lone puffin and a kestrel the day before. Yes, I know I am supposed to be abstaining from nature photography, but old habits are hard to break. I sat on the edge and watched a group of sea-anglers some sixty feet below, casting their lines into deep pools and crevices and thought to myself that I may as well take a couple of pictures. The anglers didn’t seem to notice or appear to care that they were being photographed. Two hours later, I had filled the memory card on my camera and had missed the sunset.

Here’s a few of the images I took that evening, together with as short explanation of why I chose these particular photographs…

These two girls may not actually be sisters but they do look very much alike. I love their natural expressions with their hair blowing in the sea-breeze and the glorious evening sunshine side-lighting their faces. One of the girls gathered a posy of flowers from the grass at the top of the cliff face.

A Lady Angler

The lady angler in the picture above was fishing with her partner. She appeared to be enjoying herself despite the slippery rocks. The image above was taken at the end of a long cast and the position of her feet reminded me of a golfer at the end of their swing.

Another angler, complete with a red jacket, was also fishing at the base of the cliff. He had already landed several mackerel but it was his little black spaniel that provided most of the entertainment. This little dog never kept still, dashing along and through the rock-pools and returning to his master every few seconds.

Angler with his pet Spaniel

I watched as he landed a fine pollack and held it aloft for his friends to admire…



In order to reach the base of the cliff, the anglers had to use a rather rusty and dangerous looking ladder. As the sun was setting, I thought it would be worthwhile to stay and to take a few photographs of the ‘fisherfolk’ as they ascended the ladder. The couple were the first to leave and being a gentleman, the young man let his partner go first. Actually, what astonished me most was that they both trusted their weight to this piece of rusting scrap iron!

Angling couple ascend

Carrying a bucket in one hand meant that the young lady had to grab each rung with her right hand. If you click on the picture above to see the large version, you can see the wonderful expression on her face as she snatches for the next rung on the ladder.

I watched as the fisherman in the red jacket, gutted his fish in a small pool and carried his equipment up the ladder, as the dog waited patiently for his return. The fisherman then hoisted his pet onto his shoulder and ascended the ladder. The dog didn’t seem at all nervous and when he finally was deposited safely on the ledge, some thirty feet above, he raced the remaining hundred or so feet to the top of the cliff in a matter of seconds.

Cleaning the catch

Ascending with catch

Angler, dog and ladder

Finally a word or two of caution. The steep paths on Filey Brigg can be extremely dangerous, especially so when wet. Combined with high tides and the occasional freak wave, makes this a place that can be potentially, very hazardous. Please take care and stay safe.

A short sabbatical

Filey Brigg-fishermen

After four years and over three hundred trips to Tophill Low, I’ve finally decided to take a break. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to give up taking photographs of the local fauna and I certainly don’t intend to sell my long lenses, I just need a new challenge.

I’m off to Iceland next February to photograph the winter landscape and to be honest, my skills in this area are pretty lamentable. I need all the practice I can get if I wish to return from this trip with something a little bit special. I’ve always found photographing landscapes difficult. There’s a whole new set of skills to master and I have a lot to learn. So, for the next few months, I will be posting plenty of images of the local landscapes & seascapes. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy my blog and perhaps we can all learn from my mistakes. I promise I will return to my former hunting ground in the Autumn, so please be patient!

Tophill volunteer, Katie Hostad.

Tophill volunteer Katie Hostad e-mailed me earlier this week. Thursday was going to be her last day in the area, having successfully graduated from nearby Bishop Burton college. Katie wanted one last evening photographing Tophill’s wildlife and despite my earlier resolution to concentrate on the ‘landscape’, I agreed to meet Katie at the Watton NR hide. I discovered later that Katie had walked some five miles from the main road. After some tuition, I left Katie with my camera & super telephoto lens while I chased dragonflies with my other camera and a 300 mm lens. The following three images were taken by Katie and are truly remarkable; especially as the Terns were more than 170 metres away from the hide. At that distance, you’ve got to concentrate.

I have just heard that Katie was rewarded by her mum & dad for graduating from college, with a brand new Canon EOS 550D. I’m sure that we will see more of Katie’s photographs in the very near future…

Are you a fisherman or a hunter?

Barn Owl-early morning

I was having an unproductive evening sat in a cold hide and watching the rain fall. I considered moving to another, perhaps more fruitful location, when I was reminded of something that I had recently read on the internet. The writer had posed a question that had got me thinking, “Are you a fisherman or a hunter?” He defined a hunter as a photographer that was always on the look-out for a better location, perhaps driving or walking miles in order to find the ultimate spot. On the other hand, a fisherman would research a location beforehand and then remain there until he was certain that the opportunities to capture the scene were pretty much exhausted. I used to be a ‘hunter, but these days, I’m definitely a fisherman. It could be that I am getting old, maybe even a little wiser, but these days, I prefer to watch and wait.

Roe-Deer and fawn

It’s been a very wet week with nothing much to photograph. One early morning, I was delighted to see and photograph a young fawn accompanying its mother. When I contacted my good friend Marc at Wildlife Online, he informed me that the fawn was probably no more than three weeks old and that they usually don’t accompany their parent until they are at least six weeks old. I also spotted this stag roe deer one evening, grazing in the evening’s soft, warm light of a late spring day.

Stag Roe Deer-spring pasture

So, apart from my encounter with the Barn owl, the picture at the head of this post, of course, the Roe Deer, [Note: please click on an image if you wish to see a larger version], it’s been a rather unproductive week. One thing that still maintain my interest, is watching the never-ending territorial disputes between the different animals and birds. The black-headed gulls were chasing the swans and a heron, the swans were chasing the Canada geese and in turn, the terns were chasing the gulls. Always wonderful to watch and always entertaining. Here’s a few examples…


Mute Swan-attacked


I met up with a couple of Flickr friends this week. Joyce and her husband Ian, had travelled up from Carmathen in Wales to visit their relatives and some of the nature reserves of East Yorkshire. Both talented photographers I hope they were not too disappointed by the terrible weather. I gave them some information about Tophill Low and one evening after work, I accompanied them both to a hide. Joyce appeared to be delighted by several whitethroats, who were very obliging and seemed to pose for her lens at every opportunity. Joyce also managed to capture the best moment of the evening with her super shot of a grey heron in flight.

I also took part in Driffield Photographic Societies annual exhibition of photography at the Triton Gallery, Sledmere. I exhibited twelve pictures on the theme, ‘Carnivores’. Today (23 June) is the final day of the exhibition. I don’t believe I’ve sold any prints but it is always good to take part. Here’s a couple of images I took with my Canon S95 on the opening day of the exhibition.

Well, mid-summers day has come and gone. Now I’m really hoping for a few days of sunshine so I can once more see the reserve in all its summer glory!

Cuckoo – one flew over and perched.


A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird – William Wordsworth

I could hear a Cuckoo calling as I walked wearily towards the reserve in the pre-dawn light. The dew from the long grass had soaked through my boots and my socks were already wet. I settled down in a convenient spot and waited for the sun to rise. There was just a light breeze and the morning mist danced around the surface of the lake. As the sun rose above the tops of the trees the landscape was bathed in a golden light. I poured myself some hot, black tea from my flask and waited. Suddenly, the Cuckoo I had heard earlier perched on a nearby branch and began calling. The light was perfect and my camera clicked. It was fascinating to watch it make its characteristic eponymous call. I had always assumed that a Cuckoo’s beak must have needed to be open wide in order to emit such a penetrating call. But no, the ‘cuck’ was almost breathed through a partially open bill and the ‘oo’ occurred with its beak closed, resonating deep from within the chest cavity of the bird. If I’d been more familiar with the video controls of my camera, I would have recorded the whole event; but instead, I just watched in awe and disbelief.


When the Cuckoo moved to another, less convenient perch, I turned to face the mist covered lake. I thought I’d try to capture a silhouette that would do justice to the morning light and managed this shot of a distant Greylag goose greeting the dawn…

Greeting the dawn

The local vixen made a brief appearance complete with its breakfast for its two hungry cubs.

Fox with supper

The Canada goose family in the background managed to avoid the fox’s attention this time but I did notice that its six chicks had now been reduced to four. (Note: it’s now down to three!) The gander is particularly defensive at the moment; taking on everything that invades his territory. Here’s a photograph of the gander chasing off a Greylag that got too close. I can tell you that the greylag lost a beak-full of tail feathers during this encounter.


The doe Roe deer are still present but I haven’t seen the stag for a week or two. Their coats are now looking a bit less tatty and have taken on a rich, rusty appearance. Here’s a picture of one of the females grazing on the shore of the lake and being harassed by the local Mute Swan.

Roe deer and Mute Swan

The local Barn Owl was out hunting most mornings and evenings, even in the rain. Pity it never got really close, but still it was a marvellous sight.

Barn Owl-returning with prey

Finally, I was rewarded with a good close view of the vixen’s new cubs last night. They both seem fit and healthy and are now, clearly quite independent from their mother. I hope to get some further photo opportunities in the near future, if it ever stops raining.

Fox cub

As always, please ‘click’ on any picture to open up a larger version.

The Fox with Five Feet

Vixen-with rabbits foot

The problem with late Spring is that the sun rises so early. I often wish I was one of those dedicated nature photographers that could go to bed early and rise refreshed and smiling. I know dawn can often be the best time to photograph the delights of nature but truthfully, it screws up my body-clock for several days afterwards. To make matters worse, there was a sharp frost over the weekend and it felt more like December than early May. Still, perseverance has its own rewards and in my case, those rewards were some superb photographic opportunities.

Thank goodness I now have a camera that can perform in low-light. Exposure and focus is extremely difficult in such contrasty situations. I had to override my normal aperture settings during almost every exposure but I believe it was worth it. Here’s a few examples of my early dawn shoots…

Canada Geese-morning mist

Barn Owl-misty dawn

Vixen-first light


I saw the same Roe Deer Stag again, later that morning and managed to get this photograph of this magnificent animal…

Looking rather wet? That’s because a little earlier, I went to investigate a loud ‘barking’ call and saw it swimming across an adjacent drainage ditch.

I have been wanting to photograph Avocets for quite a while. I had heard that there were perhaps two pairs on the reserve, with one pair having established a nest over on South Marsh east. (Please see Tophill Low’s warden Richard Hampshire’s blog for more details). I was therefore delighted to see a pair in the early morning and even managed to get some flight shots as they swooped low over the lake…

Avocets in flight

Wonderful birds I’m sure you’ll agree and a fitting emblem adopted by the RSPB that symbolises their own bird protection movement.

Swallows were everywhere. I had spent a couple of hours one evening trying to capture them in-flight but without much success (yes, I must try harder). So for now, I’ll have to be content with a ‘bird-on-a-wire’ image… Sorry!

Sedge Warblers were making their usual frenetic callings but seemed reluctant to show themselves. They appeared to be quite content to hide amongst the reeds and brambles though I did manage to get a photograph of this cute little bird singing…

Sedge Warbler-singing

A couple of Yellow wagtails flirted around the margins of the lake but never got close enough for a really good image. However, I do like this photograph for the strong colours of its yellow plumage contrasting against the lush green grass and purple flowering Bugle. As usual, I just wish I was a little closer.

Finally, as I’m in such a good mood, I’ll post a couple of humorous pictures to cheer everyone up on this cold, wet day in May.

Cormorant-poop shoot

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