Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag “roe deer”

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


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!

It was a new day yesterday…

Returning to an empty nest

The sudden shock of my alarm clock waking me at 3:30 am is tough; but the promise of some exquisite dawn light and the opportunity of taking some wonderful images spurs me onwards down the stairs. A couple of espresso coffees later and I am ready to greet a new day. The last of the late night revellers are winding their way home as I drive through Driffield and out into the countryside. A short walk through the dew-soaked grass soaks my boots but that wonderful spring aroma of hawthorn blossom and the silent flight of a barn owl prepares me for sunrise. The path is littered with sleepy buttercups, purple bugle and tall cow-parsley.

The egg bandit

I can hear the calls of the black-headed gulls long before I arrive at my destination. They appear to have won the battle for the occupation of the two tern rafts, leaving a solitary tern to fly from one side of the lake to another with a small fish in its beak, waiting for a chance to entice a female with its present. A gull nest by the side of the lake is raided by one of the local crows and I manage to capture the moment complete with the punctured egg’s contents spilling onto the grass. The local canada and greylag geese are doing well with the adults herding the chicks with flaps of their wings.

Roebuck sillouhette

Canada goose and goslings

A pair of roe deer wander idly across the a narrow spit of land between the two lakes silhouetted by the golden glow of the pre-dawn light. I watch as the morning mist swirls across the surface of the lake and glows fire-red in the light of rising sun. A pair of linnets have made a nest just yards from the hide and I watch with fascination as they forage for food and wipe their dirty short beaks on dry stalks to clean them before embarking on their next trip. Reed warblers flit from stalk to stalk, pulling on the silken spider silk and reeling in their prey like an expert fisherman.

Linnet female

Male Linnet perched

Reed Warbler

Back-lit Barn Owl

All too soon the explosion of colour disappears and the strong sun-light evaporates the mist and the harsh light makes me squint and cover my eyes with my hand. A barn owls makes one more flight before returning to its roost. The cormorants arrive one-by-one muttering to each other in their deep guttural voices. After five hours of observation and photography I’m feeling tired and hungry so I wind my way home via the farm-shop to a few hours of catch-up sleep.

Young buck surprise!

Roe deer-mating behaviour_1

I’m back! My summer sojourn with landscape photography is at an end and I’ve returned to my wildlife photography. I do hope that I didn’t bore you with my images of the Wolds? I’m pretty sure I will return to the sea & the land later in the year.

The sun had already set and my camera’s meter was telling me it was time to go home when I spotted two Roe deer amongst the tall grass.There was a young buck and a much older doe and they appeared to be engrossed in their mating behaviour. I watched them patiently for about fifteen minutes as the buck showed a considerable amount of interest and finally ended up mating with the mature doe.

I wasn’t too sure of the quality of the pictures but was pleasantly surprised to see that most of them were sharp despite the high ISO and the very low shutter speeds employed (good old Nikon D3s). I was quite puzzled by the behaviour exhibited by this pair of roe deer so I made a quick copy of the files and sent them to my good friend Marc Baldwin at Wildlife Online. Marc was kind enough to send me the following note”

The photos clearly show a sexual liaison between a young buck and a mature doe. The mutual grooming and doe squatting on the ground to urinate (thereby releasing a flood of various hormones that tell the buck how close to being in estrus she is) are well-known peri-courtship behaviours in this species. Interestingly, there was no obvious frenetic chasing of the doe by the buck, which is often a precursor to copulation (and possibly stimulate ovulation). The fact that the buck appears quite young (probably in his second year) might suggest that the female hasn’t been mated earlier in the season by a mature male (from previous pics you’ve posted, there are a few around) and I know that, in Red deer (not sure about Roe), the females can become quite impatient — well, frankly slutty! — the longer they go without being mated and by the end of the season the female can often solicit any available males shamelessly to provoke a mating. It wouldn’t surprise me if this also happened in Roe.

Roe deer-mating behaviour_2

Roe deer-mating behaviour_3

Roe deer-mating behaviour_4

Roe deer-scent marking

Roe deer-mating

Even though the light was poor, I find this set of images represents to me, the true essence of wildlife photography—a rarely seen event that I can share with others. It’s always worth staying that little bit later, even if it’s too dark to photograph. You never know what you’ll see.

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

Drought? What drought!

Roe Deer-stag

What a miserable week! Watching the rain battering the windows of my home-office for most of the week has been very frustrating. I thought I was developing Cabin fever. I did manage a mid-week evening trip to Tophill Low and got soaked in the process. I tell you, it’s no fun sitting in a cold hide in a wet fleece and trousers! I thought I’d go looking for a pair of Avocets that had been spotted by several people on the reserve. I headed for South Marsh but disorientated by the rain, I walked straight past the hide. I sought shelter from the rain in the hide overlooking Watter N.R. Nothing much about. Even the ducks were absent. A flock of Black-headed gulls flew-in but didn’t stay too long. Miracoulsly, a pair of Avocets were accompanying the gulls and I managed to get several photographs of these beautiful birds. Though, it was a pity they were such a long-way from the hide.

Nothing much else around, though a Long-tailed Tit braved the rain to make a brief appearance…

Long-tailed Tit_5

A Kingfisher spend a few minutes searching for its supper. Here’s a small montage as it flew off…

Stopped by South Marsh hide on my way back to the car. Just lots of noisy gulls full of the joys of Spring!

Thankfully, Saturday was a dry day. I made the most of the clement weather and photographed for three hours, both in the early morning and evening. I was so glad to have my camera in my hand once again that I didn’t really care if nothing turned-up. There was a cold wind from the N.W. that was blowing directly in my face but even that didn’t depress my spirit! The pair of Linnets were still present and I got several shots as they foraged for food. Apparently, the Victorians used to keep these as caged birds because of their vocal talents.


A pair of Roe Deer were feeding on the lush new growth. My scent was lost in the strong wind and they seemed oblivious to my presence. Here’s a couple of images from yesterday…

Roe Deer-doe

Roe Deer doe_3

Suddenly, the stag appeared out of nowhere; right in front of me. It had forced its way through the dense brambles and the strong wind had prevented me from hearing its approach. We just stared at each other for a few seconds before I managed to get the photograph at the head of this post. It disappeared as quickly as it arrived. I grabbed my camera and opened the hide door and watched it leap over the nearby drain. I tried to capture the moment but foreground vegetation spoiled the photo. Ho-hum!

I hadn’t seen the local fox for a few weeks and was delighted to see it out hunting once more. I got several photographs in the early morning light as it wandered down to the lake for a drink…

Red Fox stroll_3

During my evening vigil, the same Fox wandered right in front of the hide and scrutinised me for a few seconds with that incredible stare.

Red-Fox head profile

Red-Fox head detail_3

Look like the weather forecast for the coming week is also pretty dire. Never mind, I expect that Summer is just around the corner?

Thought I’d add a small picture of the Roe Deer stag that eluded me. Just goes to show that I have my fair share of missed opportunities and disappointments!

Spring is in the air

Vixen stare

We’re not even in April yet and the temperatures have soared. I’ve been making the most of the good weather and the longer day-light hours and I’m sure the local wildlife has too. I spotted this Red Fox the other day but it was too close to photograph its whole body with my long lens. Nevertheless, it provided me with a good opportunity to study those beautifully designed eyes. Unlike most Canids (Dogs, wolves, Foxes, Coyotes etc), a Fox has slit-form pupils rather than the usual round ones. This is thought to assist with the hunting of ground based prey. A better explanation and much more information on the natural history of the Red Fox can be found on this excellent web site

Ironically, I got a better view of this vixen later in the day as it strolled along the shore of the lake. Judging by her swollen teats, she is already raising this year’s young in a den nearby.


Probably the biggest excitement of the week at Tophill Low was the continued presence of a pair of Snow Geese. This pair has been resident for most of the week at Watton N.R. and seem reluctant to continue on their migration.

Snow Geese_1

The Roe Deer have been active too and I see them most mornings & evenings in the fields around Tophill Low. I managed to get a photograph of this doe as it jumped and ran. She looks a little scruffy but that is because she is losing her Winter coat.

Roe Deer-sprint

A pair of Little egrets paid a visit earlier in the week. They both landed in a perfect spot and I was looking forward to getting some fine photographs of these magnificent birds against a perfectly blue back-drop of the lake. Unfortunately, no sooner had they landed, a pair of Roe Deer ran past and frightened them away. Still, I’m sure they will pay another visit again very soon.

Little Egret and Crow

Flocks of Curlew have been present on most days at Watton N.R. and I never tire of watching the dazzling aerial display of the Lapwing as they swoop down to land. I also spotted a Kingfisher which seemed to have a growth below its left eye. I do hope that it’s not a serious infliction.

Perhaps the highlight of the week was this morning at Watton N.R. I noticed that the local crows were unusually vociferous and then spotted an Osprey flying low beneath the trees. On this occasion, I only managed to get some poor flight shots but will cross my fingers for a return visit from this marvellous raptor. [Addendum – Richard Hampshire examined my poor images and concluded that the raptor was probably a female Marsh Harrier]

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.

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