Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag ““Tony McLean””

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


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.

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.

It’s Hip to be Square

Wolds-Tree and Storm Clouds

I’ve always liked the square format ever since I borrowed a friends old Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR back in the early nineties. Since then I have owned several square format cameras including a second-hand Rollei SL66 and a chrome Hasselblad C. I still own the Hasselblad and use it whenever the muse takes me, though I must admit that I fell in love back in 1978, when I first saw one on the cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘This Years Model’ album. Now, in the digital age, nobody makes a square format SLR, though a square digital back can still be had for the price of a small family car.

There’s something I find so precise about the square format; it sort of forces you to study your viewfinder in order to achieve the best possible composition. There is a danger of producing images that are actually too formal if you don’t take care but I find it most useful to use the square format with wide and ultra-wide lenses. So as you may have gathered, I enjoy using the square format and have employed it in many of my latest landscape and seascape images. Though it may not always be apparent, I usually spend more time deciding on the position of the post-capture crop than I do with the rest of the processing of my image. Here’s a few examples from the past couple of week that you may enjoy:-

Wolds-Wheat Field and Sky

Wolds -Tree and Barley

Abandoned chapel and tree

Of course, there are many occasions when a square format will just not suit. I tried it with this image of the Sir Tatton Sykes’ monument, but eventually settled on this rectangular crop. I encourage you to check out the wonderful rich detail in these images, so please feel free to click on them to see a larger version on my Flickr page.

Tatton Monument-Sledmere

The more astute of you may also have noticed that these images are all a rather strange colour! Yes, I used Nik software’s Silver Efex Pro to convert the colour files into black & white and then I carefully toned them to match the mood of the moment of capture. I used to do an awful lot of dark-room work in the pre-digital days and I was always very particular about the toning of my images. Most of the time, I did not wish to create a full sepia effect and I hated to see prints that had the colour of a ginger biscuit. I found that if I carefully diluted the bleach, it provided me with much greater control of the toning process and I could achieve quite subtle effects; tones that I have tried to emulate some of the images below with Photoshop.

…and then here are times when I feel that a full-blown sepia effect is warranted. Most of these photographs were taken within an hour of sunset and in the images below, I tried to match the rich warm glow of the arable fields of the Wolds.

Wolds---Cloud and Field

Wolds-Car and Clouds

Thanks for your continued support and I hope to post another blog entry soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the summer and your photography.

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!

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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