Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag ““Tophill Low””

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

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

The end of the affair…

Watton NR August 2013 panorama

Watton Nature Reserve has been my second home for the past few years. Situated on the edge of Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low, it was bought by the Environment Agency a few years ago and it has been, at least to me, the jewel in the crown and a safe haven for the local wildlife. But now it is up for sale and quite frankly, I’m heart-broken.

My good friend Richard Hampshire, the warden at Tophill Low, has published the details of the sale in his latest weekly blog. I would urge everyone to read it in order to gain a history of the site and more importantly, the details of the sale. Here is the link: http://tophilllow.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/watton-nature-reserve.html The guide price for the auction sale is £50 k. I wish I could afford to buy it but unfortunately, this is well beyond my means.

During the past few years I have spent hundreds of hours and taken thousand of pictures at this beautiful location. I have lost count of the number of sunsets and sunrises that I have had the good fortune to witness. I have watched roe deer running and jumping, fox cubs fighting, herons and cormorants fishing and cuckoo’s calling. Every beautiful moment has lifted my spirits and enriched my life.

Of course, there may be an outside chance that a sympathetic individual, or perhaps a group of nature lovers, may purchase the site and allow the wildlife to remain undisturbed. How I hope that this will happen. I suppose that I will have to wait and see. The one thing I can promise is that I will continue to maintain a keen interest in this unique habitat and will be watching, and watching very carefully!

Here’s a selection of images taken over the past few years that I sincerely hope will influence a prospective purchaser to maintain this site as a sanctuary for our local wildlife…

Sunrise-Tophill Low

Barn Owl look_2

Barn Owl-rear view hover

Red-Fox head detail_3

Vixen-with rabbits foot

Roe deer - dawn mist

Roe deer stag - silhouette

Redwing

Grey Heron - flying with eel

Greeting the dawn

Cuckoo-calling

Marsh Harrier and rabbit

Sparrowhawk - male on willow

Greylag-Goose_flight

Great-crested grebe-dawn flight

Whitethroat warbling

Cormorant-returning to roost

Kingfisher hover_3

Roebuck - golden light of sunset

Spring spring

Serendipity

“…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

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?

News release…

Female Marsh Harrier-spring morning

I apologise for anyone who was recently frustrated by my previous, password protected post. I have now ‘unprotected’ it and I hope you enjoy the news and photographs!

Marsh Harriers…………….

Marsh Harrier with prey

During the third week of May, I received a tip-off from Richard Hampshire of Tophill Low that a pair of Marsh Harriers were believed to be building a nest at South Marsh West. Richard asked me to keep this a secret until he was sure that they were firmly established. As promised, I have maintained my silence and have only made a couple of visits ‘out-of-hours’ and only stayed less than and hour during each of my visits.

Of course it quickly became one of Tophill Low’s worst kept secrets and most of the regulars visitors soon learned of their presence! I understand that the chicks have now hatched and Richard has finally lifted his embargo.

I have posted a few images on my Flickr page during the past few weeks and have received some very kind comments from other photographers and the birding community. I have kept my word and not revealed the location or tagged my images with the location, ‘Tophill Low’.

I sincerely hope that everyone who visits the hide does so responsibly and with the welfare of these magnificent birds foremost in their minds. It would be a tragedy if this pair of harriers were disturbed. The nest-site is within a hundred metres of the hide and even those with limited photographic equipment should be able to obtain some fantastic pictures.

The images below were all photographed during two short visits of little more than an hour. I won’t be back, at least not for a while. I don’t like the crowds and I want others to enjoy their visit too. The South Marsh West hide at Tophill Low isn’t very large and I would guess that not more than ten people could be accommodated with a good view of these harriers. So my advice would be: please don’t be a hide-hog, enjoy your visit and let as many people as possible share in this amazing spectacle. Don’t forget to look out for the nesting Cetti’s warblers too. Although I do hope you have better luck than I did trying to capture an image of these little birds!

[As always, please feel free to ‘click’ on any image to see a larger size on my Flickr page]

Male marsh harrier

Male Marsh Harrier gathering nest material

Marsh Harrier flight

Female Marsh Harrier landing

Male Marsh Harrier - head-on

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.

The migrants return

Whitethroat warbling

It’s wonderful to see and hear the return of the migrants. For the past couple of weeks the morning air has been alive with the calls of various warblers and several cuckoos. It really feels like Spring! Barn owls are out hunting most mornings and evenings and kestrels and even the local foxes are all competing for the unseen rodents that remain hidden amongst the new vegetation. Territorial squabbles abound. The return of one of my favourite birds, the common tern is also a delight, though I suspect that the commandeering of the ‘tern raft’ by the black-headed gulls is more than a little nuisance. Still, first come, first served!

Cuckoo on willow

Cuckko on fence post

One of a pair of Great-crested grebes has also been very active. I suspect that the female has an active nest somewhere in the vicinity and the male bird has been fishing during much of the daylight hours. This has given me the opportunity to capture some great moments and to witness this elegant bird in some less than flattering poses. Still, it was interesting to see the huge paddle feet of this species.

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested grebe rising

Great-crested grebe landing

I was delighted to see the local fox the other day. I watched with awe as it sprung into the air and pounced on an unfortunate short-tailed vole that it swiftly despatched and took back to its den. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The photographs may prove a little disturbing but that’s nature I’m afraid.

Fox chew

Fox-with rodent and salad breakfast

Fox returning to its den

Barn Owl-Spring evening

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