Friday, October 14, 2016

A Winter Art Exhibition: Animals Do the Funniest Things

My Christmas art exhibition runs from November 12th - December 4th at my gallery in Thixendale.

Join me for a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie whilst you browse my latest art work at this seasonal show.
Don't miss a special exhibit of my photographs and video clips of some of my funniest animal observations.
I spend most of my working life watching wild creatures in their natural habitat before picking up a paintbrush. I'll be sharing some of the most comical moments I've captured during this intensive process. 
Among them a penguin in Antarctica so overcome by beach rage it slaps a fur seal across the face.
It takes a lot of patience to get the shots I need for my paintings, but when the birds and animals I’m watching occasionally do something funny it always helps lighten my day.
They say you should never work with animals, but I wouldn't swap my job for the world. 
The exhibition includes walks into the countryside, a talk and slideshow on my amusing anecdotes and falconry events for children
The gallery is open weekdays, 9.30am-4.30pm, and weekends, 10.30am-4.30pm throughout the exhibition. 

Below is a list of accompanying events. Please click on the relevant dates to book.

Red Kite Roost with Michael Flowers, Sun 13th Nov & Sat 26th Nov, 2pm-4pm, Meet at Warter car park Tickets Adults £9.50 A guided walk to see these protected birds swoop and dive over the Yorkshire Wolds.
Winter Wildlife Walk with Jack Ashton Booth Sun 27th Nov,10am-12 noon Tickets Adults £9.50 A guided walk through Thixendale to spot winter wildife.
Family Falconry, Sun 13th, 20th & 27th Nov, 10-11am Adults £6 Kids£4
Handle birds of prey and learn how to fly one for yourself.
Tiny Tots Falconry  Sun 4th Dec, 10-11am Tickets Adults £6 Kids £4 Falconry for the very young, these classes are aimed at children aged between two and five years.
Kids Red Kite Roost with Jack Ashton Booth. Sun 27th Nov, 2pm-4pmTickets Adults £6 Kids £4 Children can build their own red kite nest and then go and see these magnificent birds on the Wolds.
Animals do the funniest things, Sat19th Nov 7.30pm Tickets Adults £9.50 Robert spends his days watching wild creatures in their natural Join artist Robert E Fuller for an evening of animal anecdotes and see his rare footage of some truly priceless animal behaviour.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Pine Martens Close Up

Pine martens were once Britain’s second most common carnivore. But following years of persecution you now have to go to some effort to see one. This summer, I headed to the remote Ardnamurchan peninsular in Western Scotland, one of the few remaining strongholds, to try my luck. I had visited this area before but the trip had been thwarted by relentless rain and poor sightings. This time I was hoping for better success. As I drove north the temperature on the car thermometer dropped dramatically. Then it started to rain and I began to have serious misgivings. But at the cottage that I had booked, I was told that that if I put food on the table on the front deck the pine martens would come that evening.

I had brought an entire Landrover full of cameras, lighting, camera traps, surveillance cameras, TV monitors, hides, tripods, flash guns, tools and torches. I had even strapped some small tree trunks to the roof which I hoped the pine martens would pose on. As I began unloading the car I couldn’t help but pause to admire the stunning view of Loch Sunart and the Isle of Canna that stretched before the cottage. All I needed was a pine marten! I put a small dollop of peanut butter on the table and positioned my tree trunk props around the garden. I nipped into the cottage to fetch my cameras and was just about to go back out when I spotted a female pine marten already polishing off the peanut butter.

Large female. Note the non-retractable claws
She was just five feet away from me. I froze, watching her through the French windows. This was the best view I had ever had of a pine marten. A chocolate brown body, yellow bib and long bushy tail are the first things you notice about a pine marten. But I was transfixed by this female’s huge feet as she bounded around the deck. These were pristine, white, with sharp catlike claws that were built for climbing. These claws are non-retractable so when pine martens are not climbing, they have to walk on their pads making them look unusually prominent.

It was a promising start. I rushed about setting up my cameras and props so that I would be ready for her next visit. Instead of leaving food out on the deck, I smeared peanut butter and jam on rocks in the garden and the tree trunks I had brought, so that my photographs would have a more natural looking backdrop. But as dusk fell I became quite anxious that the pine martens might not find the food, as it was now 20 metres away from the decking.

The female kit: her yellow bib is distinctive.
Suddenly two pine martens came running across the grass and climbed straight on to a rock. These two were smaller than the female I had seen earlier and had fuzzier coats. I realised these were kits, a male and a female, as one kit was much bigger than the other. The female joined them and as the three bounded round the garden it was hard to know which one to photograph first. As it got dark I lit up the garden with a spotlight and powerful torches. The pine martens didn’t mind this artificial light and the kits even jumped up at the flashguns inquisitively. I watched them until gone midnight.

The next morning I was up at 5am to put more food out. It was a beautiful day, the water in the loch was like glass and I wondered if I would get some pictures of the pine martens in daylight. I spotted an otter fishing in the bay, but I resisted an urge to follow it and devoted my day instead to re-arranging my tree trunk props to greater effect. By evening it was all ready: the branches smeared with peanut butter, raisins and jam.The plan was nearly dashed when I spotted a red deer licking these offerings from the branches. I tried to shoo it away, but it just looked at me and went back to scoffing the peanut butter. It wasn’t until I walked right up to it that it wandered down to the banks of the loch.

Red deer enjoying the treats left for the pine martens

A hedgehog had also found the food. Just as I was beginning to worry that there wouldn’t be any left the pine martens turned up - first the female, then the two kits. I watched them for over 4 hours.
I spent over 10 hours a day watching and waiting for the pine martens and reviewing my camera trap footage. I noticed that they were mainly active on dull, overcast days or at dawn and dusk when the light was poor. Most days I had wall to wall sunshine, but I did get three sightings of the pine martens in good light. I was so pleased, but there was one thing missing – I had yet to see the male. He was the missing piece of the jigsaw.

On my third day an adult male pine marten in his prime visited my tree trunks at 6am. He was much larger than the female, as big as a large cat, and remarkably agile for his size. I was delighted.
And, on the fourth day I was rewarded with some fascinating behaviour between the male and female too. The male arrived and climbed up a dead oak tree, followed soon after by the female who headed straight up to join him. I could hear them chittering to one another. She climbed over him and then under his legs, brushing her body against his.

Male and female together: their social interaction was closer in character to that of badgers.

They then fed peacefully alongside one another. Once they had finished they both came down onto a large rock and he started to feed. As he did so she climbed on top of him and lay down on his back, top to tail, her back legs dangling over his sides and her mouth open as if she was panting. She slid over him, rubbing her lower body along the length of his back and along his tail to leave a trail of scent. It was clear she was marking him as if to say ‘you’re mine’.  After this she rubbed her cheeks in a patch of soft moss and I wondered if she was marking the area with her scent.

The male was significantly bigger than she was and they appeared to have a strong bond.
Pine martens are mustelids, a group of mammals that also includes badgers, otters, stoats and weasels, and it was interesting to notice that although they look similar to stoats or weasels their behaviour and social structure seemed closer to that of badgers. Their diet was also similar to a badger’s in that they are omnivorous and eat a selection of berries, fruit, fungi and small birds and mammals  – whereas other mustelids are strictly carnivorous.

The adult male was as big as a large cat.

I watched as the pair ate jam and raisins for a starter and then noticed the male tug at the dead chicken chicks I had tied to my tree trunks. He tore one off and ran around the cottage to eat it under my car, this time a little less willing to feed alongside his mate. Meanwhile the female chased him back and forth trying to steal the chick from him. 

As I was packing up on my last day the male kit arrived. I got some of the best photographs of the trip as he climbed up the trunk of a tall silver birch tree and then, effortlessly, down again - wrapping his back legs around the vertical trunk. Like squirrels, a pine marten’s legs are prehensile, meaning they can wrap around an object, and their feet actually rotate at the ankle so that they can dig their claws in on the way down.  

The male kit in the rain.
Clambering up tree trunks I brought from Yorkshire to use as props.
As I sat on the doorstep photographing the kit, the female came onto the deck and jumped onto the bench next to me. She put her front paws up on the arm rest, looked me in the eye and sniffed me. She was just three feet away.  It was an amazing end to a wonderful trip.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A bird table with a difference

I have just finished this painting of the three tawny owl chicks that visit my garden bird table with their parents every night.

Tawny owls have been bringing their young to feed at my garden bird table for some 10 years now and I regularly pull up a chair in the evenings to enjoy the show as they all swoop down in front of my living room window. I've had up to 10 at once balancing on a branch outside the window in the past and it really is a spectacular sight.

My bird table is unusual in that it caters for birds of prey, in particular kestrels and tawny owls, alongside the seed-eating birds you are more likely to see in most people’s gardens. 

This summer I invited a camera crew from TV's The One Show to see how friendly tree sparrows like this make way for heavyweight falcons like kestrels and barn owls at mealtimes.

Kestrels and owls mainly eat rodents, but they will take a garden bird, especially a young one, if the opportunity arises. Thankfully the ones that visit my garden know that I have left food for them and so they don’t bother.

These predatory dinner guests make for an edgy atmosphere around the garden table. But it works and I get to enjoy spectacular sightings of a great variety of birds for my paintings.Watch this robin below. It is literally a few feet away from the kestrel.  

This unorthodox dining event began one bitterly cold winter when I spotted a young male kestrel hunting from my kitchen window. He wasn't having much luck and I soon got worried about his chances of surviving the cold.

I decided to do what I could to help so I caught a mouse in a trap and put it out on my bird table. By the end of the day the mouse had gone. So the next day I popped another mouse out on the table. Again it disappeared. The kestrel soon became a regular visitor, sometimes arriving up to four times a day and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t catch enough mice for him.

I discovered it was possible to buy dead day old chicks, cockerels that are a by-product of the hen laying industry, so I decided to order some in. I also found myself picking up road-kill rabbit and pheasant to give to the kestrel. In this way I helped this kestrel survive the winter. The following spring he brought a girlfriend along to share this regular food supply and I was absolutely delighted when they nested nearby.

The kestrel became so tame that I could whistle as I put the food out for him and he would have taken it before I got back to the house. I took to tying the food onto a branch so that he stayed for long enough for me to get my camera out!

Before long I was ordering chicks by the 1000s to feed the kestrel’s expanding family, as well as a pair of tawny owls that had cottoned on to the evening service I was providing. During the late summer months the tawny owls began to bring their chicks to the table.

Although this brought fantastic photographic opportunities, it also became a logistical challenge.

Not only did I need to ensure I had enough ingredients to keep up with their ever-expanding menus, I also needed to timetable the arrival times of my avian guests to avoid any serious consequences of a clash between predator and prey. 

Feeding the kestrel soon became an established part of my routine and when I was away staff in my gallery took on the job – some of them donning marigolds before they picked up the dead chicks. Before long I was ordering chicks by the 1000s and feeding barn owls and tawny owls as well. 

More than 60 species of garden birds visit my table over the course of a day and I begin each day by filling up the bird feeders and hanging fat bars. I usually serve a cocktail of wild bird seeds, which includes nyjer seeds for the goldfinches, peanuts for the blue tits, and sunflower hearts for greenfinches, tree sparrows and blue tits, and fat bars for woodpeckers and robins. I also sprinkle mealworms into a dish for dunnocks and wrens.

At mid-morning it's time for the kestrel’s breakfast: three dead chicks tied to the branch just above the dining table. Then at lunchtime another three dead chicks and another three at teatime. As the kestrel approaches, my other, seeding eating, dinner guests flit into surrounding tree cover and wait until it has gone before daring to resume their meals. Shortly before dusk, I cater for my nocturnal visitors, tying more chicks or mice to the same branches that the kestrel uses. At the peak of the breeding season this year I was supporting a kestrel family and a tawny pair with seven chicks. I was putting out an average of 30 to 40 chicks a day. 

Look out for the story of my bird table on BBC1s The One Show this month. I will be posting news of its screening on my Facebook page. Search for Robert E Fuller.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I've won the British Seasons category of the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Very excited to announce that this week I won a prize in the highly esteemed 2016 British Wildlife Photography Awards for a series of photographs I took of weasels in my garden.

The four pictures, which follow a weasel family from the the first flowers of spring to late winter snows, won the British Seasons category and go on show in a travelling exhibition that opened on Monday at the Mall Galleries in London.

I've only just returned from opening night where I got to meet and admire the incredible work submitted by the other contestants.

The judges told me that they chose my pictures because it is so rare for anyone to get close up shots of weasels in the wild. 

Weasels are so small and lithe that it is very difficult to see more than a fleeting glimpse of them in the wild and very few close up portraits exist. Yet I took these in my own garden:

Spring: Most of the action took place outside my kitchen where I could photograph it through the window. The female cached its rodents in a mouse hole under a blossoming mound of pink saxifrage. Moments before I took the photograph she had been carrying a wood mouse to her nesting chamber when the male appeared. At nearly double her weight, she was rightly very wary of him and so she dropped her catch and watched him intently, pausing just long enough for me to photograph her against the bloom. 
Summer: Here the female is carrying one of her kits to a new location. The kits were just 17 days old and she carried them one by one with such a delicate grasp it was a touching to see. I had been watching her via a camera hidden inside her nest and as soon as I saw her start to pick up the kits I rushed to my camera to capture this rare moment. The photograph shows her struggle as she keeps a wary eye out for danger whilst manoeuvring this kit through the entrance hole to a new location.
Autumn: This photo is of one of the male kits in his first autumn. I took it just as he popped his head up through a pile of roots and leaves. Underneath the roots I had placed a feeding box. The kit was almost fully grown. Unfortunately its mother had been predated by a stoat. But luckily weasels mature fast and it was already fending for itself and took up the territory in my garden.

Winter: This photograph was taken from my kitchen window on a cold January day. I normally head outside as soon as it snows to capture wildlife against a white backdrop. But this year I was so absorbed with photographing the male weasel’s first winter I stayed at home, my eyes ever trained on my weasel surveillance screens and the windows looking out onto the weasel’s territory. I was struck by how pristine the tiny predator looked against the white. It was as though he had dressed for the occasion. His whiskers were perfectly symmetrical, his bib as clean as the surrounding snow.
My winning shots go on show in my gallery in Thixendale from this week and this beautiful book, see below, featuring all of this year's BWPA winners can be purchased online by following this link to my website. 

A sleek coffee table edition, it measures 27cm x 27cm and costs £25.

The story of how I got up close to these elusive predators was also featured this year on BBC's Springwatch. You can read the background to the tale of how I got close enough to a family of weasels to paint them by clicking here and, for all the latest on the weasels in the garden, click here.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A weekend with a very bold, very wet fox

I spent a very wet afternoon in Dalby Forest this month trying to make the most of a rare day off with my family. It reminded me of a similarly soggy July camping there two years ago when I spent a stormy afternoon tossing dog biscuits to a wild fox and admiring her as she caught them in the air like a pet dog.

I had gone there after a visitor to an exhibition at my gallery told me about fox that was so bold it regularly ran in front of cyclists like a ruthless Highwayman demanding food on one of the main bike trails from Dixon’s Hollow. I set off on the very next free Saturday I had, ready to camp there so that I could maximise my chances of seeing the fox.  It turned out to be the wettest weekends of the summer, but an amazing wildlife experience nonetheless.
I took my mountain bike with me so that I would blend in with the other cyclists. I asked several people if they knew about this brazen fox. One said it had grabbed some sausages off a lit barbeque, another that it raided open cars for food and a third said it had even eaten jelly babies out of his hand. Each tale placed the fox in different locations so I simply cycled round the whole area all day.
By 4pm I was getting disheartened. But then as I biked into the car park nearest to the Dalby Activity Centre I noticed a group of cyclists covered in mud by their van. Five metres away from them sat a fox looking at them intently, begging for tit bits.
I headed towards them and as I got my camera out I explained I had been looking for this fox all day. They told me, matter-of-factly, that it was always here at 4pm just as they finished their bike ride.
It was a vixen and I could see by her swollen teats that she was lactating. I suspected her cubs were somewhere nearby.

I had brought along some dog biscuits and threw a few to the vixen. She ran forward to pick them up and I began taking a series of photographs in quick succession. One of the group casually tossed a half-eaten sausage roll to the fox as they headed off. At last I was alone with the fox. I kept throwing her biscuits and photographing her in different poses. She ate a few and then I noticed she was gathering the food up in her mouth, probably to take to her cubs. I was keen to find them. If they were as tame as she was then I might get some great shots.
Mouth full, she headed off through the undergrowth which was too dense for me to follow on my bike.  I went the long way round, but she soon appeared on the track in front of me and crossed it heading along the edge of the cycle course. She ran along some of the obstacles, completing several jumps and balance beams. It was astonishing watching her weaving along the busy obstacle course before disappearing into the forest.
I didn’t fancy following her along this demanding route on my 20 year old bike, especially as I was carrying a tripod in one hand and a rucksack on my back full of heavy cameras.  I decided that my best tactic was to head back to the car park. I thought she would probably come back there since she knew I was handing out food. Sure enough, she was back within five minutes.
Again she gathered the dog biscuits into her mouth and headed back to her cubs. I raced round the wood to where I knew she would cross the track again and this time followed her a little further before circling back to the car park to feed her the next instalment.

Each time she disappeared in the direction of the cubs, I followed her a little further and then cycled back to the car park to meet her on her return trip. By continuing in this way I got a little closer to the cubs each time. Eventually I found them a good 600 yards away from where we had first started. I could hear a whickering sound and then I spotted two cubs peering very warily through some ferns at me. Not a bit like their mother.
It was getting late, so I backed away and headed back to the campsite. As I left I noticed the grass near the track at the bottom of the valley was flattened and realised that this was where the cubs probably played. I was pleased that I had now pinpointed the den site.

It rained so hard that night I barely slept and bitterly regretted my decision to camp. The ground was soggy, everything was damp and there was a drizzly mist in the air. I headed back to where I first saw the fox and parked up. Next I set off on my bike towards the den with my camera.
Sure enough there was the vixen going down the track in front of me. She turned to face me. I tried coaxing her towards me with dog biscuits but she was a much more wily fox now that she was near the den site and she didn’t respond.
Instead she turned and went away down the hill. Then all of a sudden she was ambushed by her three cubs. They were wagging their tails furiously and rushing round her, licking her muzzle. I tried creeping forward to get some photos but she barked an alarm call and the cubs instantly vanished into the forest.
She trotted off in the opposite direction, heading up a steep cycle track towards Adderstone Field. She crossed the field and I caught up with her at a children’s playground where she was checking the bins and BBQ areas. I gave her a few biscuits and again she headed off with them back to her cubs. I didn’t go near the cubs again. She clearly didn’t want me there.
Instead I followed her on and off for most of the morning. It was fascinating watching this wild animal negotiate cars, bike riders, dog-walkers largely unnoticed, and taking advantage of any opportunities to get food. People began to set up their BBQs, I noticed she was no longer interested in dog biscuits, but was after beef burgers and sausages instead.
Towards the end of the afternoon light showers turned into a heavy downpour. In a very short time all the day-trippers had suddenly packed up and headed home. It I felt as if I was the only person left in the whole forest. The fox seemed to realise this too because she was now happy to take dog biscuits from me again. After a while she headed back into the woods and I lost her. I was absolutely soaked and decided it was time to call it a day so I headed back to my bike, which I had left near the playground. But when I got there I found the vixen dragging around my camera bag around, which had some dog biscuits in. 

I gave her a few and she set off with them in her mouth again. I headed back to the car, and, just in case she was still about, lit the stove I had in the boot of the car and started to cook four sausages  - two for me and two for the fox.  While they were cooking, I started litter-picking.
I was amazed at how many discarded energy drinks bottles I found. After collecting four bags of rubbish my sausages were ready. And, not surprisingly, the fox was back, trying to work out how to get into my car.
I let her sausages cool whilst she sat and watched me eat mine. But then she got tired of waiting and began to forage about. She found a plastic bag with a sandwich inside in the bushes. I didn’t want her to take this plastic bag to her cubs so I ran a few steps towards her to scare her away from it.
She dropped the bag and I picked it up and placed it out of the way on the roof of my car.  I turned to get her the sausages – I wanted to make up to her for scaring her - but before I had turned back she had jumped up onto my car and was climbing up the bumper and spare wheel to get at the plastic bag. I shooed her off and gave her the sausages instead.
A thunderstorm was brewing and the wind began to whip around me. I was already wet through so I sat down on my folding chair with the rain lashing down to photograph the vixen at eye-level. She sat patiently in front of me waiting for more biscuits, as though she were a pet dog.
It was quite surreal. As dark clouds gathered overhead, pierced by occasional bolts of lightning and thunder, the fox came right up to me and jumped up to my knees with its front paws. It looked me in the eyes and started sniffing at my pockets for biscuits. Then she started tugging at the flap of my pocket and nearly pulled me off my chair.
It was a bit too close for comfort – and for photography - so I threw more biscuits, tossing them a little away from me. As I spun them into the air one at a time, she sat before me catching them in her mouth with the rain came down on her. It was quite an incredible experience.
I returned to the same spot again on my visit last week, wondering if I might catch up with that bold vixen or her cubs, but she is no longer around. I wonder what happened to her? Below is her portrait, which I painted on my return. 
Dalby Fox, painting by Robert E Fuller.

·       If you have any news of the Dixon’s Hollow fox, or of any interesting wildlife sightings, please let me know either by email or on twitter @RobertEFuller.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hiding from the wildlife: My top tips on camouflages and hides

I use hides a great deal. Once I am certain I know an animal or bird will appear in the same spot again and again – for instance if I've found a badger sett, fox den, or birds in a nest – I set about building a hide. I tend to make wooden hides as they are more stable and weather proof. Over the years I have developed my own designs and now build hides that are quick to put up and even have shelves and storage space for all my equipment. I spend a lot of time in them, so they need to be comfortable. My badger hide, for example, is insulated and has double glazed windows and a heater. It needs to be, I can spend up to four or five hours on a winter’s night in there.

Most of my hides measure roughly four foot square and six foot high with a main opening at the front and a sturdy shelf to bolt my tripod heads onto. I use up to three cameras at once so I don’t want tripods to get in the way. I like to be at eye level to my subjects, or just above them, and so if my subject is up high I use towers. I either make wooden towers or place a platform in a tree and use a scaffold to get up there.

Possibly the hide with the best view, I built this to watch buzzards in Snowdon, Wales
It can be frustrating being in a hide since you have a very limited view and if your subject is very sensitive you have to be extremely patient to wait for it to hone into view. Recently I’ve added a CCTV camera with a seven inch screen so that I have a wider view. I carry a battery pack to fuel this.
But I still rely heavily on my field craft. One of the first signs that a subject is close at hand is the noise of birds calling out in alarm, if I am studying a predator, or the sound of chicks calling their parents, if I am at a nest.

I use popup hides and canvas hides when I am travelling. And for mobile subjects like hares, deer or otters I use camouflage jackets and trousers to hide. I have a whole wardrobe of appropriate clothing, thick ones for winter and thin ones for summer. The summer gear often gets ripped on barbed wire or brambles but I find it invaluable because it scrunches up into tiny spaces so I can quickly put them over my normal clothes. It is important that I blend into the background. I sometimes use a wide piece of camouflage netting which I’ve attached to a T-shaped piece of wood so it hangs like a curtain. The central post and I tie this to my Wimbley head to create a one-sided mobile hide. It doesn’t work so well in a bramble patch or in strong winds but I have got some amazing results with it on still days.

Camouflage netting over a T-frame hides me and a camera in the field

The set up is very effective when viewed from the front

In snow, I’ve had some interesting times trying to blend into a white backdrop, including once donning a disposable DIY white suit and wearing a pillowcase on my head as a balaclava and white oven gloves on my hands to photograph hares. I even customised my tripod and camera with white covers. I've since invested in a snow white ski suit which is nice and warm.

I've taken some of my best photographs of hares whilst in my camouflage suit
Which I went on to develop into this painting.
Knowing when to be still and when it is OK to edge closer, or when to stop taking photographs, that is the key. This comes with experience. Only the other day I scared off a buzzard by flipping my 1:4 converters in my 200 to 400 lens. I’d been waiting five hours for it to appear! Birds of prey can see down your lens and even see the lens as it focuses. I’ve found they can even see my shutter moving.
At home I use my house as a giant hide. I have planted my garden with shrubs and hedging to provide plenty of cover and there are feeding stations and nest boxes throughout. I’ve positioned feeding boxes for stoats and weasels outside the kitchen window and feed birds of prey outside the living room window.

I also use plenty of hides in the garden. This year I made my ambitious hide yet, reached by an underground tunnel leading from my house. The idea for a tunnel arose after I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that if I spotted something I wanted to photograph outside the living room, it inevitably spotted me as I slunk out of the house and into the hide and disappeared before I got a shot.
The tunnel is made from a six-metre long three-foot wide drainage pipe. I use a trolley and pulley system to manoeuvre down its length. Now that I can slip into my tunnel and be in the hide undetected, I have been able to photograph the kestrels, tawny owls and even a family of weasels outside more easily.

I’ve also upgraded the hide. It is now very high tech with more than 20 wildlife cameras linked to five TV monitors showing me live images of all the wildlife activity in the garden at any one time. I really cannot miss any action whilst I’m in there!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Peregrine Action

York Minster Peregrine, painted by Robert E Fuller
The group that attended yesterday's gallery event to see peregrines at York Minster were treated to a spectacular show when three peregrines appeared in the skies above the medieval cathedral. My new gallery guide Jack Ashton-Booth, of the bird-watching group, York Peregrines, reported a fantastic display when an unknown female bird also appeared on the scene. "The peregrine pair that live on the ramparts of the minster didn't like this intruder one bit and so they flew straight at it, forcing it west out of their territory. It's very rare to see three together like this, in the four years I've been monitoring the peregrine pair that live here I've only seen three together a handful of times," he said.

Female Peregrine posing on the Minster during the tour
"We watched from the city walls where we had a fantastic view of the pair sitting either side of the North Tower. It was a fascinating event and was further enriched by two elderly members of the group who at one time worked on the minster, cleaning and repairing the stone. They brought an extra dimension to the experience when they described exactly how high each bird was perched - having actually worked at those dizzying heights themselves."
Male was perched on the opposite side of the North Gate

Jack is the latest member to join the team at my gallery in Thixendale. An experienced ornithologist, he has brought a wealth of expertise to our events. This weekend he led a total of four bird-watching tours, including a very successful kids walk to find young owls.
"This went down very well. We saw family of tawny owls, including the chicks, and then the children all came inside the gallery to dissect owl pellets. There was a birthday party group who were a particular pleasure to show the owls to as they were so enthusiastic."

Jack also led an event to learn how to recognise birdsong, in keeping with the theme of my latest exhibition of paintings of the songbirds of the Yorkshire Wolds. Attendees of 'Birds of Thixendale' reported hearing and seeing up to 40 different species on their walk on Saturday. If you haven't yet been to my exhibition it runs until July 3rd. The video below gives you a flavour of the paintings on show as well as a helpful introduction to learning birdsong.