Friday, December 17, 2010

Hares on the Run

The animals went in two by two, hurrah, hurrah! These running hares reminded me of one of my best-selling paintings, 'Hares on The Run'.
The lead hare is a female with the males running enthusiastically after them.

She runs to test their strength. Eventually she will mate with the fastest and fittest.
It is amazing to see the hares expend so much energy courting when many animals are struggling just to survive in these harsh conditions. They have had to resort to eating twigs and bark on the hedges, though.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hare Watch

I spent a total of 10 days watching this large group of hares in arctic conditions.
One day a group of five hares ran straight towards me.
This one froze on the spot as soon as he got downwind of me and picked up my scent. He then briefly stepped closer to investigate me.
Before dashing off into the distance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hares Boxing in Winter

The heavy snows have made life difficult for everybody up and down the country.But for a wildlife enthusiast such as myself it has provided one of the most exciting photographic opportunities ever. For the first time in my life I've seen up to 50 hares together at one time. I've had to brave temperatures of -14C and blizzards that have lasted for hours wearing a customised snow suit made from ton dumpy bags and a DIY spraysuit to see them!
Hares don't just breed in March. They are solitary animals and if you see more than one at a time it means they could be courting. In this photograph I captured 27 hares at once.
But the conditions were extreme. The hares would hunker down, with their backs to the wind during blizzards which could last for hours. I used these times to creep closer to them.

After a blizzard they would recover.Stretch.
And then resume courting. Here the one of the males dared to test the female's scent. But here a female rebuffed the male's amorous advance with a swift box that sent him springing.
After several days of snow storms, I was glad of some good light on a crisp sunny day and although it was -14C when I set out the bright light and heat haze coming off the snow played havoc with my auto-focussing.
The sunlight also put paid to my disguise since the hares could also hear my every footstep
crunching through the snow.

Click here to read more about my experiences in this month's Yorkshire Post.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tawny Owl Injured

I photographed this tawny owl roosting in its hole on Millington Pastures. It often sits there - a dusting of snow made the picture.As I drove on I spotted another tawny owl closer to the road. It's so unusual in the daytime to see a tawny owl close up, I thought I had struck gold. But when I focussed my camera the owl's right eye was clearly badly injured. I tried catching the owl but it was still very mobile and flew off.
Unfortunately I don't think this one will make it through the winter. It may have been hurt fighting for territory or it could have been hit by a car.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snow Fun for Barn Owls

The Yorkshire Wolds looks beautiful in its winter coat.Pictured below is the view across the dale of Fotherdale, my home and gallery.But whilst it looks very pretty, the cold has been very tough on wildlife. Just this week five barn owls in this area have been reported dead. And when I went to check on the one that lives in this box I found it too had died of starvation.
I did, however, see this, very beautiful, one attempting to hunt in the 18"deep snow in Millington Pastures.
As the snow fell relentlessly she took to shaking it off in quite a comical manner!

And then she was off, looking for a vole.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Talk cancelled due to snow

The snow looks very picturesque, but unfortunately it has meant I've had to cancel my talk on the migration in Kenya's Masai Mara tonight. Although the drifts are nothing like those we had last year, and plenty of visitors have braved the roads and visited the galley today, I was a little worried about encouraging another 40 cars on the road tonight.
I'm going to postpone it until Thursday night, December 2nd, when hopefully the snow will have cleared.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peregrine Falcon Swoops over Birdwatchers

Those of you who went on the two bird watching walks this weekend came back delighted. I hear the walk to find winter migrants on Saturday was a success. Michael Flowers, who led the walk, reported spotting fieldfares, yellowhammers and bullfinches as well as a very good view of redwings - and of a kestrel to boot.
And the walkers who took the trip on Sunday to find red kites also spotted a peregrine falcon, a buzzard, a green woodpecker and flocks of fieldfare.These walks are so popular I definitely feel they should become a part of all my exhibitions in the future. Tomorrow I will be giving a talk myself about my trips to see the wildebeest migration in Kenya's Masai Mara - I've been digging out the photographs all day in preparation.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zoo Vet

Zoo vet Matt Brash gave a fascinating speech to our audience last night.This TV vet's talk on how he cares for some of the world's most dangerous animals was both funny and exciting - especially his descriptions of how to castrate a hippo!
Matt Brash said that much of his time is now taken up with supporting the RSPCA on prosecutions for badger baiting - it is still surprisingly common.
He and I donated the money taken for the evening to Ryedale Rescue in Malton, where Jean Thorpe rehabilitates injured animals and releases them into the wild.
We are fully booked again for our walks to see winter migrants and to watch red kites this weekend so let's hope the visitors see plenty of birdlife!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Waxwing Glut

Waxwings have been arriving from Scandinavia in record numbers this year to take advantage of a bumper harvest of rowan berries.These beautiful birds migrate to the UK when food stocks further north begin to run out. The first birds land in huge flocks on the north east coast and so we are ideally placed to see them here. It's only when you photograph these birds that you can see what the human eye misses. They toss the berries up in the air before gobbling them down whole.
I spotted this mistle thrush getting in on the act, presumably before the berries are all gone.
Large flocks of waxwings can strip rowan trees of their berries in minutes. Rowan are native to Scandinavia and tend to be their first choice of winter food, but they go on to hawthorn and other berries once they've stripped the rowans. When they can get them they also eat insects, catching flies on the wing like flycatchers.
Waxwings get their name from the red tip to their primary wing feathers which look as though they've been dipped in sealing wax.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exhibition Walks and Talks a Great Success!

So far the exhibition has been a great success. We had more than 1,000 visitors during the opening weekend and today a group of 30 from Pocklington U3A.
The birdwatching walks with Michael Flowers (pictured above) were great. The group looking for winter migrants on Saturday saw fieldfares, finches, a redwing and 20 golden plovers heading south. As a bonus they also spotted a water rail, a little owl, a yellowhammer and a kestrel displaying.
Whilst on Sunday the red kite watch saw 13 red kites coming in to roost - as well as a green woodpecker, a pair of marsh tits and a redwing.
Everybody came back pleased with themselves and I think they enjoyed the exhibition of paintings all the more after having seen some of the birds in the wild first.
Of course I'm happiest of all - I've sold eight original oil paintings!
I'm also really pleased with the way the evening talks are going. Last night the gallery was packed for Gilda Brader and Jennie Palmer's demonstrations on how to make Christmas decorations.

And tomorrow night's talk by the zoo vet Matt Brash should be good. He's a very entertaining speaker and very knowledgeable about wildlife.