Thursday, March 31, 2011

Need a Card for Mother's Day?

Now there's a mother's love for you: The way this tiny reed warbler struggles to keep up with the demands of the huge cuckoo chick got me thinking about parenthood in general.Cuckoo chicks trill in such a way that they sound like a whole nest of hungry chicks which is part of the reason why their hosts work so hard to keep them fed. Don't forget to thank your mum for all her hard work this Sunday!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Photographing Long-Tailed Tits for a New Painting

I spent a day last week photographing this long-tailed tit building a nest.Long-tailed tits make their nests out of very soft materials which then expand as the chicks grow. They use lichen, cobwebs, moss, sheep's wool, or anything soft to make these intricate nests. The trouble is they nest so early, usually before any leaves are out, that they are very visible. I've been trying to get a photograph of nesting long-tailed tits for many years now and each time I find one they get predated by magpies. There were some magpies close by so I decided to protect the nest with netting. It was tricky because I had to fix the netting whilst they were off foraging for feathers to line their nest and then hide whenever I heard the contact calls between the pair which announced their return. I used this very simple camouflage netting to hide behind whilst I photographed them. Long-tailed tits have such delicate colouring they make beautiful subjects to paint. This is a one I painted a few years ago. I liked the way it was tugging at a length of soft sheep's wool.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring at Last!

Isn't it nice to get out in the fresh air without having to bundle up into warm clothing. I've spent two days photographing a pair of long tail tits and the signs of spring are everywhere.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wildlife Log Footage

For those of you who remember my wildlife log which I discovered whilst looking for otters along the River Derwent, I've now got some very amusing footage of the animals using it. It really is very funny seeing them all slink along it - look out for the wood mouse. If you blink, you miss him.

A badger

A fox crossing.

A wood mouse. Did you see him?

And a pheasant!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Countryfile Visit

I took a film crew from BBC Countryfile out wildlife watching with me last week.
It was quite a hectic day, but Julia Bradbury was very easy to talk to and made it fun.
They wanted to film at my wildlife log as well as find some barn owls and some hares on the Wolds.

But wildlife isn't so biddable. I managed to find some hares, but the barn owl flew off as soon as they spotted the crew!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Countryfile filming here tomorrow

BBC Countryfile are coming to film here tomorrow! They'll be arriving first thing and want to spend the whole day with me as I look for subjects to photograph on the Wolds.
Julia Bradbury will be coming at breakfast time and the camera crew are hoping to catch the kestrel in the garden as it comes in for its morning feed - I hope it appears!
They do say: 'Never work with animals or children' but I'll have both as I try to get some toast down my two-year-old daughter and keep a look out for the kestrel at the same time!
Afterwards the camera crew want to see the wildlife bridge I found as well as some barn owls . I just hope the weather stays clear and the animals appear!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Masai Mara Wildlife Trip

Africa's great wildebeest migration is something I'm drawn back to again and again - despite having already seen it five times!

Tomorrow I shall be giving a talk here at the gallery all about this wildlife spectacle. I've spent today making sure the projector works and going through my photographs.
The way in which some two million animals are driven by instinct to plunge through crocodile- infested rivers and risk lion-studded plains in the search for fresh grass is spellbinding. My column in The Yorkshire Post this month tells of my safaris to see this amazing event. Follow this link to read it.
There are just three places left on the wildlife safari I will be leading to see the migration in Kenya's masai mara this August so please book now if you're interested.

Friday, March 11, 2011

BBC Countryfile Visit!

Yesterday I had a visit from a researcher and a director of BBC Countryfile.
It seems they are going to be filming in the Yorkshire Wolds next week and are looking for some wildlife subjects.
I showed them around my favourite spots and found them some red kites in Millington, a barn owl that had braved yesterday's high wings and at least 50 hares! You can't say the Wolds isn't teeming with wonderful wildlife - I hope they find it worth filming.

Otter Search Reveals a Wildlife Bridge!

My search for this elusive otter continues....
I decided to give up on the log and followed some tracks up a tributary of the Derwent until I found an otter holt. I set my camera up there for a few days but all I caught was a wood mouse and the dreaded mink again!So I carried on walking up the tributary until I came across a tree that had fallen across the stream. The stream fell between two badger setts and it was clear that the badgers used it to cross back and forth so I decided that this would be a good place to also set up a camera. Sure enough I got plenty of shots of badgers crossing back and forth.
But look what else I caught on camera.
A fox.

(He actually spotted the camera and the next night he crossed further downstream!)
A pheasant.
Even a cat
And a spaniel!
What a busy wildlife bridge!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Otter Search Goes On

Otters are nocturnal and so I left my camera at the site to see if I could capture this otter on film. My camera is set to go off whenever it detects movement and when I checked it after the first few days I found these pictures. A moorhen drifting past.
A little grebe.
And some pigeons. Disappointed, I scouted for more clues to confirm I had been right about this being an otter's territory - although I was pretty sure after spotting the spraints. Sure enough I found some otter tracks in the soft mud along the river bank. The 10p piece shows the scale of the tracks.
Interestingly, not too far away from the otter prints I also spotted some mink tracks, pictured below.
It is not good news to find mink. These non-native species are ruthless killers and to find one along a riverbank spells destruction for so much of our native wildlife, especially water vole which have suffered considerable decline since the arrival of mink in the UK.
Determined to root out the otter, I threw a rabbit that I had found on the side of the road onto the log in the hope that this would flush it out. Although otters mainly eat fish, they will go for small mammals and birds as well.
But when I checked the camera later, it was the mink that was tucking into the rabbit. After several days of waiting for the otter to appear I was beginning to give up when my camera captured this image one night.
It was an otter's backside! Ah well, I shall have to be patient. Otters are so shy its going to be a matter of just sitting tight and waiting for a picture that I can use to paint from.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Otter Search

I've been trying to get a decent picture of an otter recently for an idea I have for a painting. Otter numbers have increased considerably along the Derwent River in recent years and, after a tip off from a fisherman friend of mine, I have been scouring the banks looking for signs of their presence. It didn't take me long to find this log which had been caught up in willow branches. A log like this is an irresistible stopping-off point for an otter.

A closer look at the log showed me what I was looking for. It is well worn, with no moss along the top and at the back a pile of otter spraints.

Otters leave these spraints, literally piles of poo, to mark their territory and warn other otters that this patch of the river is theirs.
Now that I had found the spot all I had to do was wait for an otter to appear. I set up my camera, and also a remote controlled camera which I left out all night for several days.
Watch this space to find out what I saw.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Falcon Fracas

The other day I watched a buzzard take on a peregrine mid-air. The pair locked talons and tumbled alarmingly through the sky in a spectacular display.
Read more about it in this week's Gazette & Herald column by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wild Dogs Coming to Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is getting a new pack of wild dogs, or painted dogs as they are sometimes called, and have asked me to provide some photographs for their publicity material. I took these shots on a safari to Tanzania in 2008.
Wild dogs are so like our domestic dogs in character, it is such a shame that they are now so endangered. Hopefully the new pack at Chester Zoo will promote their plight and help conserve them for the future.