Friday, January 28, 2011

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

Don't forget to take part in the RSPB big garden birdwatch this weekend. Apparently the RSPB is expecting more unusual 'countryside' birds like this brambling to feature this year because the cold weather has tempted more of these shier species to try the feeders in suburban gardens.
My garden is so rural that I already get a lot of dunnocks, fieldfares, bramblings and red wings, but it will be interesting to see what the results of the nationwide count will be.
To register or to submit your results, click here to link to the RSPB's website.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

TV Owls

If you missed it, click here to see the Look North news clip about my barn owl crisis.
The cameraman got some great shots of an owl resting on this same stable door.
It was such a shame because the pair in this painting were among those that perished in the snows.
Temperatures have dropped again this week and this morning I woke up to a dusting of snow on the ground- let's hope the remaining barn owls cope.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barn Owls make TV Headlines

My barn owls were on TV today. Look North (North East and Cumbria) featured the barn owl crisis on its lunch time news.
North Yorkshire correspondent Peter Lugg came to the gallery yesterday to film the few barn owls that have survived this brutal winter.
The piece will be repeated again tonight at 6.30pm, so look out for it.

Stop the plan to sell off our forests

The news this week that the government plans to sell off publicly owned forests is very alarming.
Red squirrels are already struggling and so much of our threatened wildlife depends on forest and woodland.
It costs each taxpayer just 30p a year to maintain 250,000 hectares of national forestland- hardly a drain on the public purse. Today I joined the 38 Degrees campaign to try to prevent the sell-off.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barn Owl Hope

Pleased to see that the press have picked up on my concerns about barn owls on the Wolds and they are getting the message out there. Today Radio York visited, earlier this week BBC Radio Humberside were here and the York Evening Press, Scarborough Evening News and Hull Daily Mail have all featured the story. The phone has been ringing here too with people concerned about the few surviving barn owls near them, so I'm glad to be able to advise them on how to look after them.
Hopefully between us all we can keep the owls that we have left after this brutal winter ticking over until spring comes. Listen out for me on BBC Radio Humberside at 5.30pm tonight.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter Wipe-Out of Barn Owls

The Wolds barn owl population faces disaster if we get another cold spell this winter.
As a member of the Wolds Barn Owl Group, I have put up 130 nest boxes across East and North Yorkshire over the years to boost the population. Up until this winter the project has been a great success.
But I checked 25 of these boxes during the cold spell and found 25 dead owls. Out of 50 owls you would expect to be living in these boxes I only found four alive, which means that locally we could have lost 80 or 90pc of our owls. This was one of the saddest sights of all: a pair lying dead at the bottom of one of the boxes, the male with its wing lying protectively over the female.It's absolutely tragic. Some of the carcases I collected were those of the models I have used for paintings, like these. It feels like I've lost some of my oldest friends.
Barn owls struggle to survive in cold weather. They weigh just 12 oz and their food, voles, shrews and mice, disappear into a network of tunnels under the snow. If the cold weather that we had over November and December returns, it could take 10 - 15 years for the population to recover. For more on the plight of these beautiful birds click here to read my column in the Yorkshire Post this Saturday.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stoat's White Winter Coat Now Out of Place

I photographed this stoat in ermine over Christmas, he was almost completely white except for his face. It's been a long time since I've seen a white stoat in this area in the winter.
I expect he looks a little out of place now that the snow has melted!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Shortly before Christmas I drove to Donna Nook in Lincolnshire to see the seals. Grey seals come here each winter in their 1000s to pup and to breed.Maternal care in seals is very short-lived. It lasts just two to three weeks. The pups are weaned after an average of 18 days.
Seal milk is very rich though. It is made up of 52pc fat and 11pc protein - cows milk has just 3pc fat, 3pc protein and 88pc water!
The pups put on weight very quickly - an average of 1.7kg a day. By the end of the suckling period they have trebled their birth weight. The mother, in contrast, loses weight, about 3.8kg a day.

This pup is just three days old. It's skin looks loose and wrinkly but it will soon grow into it.

This pup is roughly three weeks old, already weaned and ready to make its first journey out to sea. Pups stay on the beach for at least a week after weaning. It's fun to watch them get more alert and playful.
Because they are no longer feeding, they rely on the blubber they have accumulated while feeding from their mothers. But they do lose about 1.4kg a day for the first three days and then 1kg a day after that.

I spent quite a long time photographing this pup. It was the cleanest on the beach and was lying on a large patch of ice with gave me a clean background.

I could have been in the arctic.

In some photographs I deliberately over-exposed the pictures to soften the edges and to make the eyes and muzzles of the seal pups stand out all the more.
Females are ready to mate just three weeks after pupping. Males lies close to the females in order to defend her from other males.
I saw this female taking a well-earned break in a shallow pool.
The male seals are like heavyweight champions. This male bore the bloody scars of a recent battle.
A grey seal's long whiskers help them to locate food in poor visibility.
Grey seals also moult whilst they are on shore. This male was looking particularly patchy.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Winter Wonders

I don't suppose we've seen the last of the snow this winter, but I couldn't quite sign off 2010 without a quick recap of those incredible snow scenes we had in December.
This black bird is one of my favourite pictures of that time.

I watched this green woodpecker trying hard to peck through the deep snow blanket. They are ground-feeding birds and I expect it was looking for an ant hill. There was 18 inches of snow on top of the ant hill and it soon gave up.
The snow looked pretty, but it was difficult to get around.

Some of the drifts were higher than me AND my car.

The partridge pictured below had lost its covey after it flew over the horizon and was calling to relocate them.
A gust of wind blew its flank feathers.
And I loved these waxwings that I found on the Wolds.

This kestrel was hunting hungrily when I saw it. And these gulls almost blotted out the sun for a while.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Woodcock Viewing

Happy New Year to you all and I hope you've all had a good Christmas.
The icy weather here has spelled hardship for much of our wildlife over Christmas, but it has brought some spectacular wildlife watching opportunities too.
Woodcock is one of Europe's most elusive birds and although readily spotted when flushed by beaters on shoot days, it is rarely seen naturally foraging on the ground.
But since the ground has been frozen solid I've been able to watch this enigmatic bird at close quarters.
Click here to read my column in this week's Gazette & Herald and find out more about this special sighting.