Monday, February 24, 2014

How I Built an Artificial Fox Earth

You may remember my plans to build an artificial fox earth so that I can attract a vixen? This is how it looks now it’s finished. The green bank at the back is to give my photographs a green background…..

And this is how I built it. It took some doing! Three men and a mini-digger in the wind and the rain… let’s hope the vixen takes to it!

This is the chamber I built to go inside it. It is basically an upside down plastic pallet box, lined with wood to prevent condensation. It also has a weld-mesh floor to prevent animals such as badgers digging out from under it, covered with soil, dry bracken and leaves.

Inside is an infra-red camera with a cable that leads to a hide that I have positioned nearby to watch from.

I set the box into a four-foot hole and then dug two six metre channels leading away from it. Into these I laid two 10 inch pipes, before covering the whole thing up again with soil and moss and turf.

Now all I have to do is stay away for a little while so that the foxes there feel confident to go and explore.

The good news is that as I walked up to the site before we set to with the digger, there was a strong smell of fox so there are definitely some about.

Foxes will have just finished courting now and I expect that the vixens will be looking for a safe den over the next few weeks. Fingers crossed!

I painted this just before Christmas. This is the sort of shot I want to get to give me some new ideas for compositions.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sketching Buzzards

I sketched these buzzards some years ago. They make such nice subjects to paint.

But recently I've been fascinated by a pair circling in the valley below my studio and decided it was time to start a new composition. It took me a long time to get up close to them. I set up a feeding station in a valley close to my home and gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire, last autumn, and I am only just starting to get the shots I need.

It took me a while to get them feeding regularly but thankfully the process has had other benefits. It helped me out with a problem I have living in a rural setting: rats. All winter-long I battle with these unpleasant invaders. They come off the fields after harvest and head for the house and outbuildings - even trying to dig down under the bricks to tunnel their way in. I am against using poison because of the impact it would have on the rest of the wildlife that thrives here and so my only option is to trap them. It’s a nasty job, especially when it comes to disposing of the carcasses.

Then I thought I could turn the rats into buzzard-bait. Most birds of prey, except buzzards and red kites, find rats too tough and even a fox will turn its nose up at one. But thankfully buzzards are partial to them.

I fed the buzzards every day for two months before I dared put up a hide without disturbing them. Even then my first attempt scared them off. It took me another 10 days to re-acclimatise them. Finally after three months, and 85 rats, I’d done it and they were feeding there regularly.

After a full morning of sitting in my hide watching, I managed to get these shots of the female posturing to make herself look large when her mate flew in to join her.

I think this photograph could make a suitable pose for a new painting. What do you think?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How will you by 'showing the lurve' on Valentine's Day?

Here's some wild ways to go for it! I filmed this footage whilst studying different courting behaviour..

Monday, February 10, 2014

New BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter!

Hello, I’m delighted to introduce myself as a new local patch reporter for BBC Wildlife Magazine.

I am a wildlife artist and will be bringing you a painter’s perspective on the comings and goings of all the wild animals on my patch.

This will include all the latest news on my wild painting models, some of them new subjects and many of them old hands at posing for their portraits in exchange for titbits or a nest box.

I use my photographs and sketches as reference and sometimes I get just the right pose to paint from.

Over the next year I will be keeping you up to date on a pair of tawny owls that I feed in my garden as well as reporting from a badger sett where they have accepted me as part of the clan and allow me to walk among them.

I have lived in this area for most of my life and my knowledge of the local wildlife stretches back many years.

Most of the badgers, foxes, deer and owls around here are a bit like old friends. I catch up with them most days to see how they are doing.

I spend as much time as I can out watching wildlife, but over the years I have also adapted my garden so that the local wildlife can come to me.

I’ve planted a wildlife meadow and woodland and have dug a pond to attract the birdlife. Among the many garden birds that now visit is a colony of more than 60 tree sparrows. I’ve even had redstart in the summer and there is a pair of kestrels that have nested in the garden. 

So, many of the stories I will be sharing with you will be about the wildlife that I can see from my studio window.

At the weekend I started to build a false earth for foxes. My plan is to attract a vixen and then photograph the cubs from a sunken hide. I’ll let you know how I get on.

While I was there I checked to see if the kingfishers were about. There was no sign but I’m still hopeful that they will be back because last year I built an artificial bank (pictured) there for them to nest in. It has two secret chambers, one for the kingfishers to nest in one and for me to watch them from.

On my way home I spotted a barn owl. It has been raining heavily here all week and this one was taking advantage of a dry spell to go out hunting.

Barn owls are my favourite bird of prey and so expect lots of news about how the pairs nearest me are doing.

In my spare time I’m involved in a conservation project to help protect these beautiful birds of prey and I’ll be checking some of the 150 nest boxes that I have put up on farmland around here. I like to paint barn owls best – as you no doubt will find out!