National Nest Box week organised by The British Trust for Ornithologytakes place this year from the 14th to 21stFebruary. Since its launch in 1998 over five million nest boxes have been made and hung in gardens and woodland areas across the UK.In an attempt to help birds ranging from the Blue Tit right up to Barn Owls to find somewhere else to nest and raise their young in the absence of more natural nest sites in our ever diminishing countryside.Early spring is the best time to site your nestbox,giving the birds a chance to see and get use to the box,if they don’t use your nestbox to nest in then don’t be saddened as there is a very high chance they will use the box as a roost site during the winter months.
There will be events staged all around the UK by the BTO during that week and it’s a great way to get youngsters involved with nature.Click here for the BTO home page to see whats happening in your local area.Whether you’re a family with space for a box in your garden, a teacher, a member of a local wildlife group, or you belong to a bird club and could organise a work party, National Nest Box Week gives you the chance to contribute to the conservation effort in the UK whilst giving you the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that you attract to your garden.
Where you put your box is every bit as important as what it looks like. The highest priority when siting a nest box must be to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which birds can nest successfully.Ensure your nest box is sheltered from prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight,The front of the nest box should be angled vertically or slightly downwards to prevent rain from entering the nest box.And the most important point is to ensure that it is not easily accessible to predators (cats and squirrels) which can more difficult than you’d think.Ideally keeping the opportunities for these predators to get close to the boxes to a minimal.
For a free information pack please click here and fill in your details.If you’d like to purchase a nestbox then click here.Many thanks.
On the promise of a high tide of 10m+ yesterday I visited ‘Parkgate’ on the Dee Estuary,Wirral,a 100 kilometre stretch of salt marshland.Little did I know how different this day would be to the many other hide tides I’ve attended over the years that didn’t really measure up to their name.The day started beautifully,with the sun shining bright and that crisp feel to the air.I had decided to hide within the reedbeds,choosing the highest point as not to be flooded out with the promised high tide.This beautiful female Stonechat came right up to me in her pursuit to see what I was hiding away in her territory,she stayed for a very brief second where I managed to capture a few portraits of her in the morning light as she perched on top of the reeds.
The beautiful sunshine was soon replaced with dark,angry looking clouds as you could see this weather front heading in shore alongside the predicted high tide around lunchtime.Very slowly at first the tide started coming in,over the years I’ve attended these promised high tides I ‘ve always been disappointed at how little they come in,while I’ve waited to photograph the many raptors that live and hunt over these marshes.With the wind picking up and the distant activity of the flocks of waders,ducks taking to the air as the encroaching tide covered their usual roosting spots,this felt different and indicated this day may measure up to its title.
As the water breaks over the edges of the marsh,flooding the small gullies it brings the wildlife closer to you,the birds start to take flight to avoid the oncoming tide,and waiting predators,small mammals retreat to higher ground escaping the high tide briefly as they’ll be forced to move again later on.With all this wildlife moving it attracts predators in vast numbers, ie Gulls,Crows,Rooks,Kestrels,Peregrine Falcons ,Short-eared Owls,and many more all waiting for mother nature to do their work for them in locating prey,giving away their positions as they flee the water,then swoop down for the easy pickings,as they are to preoccupied in survival, a cruel trick of nature for the small mammals you never normally see.A Short-eared Owl waits for movement as the tide is seen covering the land below.
Ground predators get involved in this bounty to,this Fox had gone out before the tide had reached it’s peak to feast on one of the easiest meals he’ll have during the year.Unfortunately he became cut off from the mainland,preoccupied in feeding.I managed to capture a few images of this moment,also with a short film showing him wet, shivering and freezing with one of the main gullies of water being fed by the tidal currents in front of him.Forcing him to stay put rather than chance swimming for the shore and being swept away in the very strong currents
He did however escape later on as the tide went out and the sun came out the image below shows him fleeing,hopefully having learnt his lesson.
As the available land diminishes beneath the sea water, the mass of tiny,furry creatures with their disheveled coats cling onto the last high ground in an attempt of steer desperation as the tide reaches its height,the last remains of vegetation are covered with the lucky ones who’ve made it to the walls of the reserve,the less unfortunate ones have either drown or been pick off by the predators.Below are a few images I took as the rodents-Field Vole,Common Shrew, made their way to the shoreline where I was standing,the brick wall of the reserve can be seen in some.I did help to fish out a few with a make shift pole made out of reed as some looked up at me I was concerned I’d give them a heart attack, but it was better than seeing them drown.
These where the unlucky ones below,mother nature I know but on such a large scale as this day it shocked me to the core.
I went to Parkgate yesterday with a clear mission to photograph Short-eared Owls and other raptors feeding on this plentiful bounty which hide tide gives them a few times a year,what I came away with was a real story of survival and suffering on one hand ,on the other the power of nature and the food chain stained by the days events for me.The hide tides attracts alot people,yesterday being no exception of which most where unaware of this suffering around/below them as they ticked of the number of birds they’d seen,with the ever present thrust of seeing new species at the forefront of the minds.I needless to say went home really saddened by what I had seen during the day and I have tried to convey that here with the images I took on the day, almost like a reporter capturing someone in their final hours.It was the first time in 3 years I had seen a tide so high, helped along by the wind reach the shoreline in this manner,with the winners and losers played out before my very eyes,to watch animals forced into this ‘Do or Die’ sacrifice was hard for me to stomach as a wildlife photographer where the welfare of nature becomes before anything.
The Isle of Mull lies on the west coast of Scotland and it has a breathtaking coastline of 300 miles, the climate is a mixture of rain and sunshine. From the moment you step onto this beautiful island the wildlife is everywhere and the scenery is stunning. The island is a wonderful place to see Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, Otters, porpoises and a whole host of Hebridean Wildlife. Come and join myself and award-winning Dutch photographer Jeroen Stel as we take you around this beautiful island on our 6 day/5 night trip called ‘The Magic Of Mull’.
Our base will be the picturesque village of Tobermory, with its brightly painted buildings. Overlooking the harbour of Tobermory and facing out to Calve Island and the sound of Mull is our Hotel, you’ll be treated to picturesque views over the harbour and as well as comfortable accommodation, you’ll enjoy fine cuisine in the restaurant, prepared from the best locally sourced ingredients to make your stay even more memorable, all of the rooms have a sea/harbour view. It will be a wonderful chance to show you the best places that I have found on my last trip there and to pass my knowledge of these onto you so you can really enjoy ‘The Magic of Mull’.
Mull has a breathtaking landscape and will offer you some brilliant chances for landscape photography too, with the mountain of Ben More with its imposing peak at just over 3000 feet being the highest point on the island where it forms the southern part of the island and holds several pairs of Golden Eagles, which I witnessed on my last visit here. There is some much to do on Mull, but our main targets are Otter’s, White-Tailed Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles, with some much wildlife around you opportunities will present themselves at anytime.
We have a day trip planned to on the Wednesday to the Treshnish Isles, a designated site of special scientific interest. One of the best places in the UK to see Puffin’s, and teeming with other birds too e.g., Razorbill’s, Guillemots and Seals and possible sightings of passing Basking Sharks that enter the sound of Mull to feed on the plankton, offering you some great photographic opportunities, you will have two and a half hours on Staffa, and almost the same on Lunga.
The pattern of events for each day will be very similar, which will ensure that we get the best out of our time on Mull. An Early start to get into place at one of the Otter sites and hopefully catch them as they wake and start to fish, head back to the hotel for our breakfast at around 8am,then collect our packed lunches and head out for the day, catch the evening light later on at one of our Otter or Eagle sites, then back to the hotel for our evening meal and a chance to review the days images.It plans to be a brillant trip,getting the very best from Mull and in turn a stunning experience for each one of you.
The cost of this event includes all meals,packed lunch,all transport around Mull, ferry crossing.The meeting place is the Scottish port town of Oban where you will be met by Jeroen and myself from which point you will have know other worries as the trip has been planned with every detail,subject with you in mind.Led by to very passionate wildlife photographers,all the ingredients for a magical trip on the beautiful island of Mull.If you have any questions or information you’d like answering or to book they please go to my ‘Contact’ page,where you can either call me or email me and I’d be more than pleased to help you.
Revisited the Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl site yesterday,the first time since the snow had melted and what greeted me was more like the landscape of an estuary than the farmland and rough grazing habitat where these owl are spending the winter months.With the access water from the snow and the rain everywhere, the fields were saturated,with knowhere for this extra water to drain off too,the ground was just full of water.This left isolated pockets of ground scattered among the water with little chance of a meal for the owls among this sodden landscape.
This made it very difficult for the owls to hunt in,but I was really glad to see the male Barn Owl I had spent alot of time with a few weeks ago having survived the unprecedented cold spell of freezing weather we’d just endured.His two favorite stretches of land he prefers to hunt in were underwater so he was at a different spot,some distance away so I hope to catch up with him soon before both these species of owl leave and head to their summer breeding grounds around mid to late February.I was just about to pack up as an impending storm was gathering when a Short-eared Owl landed to my right on the fence line.
He hadn’t seen me at first,so I waited for him to get relaxed as he was looking up,down and around at first,I then took a few images and proceeded forward at a snails pace,stopping as he looked my way,when he looked away or started to clean himself I carried on forward until I got about 20 foot away from him where he gave me this stare which you can see above,this was the cut off point for my advances as I read his behaviour as I entered past the ‘comfort’ zone all animals have.Not bad as I would have looked like a large bush coming towards him, he just didn’t no what I was as I moved very slowly, watching the ground where I put my lead foot down as not to tread on something that would give me away.
I have always found you must read the signs the subject will give you,interpret them quickly.eg are they going to move,or fly off,are they cleaning,feeding,resting,happy,troubled and so on, so you can get an understanding if they are agitated by you presence.This will give you valuable time to get the images you want,they may still fly off or move but its better to have done your approach this way because if things go your way you will be able to capture close up and interment moments and truly benefit from the close encounter with the subject you chose to find that day.
This Short-eared Owl went off hunting before the storm came,as it was the last I saw him,another close moment for me to treasure.If you put into place the simple techniques I have described you too will be able to get quiet close with a lot of patience,self belief and good fieldcraft, so when you get to where you’d like to be with your subject, the easy bit should be pressing your shutter button and composing your images.I will be back very soon to get some better images of both owls I hope and will update my blog.Hope the tips and advice has helped.
Spent a few days again photographing our most beautiful winter visitor to the UK shores,the beautiful and elegant,’Whooper Swan’, I have been trying to get close up views of the formations they fly in, inches apart from disaster should they touch each other in flight, I was trying to convey the organised manner in which they fly so close together as well.
I’ve been watching them feed on farmland from the outskirts of woodland on the North-West coast of the UK for the last 3 months.Once they have eaten they fly off to their overnight roost site where they spend the night,the sky is temporary a wash with white as hundreds of Whoopers taken flight.While waiting I had a Treecreeper for company,wanted to show the lovely patterns on the tree trunk and the splash of white from the snow during our coldest spell of weather in decades in the UK.I have composed the bird to give you an idea of how well these tiny birds blend into their habitat
Whooper Swans spend their time here during our winter months before migrating back to their breeding areas which range from Iceland to NE Siberia, they depart from their breeding areas in September and reach wintering areas by November leaving the wintering area,ie UK, in mid-March for a May return .Whooper swans are highly vocal,with bugling calls,these are used during aggressive encounters, with softer “contact” noises used as communication between paired birds and families. Calls accompanying pre-flight head-bobbing are also important for maintaining pair and family bonds. Several types of threat display are seen in winter to establish the dominance hierarchy in the wintering flock, ranging from head-low threats and pecks to more dramatic neck-stretching and wing-flapping displays, resulting occasionally in physical combat.
There’s still quite a bit of time to see these beautiful birds that spend their winters with us in their favoured habitats of lakes, estuaries, marshes,flooded fields and farmland before they depart for their breeding grounds in March-April.They fly so effortless for a large bird and I watched amazed at how close they fly next to each other,all knowing there places without colliding into one another
The couple of photographs below of a Whooper Swan give you some ideal of their individual size and wing shape which make these formations even more remarkable
At around 25 miles long and seven miles wide the island of Texel is the largest of the Wadden Islands, It’s a haven and paradise for thousands of waders and waterfowl during the spring/summer months where they choose this picturesque island to play out their courtship routines and breed, feed their young all quiet close to you, presenting some of this best chances to photograph Avocets, Spoonbills, Caspian and Black Terns, Oystercatchers, Kentish Plovers, and many more waders.The Texel workshop is being co-hosted with me and award winning Dutch wildlife photographer Jeroen Stel whose expert knowledge of Texel and the surrounding area is second to none and the perfect guide to get the very best images of wildlife this place has to offer.
It’s one of the best places in Europe for close up views of Avocets with the chance of getting some amazing close up images of these beautiful birds.Jeroen Stel and myself have teamed up to offer you the very best in Wildlife Photography workshops,we also have a brillant trip planned for early june called ‘The Magic Of Mull’ where we will show you the beautiful wildlife and landscapes this island has to offer.Other trips in the future are also planned all designed by Wildlife Photographers for Wildlife Photographers.
Our hotel is situated on the island of Texel, not far from the beaches, marshland, extensive fields, strongholds of Bluethroats, Short-eared Owls, Terns, Eiders, and many more, depending on what is about at the time of our trip,the photographic opportunities will never stop.Over the coastal marshes a healthy population of Marsh Harriers patrol the skies, hunting over the reed beds and marshland giving a great insight and close up view of these magnificent birds of prey.
Jeroen will have planned the best places and routes before our arrival in Texel in an attempt to get the best images from this trip as possible, myself and Jeroen will guide you through each day, approach the wildlife with real care and settle into place and watch the magic of Texel play out before your very eyes.After our day has ending and we have finished our evening meal a a slideshow of the images will be presented giving you the chance to see your work and that of others, sharing best practices, so that as a group you can get the very best out your days on Texel. We will also go through tips and advice on wildlife photography covering both practical and theoretical examples that you can apply yourselves in your own time.
It’s promises to be a brillant trip so if you would like to know more or book your place on this trip please go to my workshop section or click ‘Texel’ ,alternatively drop me a line on my contact page and I will give you all the details you will need for this action packed trip with have planned.
More information on this beautiful island and what it has to offer can be viewed by clicking on Jeroen’s Blog 1 and Blog 2 and as you will see there is nobody better to show you around this beautiful island other than Jeroen who know’s this island like the back of his hand.Many thanks and hope to see you there.
As the country freezes in one of the coldest spells of weather for decades I have spent almost the last month moving from one location to another location in the hope of photographing Barn and Short-eared Owls in there habitats,and hopefully some close up shots.Over the last 7 days I have concentrated my efforts solely on alone male Barn Owl which has taken up residence over farm and marshland not to far from my home.I’d watch for hours on end some days and go home with nothing but the smile on my face as I’d laugh to myself knowing that dealing with wild animals is not always as predicable as you’d think.This laughter this week has also been tinted with sadness also as I’d watch a starving Barn Owl hunt over snow covered fields,making simple errors when diving for food,being mobbed by Rooks and Crows as they’d watch the Barn Owl do all the work and then rob him of his catch,knowing that all the energy the Owl had expended hunting was now in vain due to being mugged by the ever present,opportunist Crow family members.
I have had some really beautiful and close encounters this week with this Barn Owl as he hunted for the healthy population of voles this area has with the constant rustling vegetation I’d witnessed as these rodents woke up and starting going about their daily tasks, as I lay in what for the owl to show up.The saddest thing for me was just watching the Barn Owl frantically trying to locate and hunt for prey as the ground had a small blanket of snow covering it which was made ever worse by the weather and cold conditions these and many more animals are facing during this unprecedented spell of cold weather we are having.I can say though on the few times I witnessed the Barn Owl hunting he was very successful in catching his prey and out running the Rooks,Crows that tried to take his catch,a real struggle for life and survival on all sides though,and with more snow predicted I fear for every animal that lives outdoors.
On one occasion the Barn Owl came almost alongside me and started to hover as he’d seen something below,I couldn’t believe my luck,the sun was starting to go down and here I was looking like a bush, listening to the wing beats of one of my favorite birds that has enchanted me from childhood,he allowed my a few images until he called time and disappeared-WOW!
I managed to capture the moment he was flying off with what looked like streamers attached to him but they were pieces of long grass he’d picked up with the vole he’d caught the following two images show you this funny spectacle.
I am going back shortly once the forecasted snow has fallen to see this Barn Owl I’ve become quite fond of, hopefully he will have been able to survive the continuing cold spell which I do hope will break very soon to give everyone a break. My aim is to continue photographing this owl for as long as he lets me in this area.
Owls have long since been one of my most favorite family of birds to watch and photograph,and I travel all over the UK to see them,their pull is that strong for me.So yesterday I visited another new site away from the failing North-West Coast where I’d spent 2-3 weeks on the run up to Christmas waiting in the freezing conditions for Barn and Short-eared Owls to turn up.This year though on the marshland and estuaries of this area their numbers have been very low and quiet alarming.I did capture some amazing red skies there though and the ever popular ‘cheeky chappy’ male Stonechats that kept me company during the long hours spent waiting.
The images included in this article are from this new site and I really was lucky to see both Barn and Short-Eared Owls on my first visit there yesterday.The conditions were perfect with no wind or rain and dry, the only difficulty for the hunting owls was that the ground was frozen rock hard and the image above shows the small pools of which their prey live and feed in and around in were all frozen.I composed the above image to try a convey this scene,with the frozen small pools and the owl small in the frame,with the setting sun just adding that warmth and wonderful colour to the photo,at full size it looks amazing.
Most of the images I captured from the day were shot in near darkness at ISO 1000.,the image above was from early morning and one of the few chances I had until later on in the evening.The winter frost can be seem behind the hunting Barn Owl as I captured it quartering on this patch of farmland.I just love watching these birds I nickname the ‘Ghost’ as they are so silent and appear from nowhere then in a flash are gone
In near darkness this Barn Owl seen above, turned up and started to hunt,I managed a few shots and then a Short-Eared Owl showed up seen below,it had awoken from the area they are roosting in,sat on this fence post,had a look at what I was ,then went off hunting.You wait all day and nothing shows up then within the space of 5 minutes both owls turned up.
Beginners luck on my first day I think!.Looking forward to going back with the aim of getting some close up shots of both owls. I watched both owls hunt and the paths they used, where they mainly hunted giving me a better idea of where to go,stand etc, so hopefully I can get lucky again the next time I go.I did manage to capture a Short-Eared Owl flying past me with a vole,taken with a slow shutter speed.
The last image of a wonderful day,the Barn Owl was heading back to its roost and I didn’t see him again, this image captures that as it was ‘Goodnight from Him’ and ‘Goodnight from Me’ as the famous line goes from one of my favorite comedy double acts ‘The Two Ronnies’I hope you have the luck I had when you are out and about looking for wildlife, if you are looking for Barn and Short eared Owls remember they don’t come out in rain only in extreme circumstances ie feeding young.They like very little wind,hunt over open farmland and rough grazing,and favour dawn and dusk,good luck.