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Wildlife Photo of the Week 2017
Welcome to my ‘Wildlife Photo of the Week’ slot, where each week I pick a photograph from the studies I make for my paintings. Feel free to scroll down and see previous week’s photographs – and why not pick your own favourite and tell my why you like it in the comment box below?
Waxwings flock to our shores each Christmas to escape harsh winters in their native Scandinavia and to plunder our berries. Named for the way the tips of their wings look as though they have been dipped in red wax, these brightly coloured birds are a cheering sight on a cold winter’s day. Read more about an incredible Christmas when a flock of waxwings flew into the garden just as I was sitting down to dinner by clicking here.
The sight of a red kite gliding over the Yorkshire countryside is becoming increasingly commonplace. And yet barely a decade ago this majestic bird of prey was almost extinct in Yorkshire, with just a few pairs to be seen above Harewood House where a conservation breeding programme was still in its infancy. Now is the best time to spot red kites since these normally solitary birds roost together on winter nights to keep warm. Shortly before nightfall they become very active, swooping and diving in the skies above their roost before settling down for the night. These incredible aerial displays are among the most spectacular wildlife spectacles to look for at this time of year. Click here to read about an incredible experience I had watching them in Wales.
Red squirrels often strike the most amusing poses as they forage for nuts and scurry up trees. And yet these cheeky characters are an increasingly rare sighting in England due to a deadly virus spread by non-native grey squirrels. There is, however, a small, thriving, colony of red squirrels in Yorkshire. Close to the Dales village of Hawes, this colony is supported by locals who put hazelnuts out along the dry stone walls leading to the village for the squirrels. Squirrels have an incredible powerful bite and can crack open the hard shell of a hazelnut in one go. See more of my photographs and read my blog post about these cheeky creatures here.
December 4th: Seal Pup
Each winter 1,000s of grey seals haul themselves on to just one of four beaches along England’s east coast to give birth and to mate again for the following year’s progeny. The mass gatherings are known as rookeries and take place between November and January, when the seal pups grow big enough to swim back out to sea. The pups are born with white fur, which they shed once they are mature enough to fend for themselves. Once the pups are born the females will mate again before returning out to sea. Delayed implantation means that the foetus will not be born until the following year. The nearest beach for people living in Yorkshire to see this wildlife spectacle is at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire, where there are still plenty of pups to see now. Click here to read my blog post and see some of the gorgeous photographs I took of the seal pups there.
November 27th: Barn Owls in Elm Stump
This week I’m celebrating National Tree Week. Trees are vital to the survival of the wildlife I paint. These barn owls are standing at the entrance to an old elm stump that I converted into a nestbox. Elm trees once dominated the English landscape but they have been all but obliterated by Dutch Elm Disease. Considered one of the most serious tree diseases in the world, Dutch Elm has killed 60 million British elms in two epidemics and continues to spread today. But the wood of this elegant tree is extremely tough and takes many years to decay. This elm has continued to support wildlife decades after it fell. Read the story about how I converted it and see the paintings it has provided a backdrop for here.
November 20th: Stoat in Autumn Leaves
Small, lithe and deeply secretive, stoats are difficult to spot in the wild. These mammals are very only slightly bigger than weasels and slip through the undergrowth so quickly all most people ever see of them is a glimpse. They are so well adapted to blending into the background that their fur actually turns white in winter snows, although this is more likely to happen to stoats living in the harsher winters of Scotland than in England. I photographed this one just just as it emerged from a pile of autumn leaves.
November 6th: Goldfinch
Goldfinches are one of the UK’s most popular birds. These characterful birds are very sociable and tend to go about in large flocks, known as a charms. Their brightly coloured plumage and tinkling song has endeared them to the nation’s gardeners, who are credited with having saved populations by putting food out for them in winter time. The British Trust for Ornithology has announced that numbers of this colourful bird have risen by almost 80% since 2002. Goldfinches feed on seeds, in particular nijer and teasel. In winter, populations will migrate across Europe, some of them flying here from Scandinavia and some flocks heading from our shores as far as Spain. Click here to read my blog post on a vast flock of goldfinches I photographed feeding on a conservation strip on the Yorkshire Wolds.
November 2nd: Red Stag
Now is the time to see the deer rut, when red deer stags fight for dominance over hinds. This dramatic behaviour is mainly a show of strength; stags wallow in peaty pools and scoop up grasses in their antlers to impress females. When males meet they walk in parallel lines to one another bellowing Occasionally stags lock antlers and the countryside rings out to the roar of these magnificent beasts. You can see this wildlife spectacle at Studley Royal near Ripon, North Yorkshire. Follow this link to read about the day I followed a red stag across the dramatic mountains that feature in the James Bond Skyfall movie. I got so close I was accepted as part of the herd. See the paintings that followed this incredible experience.
October 27th: Fieldfares
The arrival of fieldfares from Scandinavia indicates the onset of winter. These colourful members of the thrush family migrate here in flocks of several hundred when the weather in Northern Europe gets too cold. And like Nordic raiders of old, they come here to plunder our booty. In their case its our berry harvests they are after. Fieldfares eat worms and hawthorn berries, but during very cold frosts they will venture into gardens where they are partial to fruit. See my painting of a fieldfare feeding on windfall apples in my garden and read about how I like to attract them to my garden by clicking here.
October 20th: Tawny Owls Hooting
I photographed these owls in my garden where I feed them each evening so that I can watch them from my living room window. Read more about this by clicking here. We have five species of owl living in mainland Britain, but at this time of year you could be forgiven for thinking there is only one. Tawny owls make more noise than the other four species put together during October and November. And all this extra shrieking, hooting and ‘kee-wick’- ing is down to one thing: territory. Young birds are reaching maturity and looking for new homes while older birds are fighting to hold on to their patch. Read more about how tawny owls turn from devoted parents attending to their chick’s every need into aggressive competitors shooing their young out of their territory at this time of year.
October 13th: Bullfinch
With their smart black caps, bright pinky-red breasts, and eye-catching white rump, which is so conspicuous in flight, bullfinches are one of the UK’s most colourful birds. At this time of year these shy birds can be found feeding up on berries like this pyracantha. The bullfinch’s liking for fruit and berries has meant it is unpopular with fruit growers, but in the eyes of most gardeners’ its beauty makes up for this minor transgression. I planted a selection of different berries specifically to attract bullfinches to my garden and to keep them fed all winter. Read the full story of how I planned my garden here.
October 6th: Sparrowhawk
You know when a sparrowhawk has been in your garden by the pile of feathers it leaves on the lawn. These lightning-quick predators can pluck a song bird out of a residential garden in the blink of an eye. At this time of year there is a huge displacement of populations as hawks from Scandinavia begin arriving on our shores to escape the coming winter, forcing the youngest of our native sparrowhawks to go further south into France and Spain. This photograph of two female sparrowhawks sparring in my garden at Thixendale, North Yorkshire, won the 2015 British Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Read the full story of how I managed to capture this unique image here.
September 29th: Red Squirrel
It’s Red Squirrel Awareness Week. With the exception of a few scattered strongholds, red squirrels are now critically low and virtually non-existent in Yorkshire. Habitat loss has had its effect, but grey squirrels, which were introduced from North America in 1876, are their biggest threat. Greys carry the deadly parapox virus, which has all but wiped out England’s red squirrels. There is, however, one tiny pocket of red squirrels in Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales. I spent a wonderful few days photographing them one snowy spring. Click here to link to the story and see the photographs and pictures I painted of these colourful characters.
September 22nd: A hedgehog
Spine time: It’s not uncommon to find orphaned hedgehogs at this time of year. The result of late litters, these hoglets often struggle to find enough food at this time of year and are often unable to fatten up enough to make it through their winter hibernation. I took this hedgehog in after discovering it as a tiny hoglet in the garden. Just before I released it I took photographs of it posing against an autumn backdrop as studies for a new paintings. See the finished result and read the story of my hedgehog rescue here.
September 15th: An Urban Fox
The number of foxes living in towns and cities across the UK has quadrupled in the past 20 years and you are now more likely to live closer to a fox if you live in a city than in the country. At this time of year the cubs are fully grown and are beginning to disperse to find new territories for themselves. You sometimes hear them fighting at night as the litter siblings begin to assert their independence. I watched this young fox on the edge of a residential garden in York. Click here to read my blog post on how I have found it easier to study the behaviour of urban foxes for my paintings.
September 8th: Heron
Grey herons are the largest birds most of us ever see in our garden. They have a wing span of around 6ft, although for their size they are surprisingly light and weigh only half as much as a greylag goose. Most sightings of herons are solitary, however these graceful grey birds are actually quite sociable and like to nest communally, using the same nest each year. Some heronries can date back 40 or 50 years and vary in size from just four or five nests to 200
Although these huge nest sites are common enough, it is not easy to get close to them, since they are usually at least 25m above the ground in trees, on cliffs, bushes, and sometimes even on buildings of bridges. I photographed this heron at an urban heronry in Regent’s Park, London. Click here to read my blog post of my experience.
September 1st: Swallow
Britain’s swallows are gathering in large flocks ready for their 6,000 mile journey back to South Africa. Barely bigger than a pen knife, these birds make this epic journey every Autumn, flying along the length of Africa and across the Sahara to spend the winter in the warmth of Africa, before turning round and flying all the way back again in March. Many of Yorkshire’s have already left their breeding grounds and can be seen in large flocks along the coast, where they gang together in large concentrations before crossing the channel. Click here to read my blog post on a late brood in my porch that I thought would never make it back.
August 27th: Red Squirrel
I watched and photographed my first Yorkshire red squirrel in the Yorkshire Dales. With the exception of a few scattered strongholds, red squirrels are now critically low in most of the country and virtually non-existent in Yorkshire. Habitat loss has had its effect, but the biggest cause of their demise are grey squirrels, introduced from North America in 1876. Greys are larger and can out-compete the reds, but their most deadly effect is that they carry a virus, known as parapox, which red squirrels are susceptible. This virus can completely devastate a community of red squirrels and is one of the reasons why we now only have small fragmented populations in a few areas of the country. So it was a wonderful surprise to come across a thriving pocket of them near Hawes. Read my blog post on the day I watched them by clicking here.
August 18th: Sparrowhawk Feeding its Chicks
I have a love-hate relationship with the sparrowhawk that frequents my garden. I can’t help but admire its ‘shock and awe’ ambushes, but my admiration can quickly turn sour when it hunts down a much-cherished song thrush or woodpecker. Females have sole care of the eggs and young, while the males’ role (from egg-laying through to fledging) is to provide all food required by the female and the chicks. The female will hunt as the chicks get older, but only if the male is unable to catch adequate food by himself.
August 12th: Fidget the Weasel
Slim enough to slip through a wedding ring, a weasel is one of the UK’s pluckiest miniature mammals. These pint-sized predators punch well above their weight, taking on animals twice their size. Their bodies are so slim and agile they can also slip away down tiny gaps to escape. I hand reared this pet weasel, named Fidget, and he has proved so adorable he is featuring on UK’s TV screens again this weekend in a new series for BBC1: Super Small Animals.
August 3rd: Stoat
Family groups of stoats, known as caravans, are starting to disband now as the young move off to find territories of their own. Essentially solitary creatures, stoats are only seen together as groups when the females are raising kits.
These tiny predators are amongst the UK’s most ferocious hunters. They are known to mesmerise their prey by turning somersaults before suddenly pouncing. Click here to read about how I was so fascinated by a stoat’s incredible agility I built a maze in my garden to test them out. I photographed this young male stoat on a dry stone wall that I made specifically for it. The photograph served as a study for a later painting.
July 22nd: Tree Sparrows
Tree sparrows are fledging now, but you are lucky if you spot one of these tiny chicks in your gardens. Once common, tree sparrows have suffered a severe decline, estimated at 93 per cent between 1970 and 2008, and are particularly scarce in Yorkshire.
I photographed this bumper flock in my garden. There was only one pair of tree sparrows when I moved here, but after a concerted effort to turn my to make the garden attractive to wildlife I now have some 35 breeding pairs here. Click here to read the story of how I turned the garden into a wildlife haven. To tell the difference between a tree sparrow and a house sparrow look at their heads, which are a chestnut brown, rather than the grey of a house sparrow. They also have black cheek spots in the centre of their white cheeks.
July 6th: Gannets
Gannets are currently nesting in fantastic numbers at the UK’s biggest mainland colony at Bempton Cliffs, on the East Yorkshire coast. The population boom there has been a tremendous success story. It began with just a handful of pairs back in the 1980s and has grown to the astonishing 11,000 breeding pairs that now cling along the cliff edges.
These handsome birds are the UK’s largest sea birds and are fascinating to watch as they dive from the clifftops into the sea. Gannets have air sacs in their face and chest to cushion the impact as they plunge into the water, much like bubblewrap would protect the impact of a fall. They also have binocular vision, which helps them to judge distances accurately as they continue to pursue fish underwater. Read my blog on where to go to watch them and when.
July 3rd: Three Kestrel Chicks
Kestrels chicks are beginning to leave their nests now.
Look out for them as they tentatively begin to explore the surrounding territory, slowly venturing increasing distances each day over the next three to four weeks. These chicks are aged about four weeks and will continue to return to the nest each night to roost, where the adults still feed them, until they have learned learn how to catch food for themselves. Unusually for birds of prey, there is no aggression between young kestrel chicks, which tend to fly, perch and roost together for some time after fledging. I photographed these three together at the entrance to a nest box I made for them out of a salvaged tree trunk which I chose because it makes a good backdrop in any subsequent picture I paint of this scene.
I’ve been getting some great footage of kestrel chicks this week, including one of a fledgling tumbling out of the nest after losing its footing. See it on my roundup of the year’s footage from my ‘kestrel cam’ here.
June 29th: Soaked Stoat
It’s been a very wet week and along with everyone else our wildlife has taken a soaking – so this week I’ve picked this soaking wet stoat.
I photographed this stoat as it made its way through a clump of wildflowers in my garden. It was wet through. It’s fur clumped together in wads, rather than its usual sleek condition. Stoats were once valued for their fur, which turns white in winter to help them camouflage in snow. They are among the UK’s smallest predators and measure just 10 inches long. Their long slim bodies are so lithe and fast most people only ever catch a glimpse of one as it flashes through the undergrowth.
June 19th: Badger Cub
This week I’ve chosen a badger cub, in support of National Badger Week, which begins on Saturday June 24th. .
Badger cubs are emerging from the underground chambers in which they were born this month. You can see them exploring and playing near the entrance holes to these setts whilst their mothers clean out their bedding, which will have become quite soiled since the cubs were born in February. Look out for heaps of soil outside entrance holes for signs that the badger cubs are present. Badger clans work together to raise their cubs and younger females in the group will help to babysit these cubs whilst the mother sow goes out to forage. Click here to read my post on watching badger cubs disturb their mum as she tried to spring clean.
June 12th: Nesting Robin:
As father’s day approaches its worth remembering that the care of these young fledglings is often left to the male, whilst the female prepares for a second brood. Robins are famous for nesting in all kinds of unlikely locations, including sheds, kettles, boots, hanging baskets, and coat pockets. This pair chose the front grill of my Landcruiser, effectively grounding the vehicle until the chicks had fledged. Read the full story of how this one nested here.
Author: Robert E Fuller