Red kite at the Yorkshire Showground
Red kites are timid birds with bold plumage.
They look impressive if seen at rest or from underneath. But the most dramatic and striking view is of the upper side of a red kite's wings when it's in flight.
'Kite' is an appropriate name. These birds float and circle, but they aren't good at gaining altitude rapidly.
A few images in a red kite slideshow.
Note: the Yorkshire weekly wildlife photo feature is taking a break, but will be back.
Archived Yorkshire wildlife weekly photos.
The brown hare, or European hare, is a charismatic wild resident of Yorkshire. This non-native species has been in Britain since Roman times at least. Preferring arable land, or grassland with hedges, brown hares are most likely to be seen in the spring. That's the time of year when they may display 'boxing' behaviour.
Read about the brown hare.
There are colonies of grey seals on the Yorkshire coast. These charismatic animals are well-adapted for life in the Atlantic Ocean, but haul out onto rocky shores to rest, and to give birth and mate between late September and December.
Read about the grey seal.
Britain's red squirrels are concentrated in Scotland. Elsewhere, a pox virus carried by greys has seen them disappear. Luckily, there are still some isolated populations in England, including in the Yorkshire Dales. These tree-dwelling, seed and nut-eating squirrels are fast-moving, photogenic foragers.
Read about the red squirrel.
The coal tit is a small tit, which lives in woodlands and feeds at the top of trees, and on their outer branches. In Britain, it has an olive-grey back and wings.
Read about the coal tit.
The kingfisher is colourful, charismatic, and instantly recognisable, but not necessarily easy to observe. It lives on small and medium-sized rivers, with slow-flowing sections, some trees, and suitable banks for nesting.
Read about the kingfisher.
The mistle thrush is one of the larger species in the thrush family. It is resident in Britain and Ireland, and therefore in Yorkshire. It favours open woodland, parks, and large gardens. Its call is a dry rattle.
Read about the mistle thrush.
The pied wagtail is a slender bird with a long black and white tail. It searches for insects on lawns and other areas of short grass, making jerky movements with its head as it walks.
Read about the pied wagtail.
The song thrush is smaller than the mistle thrush, and has arrow-head spots on its breast (as opposed to round spots). It is widespread and common in Yorkshire.
Read about the song thrush.
Butterflies of Yorkshire.
Read about Yorkshire butterflies.
3rd July 2017
An otherwise delightful Sunday morning bike ride was blighted by the sight of too many fresh animal carcasses, the creatures killed by speeding cars. Could we change the law, or change our driving culture, and save our wildlife? Read about save our wildlife - don't drive so fast.
This mountain hare was at Dove Stone, land managed by the RSPB in Peak District. It was in Greater Manchester, not Yorkshire, but I hope that can be forgiven.
The hares, which were introduced from Scotland in the late 1800s, are in their white winter coats at the moment. When there's no snow, that makes the more conspicuous. Their ears have a mix of colours in a pleasing pattern; the tips are black.
Blue tits are handsome birds. Their plumage is a pleasing mix of colours, and their spiky blue hair and black eye-stripe lend them a certain style. They can be hard to photograph, because they move quickly, and spend a good deal of their time high up in the canopy, or in a tangle of small branches.
This one was by the parking in Ravenscar, where there are some gorse bushes and small thorn trees, which seem to attract a lot of songbirds.
I went to Ravenscar to see the seals. I followed my established procedure: walk slowly and carefully to a good spot, trying not to frighten any blubber-insulated sea-going mammals on the way; then sit down on a little stool, and set up a tripod.
When you're moving, the seals look at you anxiously, especially if you get close. Once you've plonked quietly in one spot, they ignore you and get on with their business. Well, when they're ashore, they mostly get on with lounging around.
We're coming towards the end of the seal pup season, but I did see two fluffy white representatives of the next generation. Here's one of them.
The chaffinch is not always valued and appreciated, probably because it is common - Britain's second commonest bird after the wren, with about 5.4 million pairs (Collins bird guide). But it is quite an attractive bird, and comes in a choice of colours, depending on gender and time of year. The female is paler and more drab, and the male is more colourful, especially in summer.
The chaffinch's scientific name is Fringilla (finch) coelebs. Chaffinches eat seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.
The river Nidd at Birstwith is bursting with life. This morning, there was a kingfisher, a grey wagtail, and this heron.
It seems that the weir, built to provide a head of water for the mill race (Wikipedia), creates good fishing conditions. Anyway, that's where the fish-eating birds congregate.
It isn't the most colorful photo ever captured, but I'd say it is appropriate to what has been a rather gloomy late November week.
It's always a nice day out seeing the red squirrels near Hawes. They were in the shade a lot of the time, making it hard to get a good photo, but the sun's rays lit up one little patch of mossy ground.
I had the impression that the squirrels were darker than usual. Checking up, I found that their coats are less rusty red and more brown in winter. This is after their summer coat has moulted (at which time the ear tufts may disappear for a while). They grow the darker winter fur, which will in turn moult at the end of the winter/start of spring.
I went up to Kex Gill Moor hoping, but not expecting, to see an owl. I was in luck!
This barn owl was out in the late afternoon, flying low, intent on catching sight or sound of prey in the long grass and heather.
Owls are familiar, because we've all seen them represented so often, yet still strange to me, because I have seen a real live one so rarely. The blunt front makes a barn owl distinctive and intriguing.
Seal, Donna Nook
Full disclosure: I photographed this seal in Lincolnshire, not Yorkshire. Donna Nook is on the coast not far south of Grimsby and the mouth of the Humber - so the seal has almost certainly gone fishing off the coast of Yorkshire at one time or another.
The viewing area at Donna Nook is looked after by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. Humans and seals are separated by two low fences, that way, the seals aren't disturbed by people, and people get to see some of the seals close up. These Phocidae have clearly learnt that we stay on our side of the barrier, and they don't need to worry about us.
This is the time of year when the seals come ashore to have their pups and breed. There were a few new-born seals during my visit, but there will be a lot more later in November.
It's the popular season for visitors, but I took my photos early in the morning, before the crowds got there. Some of the seals were lying in the channels of water and had coated themselves in mud. This one is sporting a coat of sand.
I went to see the seals at Ravenscar, and settled down and sat quietly for quite a long time.
There were a few oystercatchers, working the rock pools on the spit of land exposed by the low tide. You can't approach them closely, but this one came towards me: either it hadn't seen me arrive, or it had forgotten I was there.
The oystercatcher scurries along then stops dead and looks carefully at some seaweed, searching for something to eat. It is after cockles, mussels, or worms, according to Collins bird guide.
I like this oystercatcher's look of concentration, and the way the sunlight catches its eye. It's beginning to develop the white chinstrap it will have in the winter.
Grey seals, Ravenscar
I love a trip to Ravenscar to see the grey seals.
The sun wasn't cooperating all the time on this occasion - it was frequently hidden behind fairly thick clouds. It did come out briefly, though, and long enough to get this photo of two seals resting. I like their peaceful expression, as though all is right with the world.
Red kite, Yorkshire Showground
Red kites are reliably found at the Yorkshire Showground.
They don't land very often, and when they do, it's usually in the top of a tall tree, so it's a question of photographing them in flight. If they get the idea you're looking at them, they tend to circle and climb and drift off.
I use a fast shutter speed, 'AI Servo' focusing mode for moving subjects, and a large focusing zone. I add some positive exposure compensation, otherwise the sky may be correctly exposed, but the bird is not. Even with these settings, which I think are appropriate, most of my photos are fit only for the digital bin.
Red grouse, Masham Moor
Red grouse are handsome birds, and the heather moors where they live provide atmospheric scenery for photos, even on a dull, grey day. You do tend to lose a bit of respect for them when they open their beaks, though, and make a sound like a magpie with access to a helium balloon.
Driven grouse shooting is mentioned in Chris Packham's Manifesto for Wildlife. Dr Ruth Tingay's chapter on wildlife crime states, 'Long-term scientific data have repeatedly shown that raptor persecution is so widespread and systematic, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting, that it is having population-level effects on some species.'
The manifesto goes on to mention the destructive aspects of intensive management of land for driven grouse shooting: 'the ongoing and serious criminal persecution of protected birds of prey', the draining of moors leading to flooding downstream, the burning of moors to benefit grouse which exacerbates climate change, and the use of snares which catch all manner of wildlife in an indiscriminate way.
I think this is probably father and son. They live in some woods in Bilton, and come out into an adjoining field to eat the choicest leaves from the hedges, and charge around. Sometimes, I also see mother and daughter in the field, but they do much less charging around.
Father has a lighter, grey-brown coat, and leads the way. Son is more red-brown in colour, and definitely submissive: he often has his head lowered, and he follows. He has rather more symmetrical antlers, though, which are pleasing to the eye.
I ended up in Roberts Park, Saltaire, after riding the canal towpath from Leeds to Saltaire. I was a little surprised to see a pair of kingfishers ignoring all the people walking across the bridge over the river Aire, and going about their business.
The kingfishers' business is to fly fast and low over the water, commuting to a fishing perch and every now and then returning to a home base.
Most of what I know about kingfishers comes from a book called RSPB Spotlight on Kingfishers, by David Chandler. I know that the one I photographed in Saltaire is a female. That's because her lower mandible has a pink-red tinge to it, whereas a male's bill is all black.
What a privilege to see a kingfisher, and a few miles from the centre of Bradford too.
Coal tit, near Hawes
I love coal tits. Their plumage is neither too drab nor too showy, and they are small and sweet. The smaller the bird, the faster it moves, as a rule: certainly, they flit around at a tempo noticeably faster than their larger cousins, great tits. You have to be quick on the trigger if you want to shoot them (with a camera).
There were a lot of song birds at a spot in the Yorkshire Dales near Hawes, known for its red squirrels. You're asked not to feed the squirrels, but there's nothing wrong with feeding the birds. The chaffinches wouldn't take sunflower hearts from my hand, but some of the great tits and coal tits were bold enough to do so.
Meanwhile, as I stood still to feed the birds, the midges took the opportunity to bite every bit of exposed skin and, if I'm not mistaken, my eyeballs.
Fallow deer, Studley
I did hear the sound of antlers clashing at Studley Royal deer park on Friday morning. I think it's early for the rut - probably it was just training, or a friendly. These two won't be doing any fighting, of course. They were alert and nervous, and soon ran off.
What I like about fallow deer is that they all look so similar, they could be clones. They seem to have been modelled on nesting tables - the same design, but different sizes.
Robin, Askham Bog
This robin looks like a Senior Citizen. I'm not sure exactly what that means in years. Apparently, the average lifespan of a robin is a bit more than a year, but some individuals can reach 10 or 12 years old.
This one was at Askham Bog, a survivor of the ancient fenlands of Yorkshire. Askham Bog, on the edge of York, is the oldest Yorkshire Wildlife Trust site, bought in 1946 by sweet manufacturers Terry and Rowntree, and given to what was then the Yorkshire Naturalists' Trust.
The OAP robin wasn't perturbed by my presence. It didn't fly off, it just perched where it was to pose for some photos. Maybe it didn't have the energy. It wasn't singing either, unlike its younger relative.
Barn owl, Staveley
I was leaving Staveley nature reserve at dusk, when I spotted a barn owl on a post, tearing at a catch with its claws and eating it.
Waiting and watching for a while, it turned out that it was a pair of barn owls. I saw them fly low over the long grass, hunting. The owl in the photo above caught a vole.
The light was fading, and I was a bit far away, so the photos aren't great, but the owls certainly were.
You looking at me? Roe buck, Old Bilton
There are plenty of roe deer near Old Bilton. There's the right mixture of open fields for grazing, and woods for hiding. They have haunts - places where they are usually to be found at particular times. Early morning is the best time to see them.
The difference in behaviour between does and bucks is striking. The does are placid, and the bucks are agitated and full of energy.
This buck paced around, trying to get a good look at me, as I was partly camouflaged by a hawthorn tree. He was reluctant to move away, and spent a bit of time making energetic bucking movements - which I suppose is where the word 'buck' comes from. After a few minutes, I moved off, but so did he - heading for the woods of the Nidd Gorge.
I find it amazing to be able to see and photograph grey seals on the Yorkshire coast. Until recently, I assumed you only saw animals like that on David Attenborough nature programmes.
Although I try to be as discreet and considerate as possible, and keep a good distance away from the seals, I do worry about human disturbance, including by me. This colony has found an area of flat rock, exposed at low tide, which is ideal for hauling out and resting; it would be a great shame if the seals abandoned it because of us.
Low tide was about an hour after sunrise, on the day I took this photo - a good time to see the seals on the rocks and lit up by early morning sunshine.
Although they are common, grey herons somehow look as though they don't belong to the 21st century. They could be visitors from pre-history. In a way, they are: Wikipedia tells me that herons first appeared in the fossil record in the Paleogene period (66 to 23 million years ago); and by 7 million years ago, birds closely resembling today's herons were fishing Earth's rivers.
This heron lives on the river Nidd near Knaresborough.
I know that there are places where herons co-exist with people in towns and cities, particularly in the Netherlands. Herons on the Nidd, though, are definitely not ready to knock around with human beings. They are wild, and fearful of people. When they see you, they usually push off.
In a book called The Lost Fens, Ian D Rotherham describes how the wetlands of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire were drained and lost between 1600 and 1900. As an aside, in a feature box, he gives a recipe for heron from a 1917 book. 'A heron if plain boiled for about eight hours becomes tender enough to afford a meal to a hungry person, and its flavour is only slightly fishy. It should be served with a thick white sauce flavoured with chopped parsley or fennel.'
This could be a clue as to why herons are mistrustful of humans.
One of my regular bike rides is on Yorkshire Water land at Timble Woods. The land seems to be well-managed for butterflies. If you're a butterfly and you like nettles - no problem; if you like brambles - there are plenty; if you feed on thistle flowers - there's a bountiful supply.
The sweet-spot for butterflies is Timble Ings, where there are wildlife ponds which were created in 2006, and which are buzzing with insect life. The air around the ponds is a-flutter with butterflies, and this summer, peacocks are doing especially well.
The deep red of a peacock butterfly makes a good subject for a photograph. Posterisation is the conversion of a continuous gradation of tone into several regions of fewer tones, with abrupt changes between the tones. I think it works quite well on this butterfly picture:
A flock of long-tailed tits was working its way through some trees and bushes at Studley Royal on Sunday 15th July. There were about enough of them for a football team, or perhaps even a rugby union side.
They are sweet-looking birds. As well as the long tail, the fluffy feathers on the head and the red rims around the eyes make them very distinctive.
I photographed this wren in the Oval Gardens on 22nd June.
It was singing on the branch of a tree. There were fledgling wrens on the ground, in leaf litter, just about ready to make their own way in the world, but still being fed by their parents.
This photo is from the second week in June. At that time, there were a few mistle thrushes on Harrogate Stray, near the old Brunswick station - probably this year's brood.
Incidentally, Brunswick station was named after the Brunswick Hotel (now Prince of Wales mansions). It was open to passengers from 1848 to 1862. Brunswick Tunnel was used as an air raid shelter during World War II. Harrogate was bombed only once, in September 1940, by accident.
Back to the mistle thrush, it's surprisingly large - 26-29cm, which is 6 or 7cm longer than a song thrush. It's call is described by the Collins Bird Guide as 'a dry wooden rattle', and that's about right. Still, even if the sound isn't musical, the bird looks good with its beak wide open as it's producing its characteristic noise.
I'm playing catch-up here, and I may have to re-name this feature the weekly-ish wildlife photo.
On an early evening walk at Studley in June, a blue tit was going mad - it was hopping up and down on the branch of an oak tree, making a racket. Often, blue tits are high up in the canopy, and difficult to photograph, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to get a snap of this one.
After a while, I ducked under the low branches which made a ring around the trunk. I immediately saw the target of the blue tit's tantrum: a tawny owl, unperturbed by the song bird's antics, resting on a convenient bit of tree trunk.
I've heard that rabbits are declining in Britain, but there are still plenty on Harrogate Stray at least.
Their base camp is the railway line, where they must have their burrows. They leave the trees and undergrowth by the track to graze on the open Stray, then when they're alarmed - by a dog, or a person, or a train coming past - they hare back (or rabbit back) to cover. If it was a false alarm, or the coast becomes clear again, they hop back out of the shadows.
There are plenty of young rabbits, born this year, too. These pictures are from 9th June 2018.
This is a house sparrow chirruping its heart out on a wall by Bilton Lane, Harrogate. I like the way the evening light catches its eye and shows the colours of its feathers to their best advantage.
Sparrows love Bilton Lane. The hedges there provide ideal cover for the little birds, and they dive in and out, competing with each other to make the most racket.
It's a filtered road, with no through traffic, where wildlife and people can thrive. It's England as it was before motor vehicles dominated everything else, an England for people, animals and birds, not cars. Some at North Yorkshire County Council want to turn Bilton Lane into a major road, carrying 1,000 vehicles per hour. It is impossible to do that without changing the character of Bilton Lane altogether - and ruining it. There's a community action group dedicated to fighting these plans and saving the Nidd Gorge.
This photo was taken on 22nd May 2018, at Snaizeholme, near Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales. The Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve has a viewing area - a clearing in the woods where food is provided for the squirrels. They are easy to see and photograph there. The tufty-eared rodent in the picture was a short distance away from the viewing area, collecting moss from the forest floor.
This photo was taken on 19th May 2018. I sat quietly at the edge of a field at Studley Royal, and waited. The hare was eating, grooming, and generally taking a Saturday morning lollop. Luckily, it gradually came closer to me. When it was on the other side of the pile of logs, it took a peek in my direction.