News/Blog - Species


A more in depth look into some of Great Britain's wildlife, from our most charismatic species' to some you may be less familiar with.
Palmate Newt Swimming Underwater
15th April 2014 - 0 comments
For some time I have wanted to photograph the British Wildlife found in our ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. I have tried various methods of doing this (sometimes at great expense) with little success. Recently I have been experimenting with a GoPro 3+. These little cameras are most often used in filming extreme sports due to their small size, wide angle lens and durability. They also come with very sturdy underwater housing, which is what caught my attention. Using a homemade extendable pole mount and a bit of patience I was able to capture the video of a male palmate newt moving around its pond.

Okay, so the footage is shaky and not all that clear (best to watch in 1080p), but it's a start. It's fascinating to see these animals head on in their underwater world. As a professional ecologist, I come across newts a lot in my day job, but this is the first time I have seen them from this perspective. Hopefully I can improve on my first clips in the coming weeks and capture something really interesting soon.
Bizarre Bittern.
07th January 2013 - 0 comments
Bitterns are one of our most cryptic native species. They move slowly and silently through the reed beds they inhabit, using their perfect camouflage to avoid predation and catch the fish and small animals which make up their diet. This makes finding Bitterns very challenging, and they are usually only seen by those fortunate enough to catch one flying between reed beds or those willing to sit in a hide for several hours. I fall in to the latter category.

As a Bittern had been regularly reported for a couple of weeks at my local RSPB reserve in Conwy, i decided to pay a visit. Fortunately the reserve is relatively small, and I hoped that this would improve my chances. I headed for the Benarth hide, where I felt a gap in the reeds would offer the best chance of a view. This is also the hide where the Bittern had been most recently reported.

After nearly three hours, the Bittern first showed itself. The bird moved closer and closer to the waters edge from within the reeds, before quickly retreating for another forty five minutes. Eventually it crept back in to view and this is what happened next.

Edging closer to the shallows it looked as though it would fly at any moment, but instead the bird chose to wade into the water.

The gap in the reeds was only twenty metres, however, I was not expecting to see the bird swim across it (even though it had been observed doing just that, days before).

Slowly but surely, the bittern made its way across the channel, through what appeared to be relatively deep water.

I don't have much experience when it comes to watching bitterns, and I am not sure how common this behaviour is. All I know is that I have never seen any other species of heron swim, despite observing both Grey Heron and Little Egret on a very regular basis. I have only ever seen a couple of photographs of bitterns displaying this bizarre behaviour, and I am very happy to have witnessed and photographed this first hand.

Once on the other side, the Bittern melted away into the reeds and was once again invisible.
12th November 2012 - 2 comments
At this time of the year, the summer migrants of the UK are mostly long gone, having flown south to warmer climes in which to spend the winter months. In turn, birds from further north seek shelter in the UK from harsh the winters and unforgiving conditions in the their breeding grounds. The Waxwing, about which this blog post is written, is one of those species (although it is a lack of food rather than a lack of warmth, which drives them west). Waxwings breed in Scandinavia, but some cross the North Sea to overwinter in the UK each year. Usually sightings are restricted to small numbers of birds along the east coast, however, when food resources are too small to sustain them in their breeding grounds we witness irruptive migration. This happens to be just such a year. The bad weather in Scandinavia has seen the failure of the berry crop upon which the Waxwings usually feed. This has forced many thousands of birds to migrate in search of food, and in the past few weeks they have been making their way west across the UK. This week the birds finally reached North Wales and I was able to photograph them less than a mile from my house.

The birds were reported at a local retail park (where many of the UK sightings come from due in part to the number of people to spot the birds, and the high abundance of berry trees at these locations). I got my first sighting of the Waxwings, after hearing their distinctive high pitch trill in the trees overhead. As it was a busy Saturday morning many people were there to see the birds and I decided not to stay for long, instead opting to get up early the next morning and beat the crowds.

living a 2 minute drive from the site, made a 7:30am start pretty painless, and I quickly located the birds in the top of the trees.

Getting in to position near a patch of rowan trees, I kept still and was rewarded with the birds feeding on the tree nearest me.

The birds would spend several minutes feeding on the berries in large groups, before flying back to the tops of a nearby tall tree.

This feeding behaviour continued for the next hour with the birds feeding, then flying off, before returning to feed again.

Now, for the boring photography bit! The dull weather and early start meant that light levels were low. I had to shoot most of my pictures at iso 3200 and shutter speeds of 1/320th of a second or less. My tripod was locked in the boot of my car and in the end I resorted to deliberately underexposing my images a small amount to improve shutter speed and hoping I would be able to rescue them in Raw conversion. I was fortunate that the birds were very confiding and fed on the low branches. This meant that my background was not that of a white sky, but instead a fantastic patch of autumnal trees which really set the mood.

I have waited many years to get the chance to see these birds, and to have them arrive in a flock of over 100 less than a mile from my house has been fantastic. I was able to spend the best part of an hour alone watching the birds, so the early morning start was definitely worth it. The trees have now been almost completely stripped of berries, so the birds will be moving on in search of food anytime now. Hopefully, I will be able to catch up with them again before they return to Scandinavia in the spring.
The Avocet
02nd May 2012 - 0 comments
I have decided to focus this post on the Avocet, a bird I have been fortunate enough to observe on several occasions in the past 12 months, and a bird which symbolises the requirements and the rewards of good conservation work.

The Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) is a boldly patterned wader, with distinctive black and white colouration and a slender upturned bill. Avocets are large birds, but use this specially adapted bill to sweep side to side through the water of their coastal salt lagoon habitat, to catch small insects and crustaceans.

The Avocet is recognisable to many as the symbol of the RSPB, adopted after Avocets returned to the UK as a breeding species in 1947, over 100 years after its extinction in the country. Conservation efforts created the specific coastal lagoons which the species require, and protection from human disturbance which was one of the main reasons for the birds initial decline.

In the winter they form small flocks which feed on estuaries and coastal marshes around the UK. During this time, numbers swell around Britain as migrant birds join natives to make use of the rich feeding grounds and escape colder conditions elsewhere.

These flocks break up for the breeding season instead loose breeding colonies made up of several different breeding pairs may form. Both adult birds incubate the eggs and protect the nest from predators.

When the young hatch, they can feed and move around within a matter of hours but often still dependent on their parents for some time.

In the UK, Avocets now number 877 breeding pairs, a true conservation success story. The photographs featured here were taken at RSPB Elmley Marshes and RSPB Leighton Moss reserves in England.
Short Eared Owls
08th January 2012 - 1 comment
Each year in the Autumn, we have an influx of avian wildlife to the UK. As our summer breeding birds fly south to escape the cold, species from the continent flock to our shores to avoid the inhospitable winters in their homelands. This includes one of our rarer breeding species, the Short Eared Owl (Asio flammeus). During this time, the number of owls in the UK may reach 50,000. This year, the numbers have been considerably higher than recent years, following a population explosion of their vole prey in their continental breeding grounds.

Short Eared Owls are one of the easiest species to see, as they have a largely diurnal lifestyle, and are often seen hunting over coastal marshes and rough ground on winter afternoons.

In the North West of England, where I am based, a famous wintering population can often be seen along the Dee Estuary near the RSPB site at Burton. This is where all of the photographs in this blog posts were taken.

Short Eared Owls are ground nesting birds, and often spend time perched on the ground.

I was able to observe two individuals hunting over the same patch of Burton Marsh. Although not as territorial as some bird of prey species, these two birds did occasionally fight (presumably to protect their access to prey).

Photographing Short Eared Owls has been a frustrating process. Although they are bold birds, flying close to the footpath which is in almost constant use, they are hard to approach closely. I often waited in one place watching them fly over the marsh further up the track. When I changed positions so did they!

You should be able to see Short Eared Owls in the habitats described above for the next couple of months before they return to the upland areas of Great Britain, or their home countries to breed.

European Otter video clip
17th November 2011 - 0 comments
I have just returned from a trip to the Isle of Mull to watch and photograph the native wildlife, with many great views of species that are incredibly elusive elsewhere. This otter hunted the shore of Loch Scridain eventually catching this fish and bringing it to the rocks to eat. we commonly encountered Otters hunting and most ate their catch in the water, but for larger or trickier prey such as crabs or in the case of this video, a Bullhead, the Otters came to land. I will add photographs from the trip when I get the chance, but until then please enjoy this short video clip.

The Peregrine Falcons of North Wales
19th September 2011 - 0 comments
This latest post focuses on the Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) which I have come across along the rocky North Wales coast. Peregrine falcons suffered serious population declines in the UK in the last century, particularly in the 1960's, with egg collectors, persecution and pesticides such as DDT all having an affect. Thankfully, the species is now recovering due to better legal and environmental protection. As a result of this Peregrines are now relatively common in North Wales, and I encountered them on a regular basis in the area. Below are some photographs of those encounters. Enjoy, and as always let me know what you think! Cheers,

A juvenile Peregrine calling overhead

An adult Peregrine circling around the sea cliffs.

A parent bird with a freshly killed pigeon, preparing to feed one of the juvenile falcons

The adult parent Peregrine (top) passes the remains of the pigeon to the juvenile bird (bottom).

Adult birds regularly hunt the feral pigeons in the nearby town.

Juvenile birds have less bold markings than the adult birds, lacking the strong stripes across the breast and a more brown colouration overall.

An adult and juvenile bird practice stooping, where the birds dive down the cliffs at speeds of up to 200km/h. This technique is used to kill the peregrines prey, where the birds dive from above, often killing their target with the force of the impact.
12th August 2011 - 0 comments
Following on from my last post on stoats, I have decided to share some of my Raven photos which would otherwise just be sitting in a folder on my laptop. The Raven (Corvus corax) is the largest member of the Crow family (Corvidae) in the UK, rivaling the Common Buzzard in size. They are a bird of the uplands and coastal cliffs, so in North Wales, they are fairly common. Ravens are easily distinguished from other Corvids by their croaking call, feathery beard, large, powerful bill, and diamond shaped tail in flight.

This silhouetted outline clearly shows the diamond shape tail large wings and powerful beak

Ravens are surprisingly agile for a such a large, bulky bird

Ravens are common around coastal cliffs along the West of the UK, and have recently started to recolonise the south east after being persecuted to extinction in these areas.

Ravens are incredibly intelligent birds, and are capable of solving complex problems in experimental conditions and the wild

Ravens are incredibly long lived, commonly reaching 15 years in the wild and can be up to 40 years old in captivity

An adult Raven in typical mountainous upland habitat
28th July 2011 - 3 comments
I try to keep the gallery and portfolios on the site as varied as possible, so I don't tend to post more than a couple of shots of the same species (for me there is nothing more boring than visiting a website and seeing photo after photo of the same animal, which has barely moved between shots). This means that I am left with a fair amount of pictures that I never use. I have decided to use this blog/news section of the site to put a few up that would otherwise never be seen on here. The first set of photographs are on stoats. These shots were taken at RSPB Conwy, in North Wales, where a rather healthy population of stoats have taken up residence. Recently, the young have been out playing and due to the high volume of visitors to the reserve, they have become very approachable. Here are some of the photographs I managed to get. Let me know what you think, enjoy!