Nutty about Nuthatches

I have been a keen birder since childhood and this has increased through my life as a wildlife photographer. I am particularly drawn to some species, the Little Owl and Bullfinch, the Sanderling and Dipper; but my absolute favourite is the Nuthatch.

These are beautifully painted birds, steel blue and orange with a black eye stripe that fits perfectly with their bold character. 

Nuthatch are superb tree climbers and can move up, down and around the trunk and branches; typically they land above where they want to be and then spiral down head first. At bird feeders they dominate and will even wait patiently while the food is replenished, this habit just adds to their charm.

The Nuthatch has a very pretty and distinctive call but during my time with them I have noticed a number of other more subtle sounds, particularly when several birds are together. This is part of what I love about wildlife photography, learning those little character traits that can improve your chances of capturing the perfect moment.

I have spent many hours observing and photographing these lovely birds but still feel there is more to learn and better images to be made. This is how it is with some subjects, as your photographs improve your expectations grow and you have to keep going. Perhaps the shot I want will always elude me but at least I’ll get to spend more time with the Nuthatches.

Green shoots and Brown Hares

I always look forward to the arrival of spring as winter loosens its grip and the land awakens. My thoughts turn to arable fields and March madness; lying amongst the green shoots of winter wheat as the lark sings overhead and brown hares begin their courtship. Even well into March there can be more than just a touch of frost. Here a lone hare is highlighted by the rising sun on a crisp spring morning; the poor thing even has frosty whiskers!

I’m fortunate in that I have access to several local farms with healthy hare populations. By visiting regularly, with and without the camera, I can develop an understanding of where the animals rest and the corridors they use between resting places. The shot below was captured at very close range as this handsome hare bathed in the light from the setting sun. I had observed a group of hares gathering in this area over several evenings and this knowledge allowed me to be in position, under camouflage, before they arrived.

These characterful creatures really do behave a bit bonkers at this time of year, but that doesn’t necessarily make them less cautious or easy to photograph. They will lie for hours in shallow depressions called forms, and are barely noticeable even in spring when the crop is low. Any approach, besides crawling, will result in the hare making a speedy retreat; along with any others lying nearby!

 

A typical view of a ‘Mad March Hare’ as it races across wet farmland.

Autumn Days

Autumn is a special season for the wildlife photographer as nature prepares for the onset of winter. Mammals are busy harvesting nuts and seeds, tits and finches return to garden feeders and thrushes fight over ripe berries in colourful trees.

Autumn brings low, slanting light as the position of the sun in the sky changes. This light is warmer and subtler than the harsh summer sun making it more practical for photo making. There is also more light available to the photographer as leaves fall from deciduous trees.

The fall carpets the ground with a bed of golden leaves as hedgehogs prepare for the big sleep. Little rodents scurry about as they scavenge for scraps of food, still cautious, but shy creatures become bolder and more approachable as winter draws near.

One of my favourite places to visit is York Cemetery which is a real haven for wildlife. As I walk among the gravestones a robin sings a wistful song and is a constant companion; especially when there is a treat on offer! Grey squirrels are more wary than usual but make nice subjects as they forage for nuts in the fallen leaves.

© Simon Roy Photography 2015

Two Little Owls

During the summer of 2014 I started working with a lovely pair of wild Little owls. I was aware the owls were nesting on farmland close to where I live and that they were often seen during daylight hours. I decided to build a rough hide and placed some natural looking perches near to the old oak tree where the birds nest. After a while the owls began to use the perches as a vantage point for hunting and surveying their territory.

By mid summer the adult owls had bred successfully and there were two healthy and very loud owlets around the hide and perches. I started to place food near by hoping that the parents would use the perches to feed the juvenile owls and although this didn’t happen I did get some nice shots of individual birds.

Over the winter I constructed a more substantial hide and by late spring both adult owls were, once again, visiting the area to feed. I decided to use wider perches in the hope that I might get both adults in at the same time; this is harder than it sounds! I spent one or two sessions a week in the hide and made some lovely images of the male bird as he gathered food for the female, who was now busy in the nest.

It wasn’t until mid summer that the female started showing again, at this stage I was sure there were owlets in the nest as both adults collected food and returned to the tree. I continued to change the perches as the barley in the field behind turned from green to a pastel yellow. Then came the chance I had hoped for, as one of the adults joined the other on the old gate post I had set up. Shot through wild flowers with the summer barley beyond, the two owls interacted for just a few magical moments.

The adult owls regularly visited the feeding area through the summer and into autumn but unfortunately the owlets never appeared. One afternoon, in late summer, I noticed two adult Barn owls flying to and from the nest site; being chased off by the adult Little owls. I believe the Barn owls may have predated the owlets!

© Simon Roy Photography 2015