276/365 – Green Woodpeckers and The Archers

Back in the summer I treated myself to a day at a hide where green woodpeckers are the main visitors. I’d spent most of May monitoring the three great spotted woodpecker nests in my local woods and thought it was time to photograph their green cousins. I’d only seen them a couple of times before so it would be a good opportunity to add some decent pictures to my portfolio.

I booked into a local pub the night before and was pleasantly surprised to find out on arrival that the Bull at Rippingale was the inspiration for the Archers the long running radio programme. As part of the BBC’s post-war drive to promote agriculture and farming, Henry Burtt who lived in nearby Haconby, a nationally recognised expert in seed crops and an influential figure in the NFU at the time, suggested at a national conference: “What we want is a ‘farming Dick Barton’”, Dick Barton being the most popular radio show of the time. This sparked the interest of a BBC producer who accepted an invitation to visit the area where Burtt explained the importance of farming to the economy and the country. And from this the Archers was born. If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend a visit as they have some Archers themed displays for fans.

The hide I was visiting is run by Tom Robinson, one of many he has which cover a variety of species throughout the year. Tom also ploughs back a lot of the profits into conservation work and the hides are of the highest quality. Comfortable office chairs, drink making facilities, heaters for the colder months and a loo.

I had missed the first visit of the morning, but I settled in and it wasn’t long before the male decided to make an appearance.

Male green woodpecker

Male green woodpecker

The sexes can be differentiated by the red mustache sported by the male. Outside the hide are a couple of anthills which are liberally sprinkled with mealworms which the woodpeckers love. It didn’t take him long to move from the perch to the hill and start feeding.

Male green woodpecker with mealworm

Male green woodpecker with mealworm

Green woodpeckers have a long sticky tongue which allows them to feast on ants, inserting their tongue and scooping them up from within the anthill.

After tucking in for a few minutes he departed allowing me to review my pictures and amend any settings. Tom knew they were nesting nearby and was hoping the young would soon be visiting but unfortunately not today.

On the next visit both the male and female arrived with the female taking a back seat while the male tucked in. When she did eventually get in a good position to take her photograph she was photobombed by a pheasant!

Female green woodpecker

Female green woodpecker

Photobombing pheasant

Photobombing pheasant

The woodpeckers and the pheasants provided an entertaining few hours with regular visits allowing for a range of images to be taken.

Male green woodpecker

Male green woodpecker

I can’t fault Tom’s set up and would highly recommend a visit. Hopefully I’ll be back soon for some raptor or owl action. The scaffold hide alongside a barn owl or sparrowhawk nest are certainly on the to do list.

Here’s a link to Tom’s site http://www.wildlife-photography-hides.co.uk/



185/365 – Meet Aries

“I’m afraid we have an infestation” are not the first words you want to hear when you check into your hotel on holiday, but this happened to us recently in Portugal.

“What of?” I asked.

“Seagulls” replied the manager, “we us an eagle to scare them away”!!!

At this my ears pricked up and I scanned the information leaflet he gave me, and I quote “In order to be able to control in an effective and ecological way we use the method of astonishment with the use of birds of prey where there is no physical damage to the invading birds.”

Now bear in mind the hotel is built on a cliff above the ocean and they are claiming an invasion of seabirds, I’m pretty sure the seagulls have been nesting here way before the hotel was built.

The next morning I was stood on the balcony when I noticed a man wandering the grounds by the swimming pool with a hawk on his arm. I grabbed my camera and rushed down to have a look and watch the “astonishment method” in action.

This is Aries a Harris Hawk who’s job is to basically intimidate yellow legged gulls and scare them away.

Harris hawk profile


I chatted with his keeper who introduced me to Aries. They visit this hotel and others twice a day and basically, from what I witnessed, they mildly irritate the gulls while they are there and then it’s back to normal.

Harris hawk with keeper

Harris hawk with keeper

The gulls would make a bit of a fuss with a few dives at Aries and would vacate their usual spots while he was in the grounds. As soon as he was gone they would return.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the hotel facilities.

Yellow legged gulls enjoy the facilities.

From my perspective I loved seeing Aries up close and personal but as to his role in “astonishing” the gulls I wasn’t convinced, they just seemed slightly put out that he was there, before quickly returning to business as usual.

I didn’t find them invasive or a problem and after all the hotel has been built on their natural home. I’ve a feeling they’ll still be there long after the hotel has gone. However I do like the method, I’m sure there are some places where the gulls may be killed and their nests destroyed in order to clear the “infestation” so just pissing them off for an hour gets my vote.

Harris hawk portrait

Harris hawk portrait


Marshalling the Tour De Yorkshire

The Tour de Yorkshire is a legacy bike race which was introduced after the region hosted the start of the Tour De France a few years back. This is the 4th year and this year it was bigger than ever expanded to 4 days and the ladies race expanded to 2 days. I’ve gone to watch every year but this year decided I’d volunteer to help and become a Tour Maker.

This involved an afternoons training finding out about the role and picking up my uniform. There are 2 main roles for Tour Makers, a general friendly face for the public helping with information and keeping an eye out for possible hazards to the riders and spectators, or a whistle and flag marshal who basically stand in front of a potential hazard in the road such as a bollard or roundabout and make sure the cyclists are aware of it. Being my first year I thought I’d just go for the general smiley face role but was then asked to take on the flagging role so why not.

So kitted out in my hi-viz jacket and armed with my flag and whistle I took my position in the middle of the road and awaited the race. It’s quite clear when the race is heading your way, the TV helicopter is the first visible sign and then the police motorcyclist start pouring past and it’s time to blow the whistle and wave the flag.

Tour De Yorkshire flag and whistle marshal

Flagging and whistling

Even though I was very close to the start of the race they hurtle past and the rush both of the air, dust and adrenaline are amazing and then whoosh it’s all over. The cyclists had another 5 hours of tough Yorkshire terrain to cover with a very worthy winner Stephane Rossetto who was king of the road. He broke away with over 100km to go and stayed in front till the finish. A magnificent performance in the heat.

I loved it and will definitely be back next year. With over 2.5 million people cheering the race over the four days, it’s brilliant for the region and continues to grow.

One flag marshall was very lucky though only just managing to get out of the way of one of the cars, I’m glad this wasn’t on my patch!!!! Watch his lucky escape here


The Fastest Show On Earth

Is back in Halifax, the peregrines have returned!!!!

Peregrine falcons have nested on and off in Halifax over the past ten years in an old church spire. For the last couple of years there has been a lot of building work around the spire so the peregrines have nested elsewhere, but this year they’re back.

Female peregrine falcon

Female peregrine falcon

The peregrine is the fastest animal on earth using its amazing speed of over 200 mph to hurtle down on prey in its classic stoop. They can accelerate to 80mph in a second and with their large talons can take prey up to the size of a mallard duck. They are one of the worlds most common birds of prey and after almost being persecuted to the edge of extinction they have made a remarkable comeback. Most big cities in the UK will have a pair nesting somewhere as the urban landscape mirrors the cliff faces they used to nest on and provides a banqueting table of pigeons and other birds for them to hunt.

Female peregrine leaving the nest site

Female peregrine leaving the nest site

If you search peregrine webcam you will find links to cities that have put up nesting boxes and webcams so you can watch them hatch their young and raise them in Spring and into Summer.

Here’s a couple of links but remember the time difference if you reading in the US or Europe!! But be warned it can be very addictive!!!! Why not see if there’s one near you?

Sheffield peregrines here

Woking peregrines here

Rochdale peregrines here

We don’t currently have anything set up but I have been speaking to the land owners and they seem quite keen as its a great way to get people to visit the town. So watch this space. In the meantime I know where I’m going to be over the next couple of months. Fingers crossed they’re successful and soon we might be seeing a few more falcons in town!

Peregrine coming right at you

Peregrine coming right at you




Big Bird

The only thing a Steller’s Sea Eagle has in common with the Sesame Street character is the colour of its beak and talons and its size. This is by far the biggest bird I have ever been near to and I certainly had the wrong lens fitted for getting all of it into a shot!


These eagles live on the coasts of north east Asia with a large population in the far east of Russia and feed mainly on fish and water birds. The one I came across was at the National Bird of Prey Centre in Yorkshire and it was huge. They are on average the heaviest eagle in the world weighing up to 20lbs and can stand up to 3 ft 5 inches tall with a wingspan of about 3 ft 3 inches.


As a fish eating eagle they have spiracles on the underside of their feet. These are wavy ridges which allow them to grasp fish which might otherwise slip from their talons. They are generally brown to black in colour which contrasts sharply with the white patches on their wings, legs and tail.


This one was being fed while I was there and was tucking into dead hen chicks which on most occasions it swallowed whole but did pull one apart for my delectation! (I’ve kept the more gory pictures on file).


They didn’t fly the eagle the day I was there but when they do they probably have to tell parents with young children to keep a tight hold on them!!


Night With the Stars

My youngest son has recently started a photography GCSE and asked if we could go and try and take some shots of the night sky. We decided to make a trip of it and headed for the Brecon Beacons which has dark sky status. They eldest son decided he wanted to come so a road trip was organised.

I’ve never done any night photography so a little bit of research was undertaken but it was pretty much a learning experience and we weren’t really helped with an almost full moon and scudding clouds.

The first thing you notice is how little we can actually see as there were only a couple of stars visible to the naked eye but when you let the camera look it’s quite mind blowing what we miss. _JM12376-01


It was fun snapping the planes that came across while we were out.


Our pictures won’t win any awards but we learn’t quite a bit and also realised it was a work in progress.

Falconry Has Changed Since Kes’s Day

Growing up I loved the film Kes and the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines on which it’s based. It tells the story of Billy Casper, a young working class boy who’s always in trouble at home and school, but who finds an escape when he finds and trains a kestrel. My dad took us to the cinema to see the film and then later at school it was a set text for our O Level and it’s a book I often revisit. I blame it for my fascination with Birds of Prey.

When Billy was training Kes he stole a book from the library to learn about falconry and made his own jesses and lures. Things have definitely moved on since then.

Falconry has gone high tech! At the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley the birds now have GPS tracking and can be followed in flight on an iPad!


On this picture the radio tracking aerial can clearly be seen behind this stunning Eagle Owl, and below the GPS unit can be seen attached to the handlers belt. The iPad is used to tack a bird that has left the line of sight and allows the handler to not only know where the bird is but its height and distance away.


I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of Kes but this equipment must really help with those moments of panic when your bird disappears from sight.

If you haven’t read the book I would highly recommend it and the film is a much watch. The title of the book comes from Medieval England where the only bird a peasant was allowed to keep was a Kestrel.

Some Sticky Family History

Ever tried Sticky Toffee Pudding? Well if you have you have my wife’s Uncle to thank.

Francis Coulson is my wife’s Uncle and despite the many claims and counter-claims, the original Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe was created by Francis Coulson at Sharrow Bay in the 1970s, and it is said that the featherlight sweet figgy sponge drenched in toffee sauce is ‘still the finest you will find anywhere in the world’.

Francis Coulson’s original, secret recipe is the stuff of culinary legend, anecdotally inspired by Brian Sack’s time as an RAF Spitfire pilot, where he saw Canadian RAF Pilots use Maple Syrup. This was pre Food Air Miles, so necessity became the mother of invention!

Staff at Sharrow Bay have signed a secrecy agreement to not disclose the secret recipe that is held in the hotel’s vaults, nor must ex-staff ever use the recipe at any other business.

I only met Francis once and he was an extremely nice man but unfortunately he never told us the recipe! Just think if we had a £1 for every toffee pudding ever eaten I’d be writing this from a beach somewhere!!

In 2007, an anonymous bidder paid £32,000 to the Children in Need charity in order to stay at Sharrow Bay and be allowed to make the pudding alongside the pastry chef.

C’est la vie as the French would say, life wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy.

So next time you fancy a really sweet delicious pudding grab yourself a sticky toffee one and quietly thank Uncle Francis for creating this superbly sweet treat. And don’t worry I really don’t want to live on an idyllic beach honest!!!!






On The Moors

There are a lot of different habitats close to where I live but one I don’t visit as often as I should are the moorlands. Whenever I visit I tend to come across something new and it was the same on a recent early morning outing.

The warblers have returned and virtually all the small trees had one singing away in full voice. These were willow warblers trying to attract a partner for the breeding season after having arrived back from sub-Saharan Africa where they spend the winter.


There were also lots of meadow pippits around, which although usually around all year may well have spent the winter at the coast or lower down the valleys.


The star of the show though was the skylark which I watched rise to the heights singing its song before diving back down into the heather. Luckily I watched where it landed but its incredible camouflage meant it took me a good few minutes to fix on it and take a picture.


Something A Little Different

This weekend the third Tour De Yorkshire came to town. Its a legacy cycle race which developed from the Grand Depart of the Tour De France which came to Yorkshire a few years ago.

The route came fairly close and featured a steep climb up a local cobbled hill so I staked my claim amongst the thistles and nettles and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

_X0A9533This climb was about two thirds of the way into the stage so the cyclists really began to feel the pain. The crowds were amazing cheering the leaders and the peloton up the hill and over the summit.


All the climbs in the race are given a French name for the event and as this was the Cote de Shibden Wall it was no suprise that a certain President of the USA appeared with his wall building friends!!


Brilliant day, superb crowds and a great advert for Yorkshire, God’s own county.