Newsletter December 2010

December 31, 2010 at 6:09 am

Pied Billed Grebe

This year closes out in mild conditions but it will be remembered for its extremely low temperatures in January followed at the year end by the coldest December in more than a century – hard for the birds but excellent filming conditions.

In January I visited Finland to film Golden Eagle in the snow. What I endured was the coldest day I shall ever film birds in with a temperature of minus 31°C at the start and nine hours later it had risen to only minus 26°C! Whilst I was in a wooden hide the extremely low temperatures froze the milk for the tea in my flask and the two Mars bars I was supposed to eat were like house bricks. I am still amazed the cameras worked and I obtained some amazing film with the only legacy being frost bite in a finger tip which lasted about a month.

Our fortnight on Islay in February continued the cold theme with severe frost on most mornings and one day producing four inches of snow. The island in deep snow is breathtaking and we only wish we could have been there in December when there was a repeat performance.

All of this years filming at home was directed towards the completion of the new DVD on Pennine Birds. I had to find a good Tawny Owl site and Little Owl site for the filming and in the end came up with two good sites, perfect weather and young fledging before the camera. The Summer also produced Long Eared Owls hunting before sunset and together with more Barn Owl film has ensured that fourteen species of raptor are included in the DVD.

In all the glorious weather of June I spent five hours a day for ten days filming a pair of Kingfishers and waited for the magical moment when the young would fledge and stand next to each other on a branch. Frustratingly this only happens on BBC films for whilst I did get each young leaving the tunnel they all sat in different places! Try again next year.

In July I returned to Finland to film Ospreys at the nest. I had a magical two days in a tree hide opposite the nest and on one of those days the male returned, with fish, nine times during my eleven hour stay. My visit also coincided with a record high temperature of 34°C making a variation of 65° from my visit in January.

Our visit to Islay in May/June was once again blessed with fabulous weather and good birds. Most of our time was spent on Hen Harriers and we finally filmed a male Hen Harrier visiting the nest with prey, something that has always eluded me in the past.

Having missed going to Islay last Autumn we spent two weeks there in late October. The Geese had just arrived and better still the island was full of my favourite birds, the Waxwing. Much time was spent searching them out. Whilst the weather was pretty wild we did have three fantastic sunsets and the Geese landed exactly in the right position!

During the year the garden has provided me with some good film of such birds as Bullfinches,Jay and Sparrowhawk. The highlight has to have been the return on the 24th December of the Willow Tit. Four times in the last five years this bird has fed in the garden but the question is of course is it the same bird?

For four months, at the later part of the year, we have been editing the new DVD entitled ‘Pennine Birds” It is the culmination of five years of video filming and is the most spectacular film I will ever produce and includes all the special birds you would expect to see in the Pennines. It can be ordered through my website

I would like to wish you all the very best for the New Year. Gordon

May The Force Be With You

December 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Pied Billed Grebe

Thornton Force that is, as seen in the photo taken from behind the waterfall with most of its falling water frozen. In the last eight days we have had seven nights when the temperature dropped to below minus 10°C. This has never happened in my life time before and with most days sunny and still below zero it has produced fabulous filming conditions. So much so that in the last two weeks I have taken over three hours of video something I might only do at the height of Summer.

The star turn has to be the re- appearance of the Willow Tit in our garden on the 24th . It is now feeding daily and making its fourth annual visit in the last five years. The question is of course where has it been in between its visits to our garden and is it the same bird than originally came in November 2006?

One day I visited Leighton Moss to look for Bitterns, all to no avail. However, I did see several Bearded Tits and better still filmed seventy Waxwings feeding in the snow on fallen apples. It was a magnificent sight and one I have not filmed Waxwings doing before.

On Christmas Eve we drove around the Ribble and Hodder valleys with both rivers being mainly frozen over. Again it was something I have never seen before and you have to feel sorry for the Dippers and Kingfishers and hope they have somehow survived these exceptional conditions.

At 10am on Christmas Day we had our customary walk around Hopwood with the temperature still only -12°. Sparkling frost covered the snow in conditions normally only seen in Scandinavia and the Alps. We did see three Roe Deer, Woodcock and Jack Snipe together with a solitary Goldcrest but what chances of its survival?

Locally this Winter Fieldfares have been in short supply but on the 22nd I noticed a group feeding on a single Hawthorne only a few hundred yards from my home. It was in the middle of a snow covered field and my greeny brown hide was not exactly camouflaged. However, I thought I would give it thirty minutes to see if they would return to feed. What happened in the next two hours was sheer magic as they all fed on the snow covered berries in full sunshine. I took forty two minutes of video in what was the best filming of Fieldfares I have ever had in forty years!

More Snow

December 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Autumn Colours

The male Bullfinch in the snow was photographed in the garden this week. He was one of five different Bullfinches that have fed in the extreme conditions. We also had nine Blackbirds together one morning plus a Song Thrush, Nuthatch and Reed Bunting. On the nineteenth a Fox was at the back of the garden for some time before appearing at the back door!

The extreme conditions on Hopwood have produced Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Buzzard, Goldcrest and surprisingly plenty of Wrens. I wonder how many of these will be around at the end of Winter?

During the week I made an abortive visit to the Lake District looking for Hawfinches, a bird that has always eluded me and still does! A week without seeing a Waxwing has been hard to endure.

Near Miss

December 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Autumn Colours

On the 5th December I found a flock of eighty Waxwings and sat on a snow covered wall along the roadside to film them for two hours. The fog descended and with a wet backside I returned home to change my trousers and grab something to eat. When I returned forty minutes later there was a police car, a breakdown truck and the car in the above photo had knocked down a lamp post and demolished the wall where I had been sat less than one hour before! Needless to say the Waxwings were still feeding on the same tree even with all the commotion going on close by.

On the sixth of December we had the most superb hoar frost I have ever seen. I was out locally all day and found three groups of Waxwings ( 130, 10 and 8 ) in the Oldham / Rochdale area. On Hopwood there was a Green Woodpecker and a Jack Snipe.

On the eighth of December, after a frost of minus ten degrees centigrade, I visited the Ingleton area and can you believe it I found a flock of twenty two Waxwings on the Settle bypass. There were good numbers of Fieldfares in the same area which is more than I can say for the local Rochdale area where there are still very few.

In the garden we had a record of seven consecutive days with more than twenty species feeding. Amongst these there was a record five Bullfinches. The female Sparrowhawk caught and ate a Collared Dove over a period of one hour on one day.

The Pennine Birds DVD is selling very well and it had a very good review in the Manchester Evening News.

Launch of the Pennine Birds DVD

December 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm


After five years of filming and four months of editing the Pennine Birds DVD is now complete. This DVD takes us on a seasonal journey throughout the whole area of the Pennines, highlighting more than seventy of its birds. Included in this select group are fourteen species of raptor, (including all six species of Owl), Herons, Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, Waxwings and many more. There is an incident at a Peregrine eyrie that has never been captured on film before. In forty years of filming birds I have never before spent so long to produce a DVD packed full of quality birds. I am sure it is going to be well received.

If anyone wants to purchase a copy of the DVD it costs £15 plus £1 postage, please telephone or email me. Phone No 01706 631770, or you can e-mail me by going to the “Contact Me” link at the top of this page.

This weeks exceptionally cold and snowy weather has produced four consecutive days with more than twenty different species in the garden including a new bird in the form of a Pied Wagtail. Other birds that have fed include nine Long Tailed Tits, Mistle and Song Thrushes, Red Bunting, Wren, Wood Pigeon, Bullfinches, Nuthatch and all the usual common garden birds.

After a low temperature of minus thirteen on the third of December I found three Jack Snipe feeding together on Hopwood, my second highest ever number. There are still Waxwings around but they are proving to be more elusive.