Arctic Gem

May 31, 2015 at 9:07 pm

When you have a week on Islay in late May most of the high Arctic waders have already left on their long journey north. This week, with cool northerly winds, there have been small numbers of Sanderling waiting for more favourable conditions before heading north. Amongst these birds was one that had already moulted into its spectacular breeding plumage that is normally only seen on its breeding grounds. I make no apologies for including in this weeks gallery several photos of this immaculate bird that has now left to head north. Click here

On our daily travels around Islay it is pleasing to encounter hunting male Hen Harriers. On one day we watched five different males as they searched for prey for their partners and offspring. The low temperatures and heavy showers have not made hunting easy and it remains to be seen what effect this extreme weather for May will have on overall breeding success.

The big bonus with the cool conditions is that for the first time in living memory there have been no midges in May. How long will this last?

Waders Benefit

May 25, 2015 at 9:40 am


The cold and wet weather this month has benefitted all the wading birds on the Pennine moors. The increased number of peaty pools has produced the best feeding conditions for birds like Dunlin. It has been a pleasure to see and hear Dunlin displaying and pairing off in places where they have not been seen for years. If conditions remain the same for the next month then we should see good numbers of fledged Curlew, Golden Plover,Lapwing and Dunlin.

The glorious weather of April has also produced some of the best carpets of bluebells ever seen in the Pennines. This weeks gallery shows my favourite Pennine bluebell wood at its best last week. My only regret is that it is in Yorkshire not Lancashire! Click here

Owling Success

May 17, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Long Eared Owl

After last years spectacular success Barn Owls this season are having a much quieter time. In contrast Long Eared Owls are having their best season for years with most pairs now busy feeding young, both in the nest and some already fledged. This weeks photo is from a nest I filmed nearly twenty years ago and is the last time I spent eight hours through the night waiting for the male to provide the female with prey. In more than fifty years of wildlife photography to film a pair of Long Eared Owls at the nest, through the night, is the most challenging and exciting photography you could contemplate in the Pennines. Firstly you have to have a good head for heights as you may be thirty feet off the ground sat in your confined hide in the pitch black of a remote Pennine forest. With all the other Owls there is no indication as to when the male will arrive with prey for the female but with Long Eared Owls it is different. When he nears the nest the male gives deep booming calls that echo through the forest. The female springs into life and awaits his arrival on the nest edge with his catch. Your adrenalin flow doubles when you hear his booms and you also await his imminent arrival. It is unquestionably the most exciting wildlife photography you could ever contemplate in the Pennines and one that many top wildlife photographers have never experienced.

In addition to Long Eared Owls this season has also brought a pair of Short Eared Owls to breed in the hills. At present I am still trying to find their nest and have included in this weeks gallery photos, mainly of the male, from one that I filmed a few years ago. Click here


May 10, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Having spent time filming Avocets on Morecambe Bay it is easy to see why the RSPB adopted them as their emblem bird. They are spectacular subjects and were, up to ten years ago, very rare breeding birds in Britain. Since then their spread north has been sensational with a pair now having bred successfully in Greater manchester.

On Hopwood on the 7th I came across seven Long Tailed Tits that had just fledged from the first nest that I found being built this year on the 4th March. Very rarely are you able to follow the fortunes of a Long Tailed Tits nest though to fledging as was the case with this nest. The young were being fed by three adults so there should be an ample supply of food for the seven young.

Elsewhere in the Pennines this week I have seen plenty of singing Whitethroats and Grasshopper Warblers with the first Swifts screaming overhead. The record sunshine of April has now produced the most advanced leaf cover I have ever seen in early May. This will produce a good food supply for all the summer visitors that are now arriving. All they need now is more warmth!! Click here

April Corncrake

May 3, 2015 at 6:26 pm

We have just returned from a week on Islay that produced the contrast of snow on the ground for the first two days then fifteen hours of sunshine per day for the last two days. I was able to film my first ever April Corncrake whilst there was still snow on the hills!

There is no doubt that late April on Islay is probably the best time of the year to witness both winter and summer visitors together at the same time. Cuckoos were calling everywhere with Willow Warblers, Wheatears, Whinchats and Swallows present in ever increasing numbers. In contrast three hundred Barnacle Geese, Golden Plover and even an Iceland Gull were reluctant to leave due to the cold north wind.

A friend and his wife on their first ever visit to Islay logged one hundred and thirteen different species in their week which is an amazing number of birds without the benefit of a guide and on their first visit. Even more remarkable is that the total did not include any Eagles or Owls. Needless to say they plan a return visit!

Click here for this weeks photos