Little Owl on perch, Burley in Wharfedale

First Curlews of the Year

Well, it happened. After too many moments agonising whether my first curlew encounter of the year should be a planned affair or just left to chance, the inevitability of the latter occurred. An evening walk over Eastfields, Burley in Wharfedale, leading an organised owl walk.

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A Festive Miracle on British Local Streets (Nacreous Clouds)

That line between awe-inspiring and crippling fear is never thinner than in the imagination of a child. I see it in our own kids, the scales of fear versus wonder strike a balance as they experience unfamiliar environments, people, and objects. And it reawakens those same emotions I experienced growing up. 

As a child living in the suburban borders between Greater London and Surrey, there were many (seemingly) unearthly moments, typically after dark. Encounters that almost maleficently hover that boundary between amazement and trepidation. 

Blood-curdling cries of foxes cavorting in the graveyard that adjoined our garden, sporadic flashes illuminating the night sky and piercing the bedroom curtains, caused by the sparks of local train lines, and deafening planes that sounded so close they might take the roof off the house. 

 

As well as the gremlins and zombies, I also used to imagine wondrous marvels too and at Christmas time I would look out of the same bedroom window, almost expectantly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “Bethlehem Star”. Naturally, I never saw the celestial apparition made familiar by all my parents’ greeting cards. However this Christmas, something just as wondrous and unbelievable appeared across British skies…

Rainbow Clouds / Nacreous Clouds in Yorkshire Skies

The appearance of Rainbow or Nacreous clouds in the UK is a rarity. And their unexpected emergence, for me at least, revived that same childlike sense of awe versus foreboding, as my limited brain tried to rationale these unfamiliar illusions.

Nacreous clouds are caused by light (usually when the sun is low or even below the horizon) catching the fine ice particles that typically hover high in the Stratosphere. They’re sometimes known as polar stratospheric clouds and can only form in temperatures below -78°C.  The extreme temperatures make this phenomenon very unlikely outside of the polar regions and for us to see the event in the UK it requires the temporary displacement stratospheric polar vortex; or a Christmas miracle!


Barn Owl chick ringing, Sun Lane, Burley in Wharfedale

The Last Generation...

It was a couple of years before the stars aligned and I was able to join a licensed ringer and observe the ringing and recording of our local barn owl brood. It’s taken over a year before I could look over the pictures again; as these would be the last generation of a barn owl nest site that’s produced young for at least a decade.

I’ve been watching the barn owls in this territory for as long as I’ve been living here. A London suburb born and raised “towny”, I had to pinch myself when weeks after moving to the area I caught that haunting and unmistakable shape silently drift over the lane in front of me. In fact, as the days passed I began to doubt myself, maybe I imagined it? But the more I looked, the more I absorbed, the more I saw.

Ten years later and after thousands of images taken of the Sun Lane barn owls, I’m about to come eye to eye with the last generation this habitat will produce.

Less than six months on from this encounter and rumours of a bag blocking up this nest box would hit me like a stitch on a cross-country school run (probably the last time I got a real stitch). Fences up, foundations dug and show home close to completion within 12 months.

Progress is important, but so is remembering what went before and what’s been lost. A record of a magical, unique Summer’s morning…


Gold finch in the garden

Spring in the Land of Spec Savers

Springtime at the In-Law’s

As Summer slowly dissipates into autumn and a new generation of feathered friends prepare to either chase the summer south or fatten up ahead of the leaner months, I’ve been reflecting on the opposite side of our British calendar, when Winter relented to Spring.  

Anyone familiar with the typical turnaround times of my personal photos will no doubt be dumbstruck at me sharing photos of anything occurring within 24-month window, but there you are!

Spring in the Land of Spec Savers

It’s the Easter holidays and we’re at my father-in-law’s where the North Yorkshire borders ambiguously blur into County Durham (not too far from Mr Cumming’s ‘lockdown’ opticians). Spring is back with a vengeance.

It’s the first family gathering since the festive season and while we have experienced an alarmingly warm winter, the green shoots and testosterone-fuelled birds are a most welcome development. 

A cottage moved into by my in-laws after their own young had fledged, I’ve been visiting and watching the garden’s wild visitors and inhabitants for over ten years. Starlings looking for gaps in the roof tiles, solitary bees emerging from the lawn, courting collared doves flirting and flitting across telegraph lines. During our week’s stay this year, I made some time to turn my lens and celebrate the garden’s inspirational visitors…


Released curlew with rings and GPS tag. Curlew GPS tagging in the Yorkshire Dales.

GPS Tagging Curlews in the Yorkshire Dales

Back in April, I was privileged to join British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) researchers in the Yorkshire Dales as they fitted a select number of curlews with GPS tags.Read more


Wildflower meadow scene featuring an old barn, Muker Yorkshire Dales Photo Walk

Wildflower Fields of Muker - Holding Your Nerve in the eye of a storm

When it comes to the weather, I’ve learned not to buckle until I’ve stared long into the eyes of the storm (from the safety of the attic window)!

Too many times, I’ve cancelled a walk only to find myself surrounded by calm, blue skies. Obviously when it comes to hazardous weather you must take heed, but forecasts of Les Miserables outcomes just have to be taken with a pinch of salt and a dose of positive mental attitude. 

Actually, going out in miserable weather can sometimes produce exciting photographic possibilities. This particular walk in Muker’s flower meadows was such occasion.

 

The rain had barely stopped all day. Ranging from light pitter patter to lashings of heavy drops. Intense rain, deafening rain, reminiscent of a child gleefully tipping a bucket of marbles over the kitchen floor. I wasn’t surprised that some had tentatively enquired about whether the walk was going ahead. Actually I was surprised more hadn’t demanded we postpone. 

“Let’s wait it out” I said, “sometimes, these conditions can result in really inspiring conditions for photography” I sheepishly offered. And so we went ahead, doubling my efforts to overcome any understandable scepticism in the group. And while we didn’t stay dry, we were treated to some exceptional and exciting light and photo opportunities… 

These photos are from the Wildflower Meadow Photo Walk I ran last year as part of my workshop business Walking Photography.


The Jubilee Before the Coronation

A lot can change in a year, and transitions don't get much more high profile than the succession of the crown. Read more


Treecreeper, Certhiidae feeding young fledglings in an old tree

Tree Creepers, the line between determination and flexibility

One of my biggest weaknesses as a photographer and as a human being, is that I’m easily distracted. Read more


Otter breaking the surface while hunting on the river wharfe

Getting Otter on the River Wharfe, In January

A crisp morning by the river in late January results in one of the best mornings for spotting and identifying five individual otters all heading up stream towards Ilkley.Read more


Urban fox in suburban garden with christmas lights

Christmas Eve in Chessington

It’s Christmas Eve 2022, and I’m at my parents house in Chessington, where London suburbs unfurl into the Surrey borders. As the festive evening draws in, a childish excitement flushes through me. 

Familiar naive questions drift to the forefront of my brain. Will he visit me tonight? Can I stay awake long enough to witness his arrival? And have I been good enough to be rewarded with what I want?

As Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, the anticipation of checking my camera is reminiscent of getting the photos back from a roll of film sent off to the lab. 

Did it work? Were the settings right? Yes! The magical creature, so embedded into my childhood did visit, and left me with a festive encounter, I’ll long remember.

Urban fox in suburban garden with christmas lights