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2024 - home, (not away) ... the year so far

Galavanting around the world is all very well. Previous blog posts have told a story of whales, albatrosses, seals and sights beyond my wildest dreams. However ... wildlife here at home doesn't sit around waiting for our return, it simply gets on with life in the here and now.

So it's time to share a few glimpses into the native wildlife that lights up the gloomy months of winter here in the UK and which bursts into action, once spring, ... eventually ... arrives.

I'm about to celebrate the start of the second half of 2024 with a trip back to the Outer Hebrides in search of Owls, Eagles, Harriers and Otters; but before the long trip North, let's dial back to the start of 2024 for a few moments.

There is much less daylight for wildlife photography in January rather than the seemingly endless days of July, in the far North. January outings therefore, mean getting out in the field before the pale winter light faded. Wrapped up warm and peering into the gloom at dusk, a winter Barn Owl is guaranteed to raise spirits and makes you briefly forget freezing fingers.

It was a great winter for Short-eared Owls, with a huge influx of these beautiful creatures from the continent, giving glimpses so close to us here at Harris Acres, that a pre-xmas trip to see them took me only 10 minutes from home. Further sightings in early 2024, required a visit to a favourite Cotswold spot, where I was rewarded with a brief flyby as an aperitif for this summer's main course.

Ok - that's it for Owls ... for now ... but regular readers should assume the brace position when I'm back from the far North, in a few weeks time!

Early spring can be a cold, windy and grey time and it was especially so, this year. Native wildlife just has to get on with it, regardless of the weather and this year the local frog population convened in our garden ponds, on exactly the same date as previous years.

One, two, three!

2024 wasn't only a good year for Short-eared Owls, as another species of bird irrupted from the continent in chattering flocks to devour the abundance of UK berries, presumably less abundant at home in Scandinavia this year.

Waxwings are colourful, garrulous and hungry visitors and appeared in large numbers, first in the North of Britain, then spreading south as they went in search of more food.

I was lucky to find a spot where they had congregated just before we disappeared on our 'round the world trip and grabbed a quick shot to record the event.

Back from our travels, it became clear that our absence for over a month had left our already quiet village edge rural location, free of any human (or feline) presence and subsequently, the local wildlife had become even bolder in their occupation of the garden and surrounding land .

Here's a quick shot of a group of Fallow Deer no more than 20m from the house as they wandered along the garden fence line, slightly perplexed as to who that strange chap with a camera was, on 'their' turf.

The star creature who had become a regular visitor in the quiet of our absence, turned out to be a beautiful male Sparrowhawk.

Our well-stocked bird feeders, intended to support the garden and woodland birds while we we away from home, seemed to have worked so well, that this most delicate of fierce predators had started flying in for brunch as a consequence!

Within a day or so of our return, I noticed his regular mid morning visits as he swooshed in pursuit of a tasty snack. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I decided to deploy my small, frozen stock of garden birds that I had been unable to rescue and free from the local cats predation, before they expired.

A mossy post and various perches erected to give the Sparrowhawk a landing target and the unfortunate 'circle of life' recycled prey, thawed and presented as a tempting easy meal, I set up in an open study window and waited.

Sure enough, the super smart Sparrowhawk, soon recognised that his attacks didn't need to end in failure more often than not, if he could divert from a missed strike to the supplementary feeding within easy reach. Happy bird and even happier photographer, although I had to be alert because these attacks took mere seconds and he was gone, prize in claw.

Close and persistent observation of the UK wildlife here at Harris Acres, has taught me that these opportunities to watch beautiful creatures in the wild are often the briefest of glimpses. Sometimes the visitors can be encouraged to repeat their visits over months, but more often its an opportunity that presents itself for a few hours or days at best.

So it was with this Sparrowhawk, who can still be seen in the skies above the house and whizzing through the woodland tree-line in pursuit of a meal, but only visited so cooperatively (confiding is the birders word for this behaviour) for a few days.

Sparrowhawk yoga in a Walnut tree

What an absolute treat whilst it lasted though!

'New life' is of course, the driver for much wildlife activity in spring. It's been a while since I've visited the hides set up to enable close quarters observation and photography of busy Kingfishers, working hard to feed their brood.

It turned out that I couldn't have picked a gloomier, dark and wet day to visit than the day I chose. Still, good company in the form of friend Craig and the wonders of modern camera kit and post processing software, were able to rescue some shots to remind me what a brilliant experience it is, to watch these birds go about their business.

'Raindrops keep falling on my head' ... etc!

A visit to a fabulous place to watch Ospreys diving for fish, turned out to be an even bigger challenge, with a highly unusual combination of more rubbish weather and an absence of Ospreys, meant the only worthwhile shot in compensation was of a clever Red Kite diving from the trees, mimicking the local Ospreys in search of fish.

The natural world sometimes delivers the unexpected and the spectacular at the same time; something that happened on an extraordinary evening in early May.

I've always wanted to see the Northern Lights and never imagined in my wildest dreams that far from requiring a long complicated trip into the Artic Circle, I would simply have to fall out of bed and open the doors onto the bedroom balcony!


With thanks to Mark, (one of our neighbours) for banging on our front door to wake us up, some frantic scrambling for camera, lens and a befuddled attempt to remember the settings for astro photography, we were treated to an incredible show, right here at Harris Acres.

Spring is also the time that our spiky hibernating garden guests wake up and expect a few treats in exchange for helping the Harris Acres gardeners, by eating all the pesky slugs! Fair deal I say!

We have a handful here at Harris Acres, enjoying the quiet woodland, undisturbed by traffic.

They turn up two by two ....

... and sometimes 4x4!

Queue for dinner

... we even made room for an adopted Hedgie from the local rescue centre make 5 nightly visitors!

So finally we come to the end of spring and hope to benefit from the huge investment of winter time and effort, in support of the local rural foxes here at Harris Acres. Nightly trips outside to sprinkle some food where the adult Foxes come to dine in front of the house as darkness falls, can be a cold (and wet) chore through the winter months.

The return on that effort is hoped to be that, should they have a successful breeding season, the adult Foxes will bring their growing family to say hello, in in the warmer months.

Delightfully, this year ... that's exactly what's has happened. I thought the adults had only had a single kit (cub), but soon realised that there were 3 - hurrah!

Getting them all in frame and in focus is another matter all together .... however .... how about two for starters?

Hopefully, we'll be able to see how the cubs and their parents navigate the summer, with a little help, balanced nutrition and respect for their wildness from this big Fox fan of a WILDlife photographer.

So that's about that for the first half of 2024, exhausting for new wildlife Harris Acres family members. Just time for a nap before we embark on the second half of the year .... I wonder what wonders we'll see over the next few months?

Night night in the meantime everyone!


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