Close encounters with wildlife are always very special. Two years ago I had a close encounter with a swift – probably my favourite bird if I had to choose. Sadly, it had become grounded due to an infestation of parasitic flat fly, and we tried for hours to pick off the flies and rehydrate the swift. A volunteer from Swift Conservation was kind enough to collect the swift and look after it, but it didn’t recover and died a few days later. It was a very emotional experience. My next close encounter, which happened just last week, would play out a little differently.
When Wimbledon is on, nothing else on TV matters. To be honest it’s the only thing I watch all year. Taking to the floor to sit after sitting at a desk all day helps me justify more screen time and brings back some nostalgic feelings. It’s lucky I take this approach sometimes, as if I hadn’t last Thursday I never would have noticed the dark, Ping-Pong ball shaped object near the shoe rack.
I thought it was some tumblefluff (think tumbleweed) blown in from outside. I strained my eyes to see, while simultaneously trying not to miss any spectacular winners down the line. I just couldn’t make it out. I rolled over to get a better look. It was impossibly small, and breathing. It was a young vole. It was the saddest, and closest to death vole I had ever seen.
Vole looking very sad, very tired, and very frantic when trying to eat a seed (Photo: Jack Plumb)
After some short intakes of breath I sprang into action. This one had to survive. I found the softest tea towel in the house and a small box to keep the vole close to the food, water and love I was going to provide it with. Safely wrapped up, I researched how to nurture it back from the brink. “Rehydration with an electrolyte solution recommended.”
I grabbed some Dioralyte and a make-shift water dish. A dash of the powder, and some honey, thoroughly mixed and dissolved in the water would hopefully do the job. I took a small handful of mixed seed and the rehydration concoction back to the intensive care unit, feeling confident. I named the patient, Vole. Nothing else felt appropriate.
The will to survive was there, but Vole couldn’t get his tiny legs to carry him to the water dish, or even pick up a seed. It was rapidly becoming a critical situation, and I knew I needed to intervene.
I thought back to my experience with the swift. We had used a cotton bud to drop water onto the side of its beak for it to slowly sip. Perhaps this would work for voles, too. Vole in hand and wetted bud at the ready, the minor operation began.
Vole’s tiny mouth was moving, more and more with every drop of the restorative elixir. It was working! Vole’s strength returned. His legs grew like Popeye’s arms, and lifted his near-lifeless body above and beyond the grasp of death. Vole was grabbing seeds and oats, grass and the thrill of life once more.
Vole was taking on solids, fast! (Video: Jack Plumb)
Darkness had fallen in the hours spent saving a life. Vole would need to spend the night under observation, and I had just the thing to keep him snug. We made a home for Vole in an old champagne box, and for a bed, a long-tailed tit’s nest found last autumn would do nicely.
I miss Vole.
As much as we wanted to keep Vole, he was wild, and it was only right to return him there. We carried the wooden champagne box to the corner of the graveyard the next morning. A short, stubby apple tree now cradles a round nest at its base – a very special friend resides.
I'm delighted to present a guest blog from one of my colleagues, and talented photographer Michael Harvey, who is often to be found at lunchtimes here at RSPB HQ The Lodge putting his skills to good use. I also had the privilege of being able to select some of my favourite shots from his portfolio to accompany the blog. I hope you'll be inspired to keep taking your wildlife shots and sending them in to email@example.com Here's Michael...
My name is Michael Harvey and I'm a colleague of Marks in the RSPB's Supporter Marketing Team. It's my pleasure to have been invited to write a guest post for this blog. A marketer by profession, I'm also a blogger and semi-pro photographer in my spare time, and the two are more related than you might think.
I photograph a lot of different things: landscapes, people, urban scenes, events and nature, so I couldn't describe myself as a specialist in any one area, but my passion for nature photography has grown immensely since joining the RSPB. Before I came to The Lodge I was a hiker and outdoor enthusiast but someone with very little knowledge about birds and other wildlife. My wife still likes to joke about how proud I used to be of being able to identify a blackbird or a robin, and while that's not the whole picture it certainly shows where I was coming from.
Blackbird (MJH Photography)
Since working for a conservation organisation, however, I've grown from someone with a general appreciation for the natural world into someone who really believes in the cause of giving nature a home and who takes a much greater interest. Whilst someone like Mark is still clearly in a different league, my knowledge has deepened with my fascination.
Spring blossom (MJH Photography)
That growing love and knowledge of nature has also grown in tandem with my photographic skills. The journey there, over the course of a few years, has been from an enthusiastic amateur to someone who now sells images and does commercial photo shoots. It's all a lot more serious, but the photography and nature-love really go hand in hand. The more I get my hands on fantastic high-spec lenses the more I want to capture the wildlife all around me, both on RSPB reserves and off. The more I capture the more I want to know about what it is on my screen. And the more I know, the more I want to capture.
Drinking swan and autumn colours (MJH Photography)
It's a cycle of growth driven by a desire for excellence and maximum use of my ability. It's no longer enough to get a distant snap of the birds on my garden feeder. Now my quest takes me to the cacophonous heights of RSPB Bempton Cliffs, a.k.a Seabird City, the gently sighing reedbeds of Cambridgeshire at dusk, and probing into the secret world of macro photography.
A gannet disagreement captured at RSPB Bempton Cliffs (MJH Photography)
I look forward to further developments in this quest, never knowing where it might take me or what I might discover. It's wonderful to reflect on how many passions and pursuits overlap with nature and how appreciation for the natural world can enrich and enhance our other interests, not to mention our own well-being. I hope that my images will inspire and delight others and help to engender both a love of nature and a resolve to protect it from growing threats.
Bathing beauty (MJH Photography)
Thanks for reading, and please do check out some of my work on my website: or my Facebook page: or you can follow me on: Instagram @mjhphotography1
Plover, stint, sandpiper, stilt, godwit, snipe and shank. Great names for great birds: our wonderful waders!
When I was a child, I was absolutely fascinated by these mud-loving, long-beaked travellers. The idea that they travel halfway round the world on migration to come to the UK to stop to feed up on my favourite wild places - estuaries and marshes – was thrilling. It all started with a poster I had on my wall of “coastal marsh and estuary wading birds”. I hadn’t seen any at that point (apart from the lapwings that flocked on the fields in winter), but it all changed one autumn day on a Norfolk beach when those beautiful paintings of oystercatchers, grey plovers, bar-tailed godwits and turnstones finally came to life.
The greenshank was a "pin up" in my bedroom when I was a child (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
I’ll never forget my first August visit to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, the next autumn, where more “exotic” species in the form of little stint (our smallest wader, no bigger than a sparrow), curlew sandpiper and a whimbrel were on show. And it was also when I saw my first avocet. By then, my obsession with waders was cemented. Now, some 24 years later, I have seen more than 50 species of wader in the UK - almost all the species on the UK list, including many of the rare vagrants that turn up in autumn. Every single time I see a wader, I get excited!
Shallow, water, mud - and lots of it. RSPB Titchwell Marsh is a wader wonderland (Andy Hay rspb-images,.com)
Summer of stiltsIt’s been a particularly exciting summer for waders on RSPB reserves because a record 13 black-winged stilts have fledged in the UK from nests across Kent, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. This includes nine on two RSPB reserves after years of conservation work to create the ideal marshy habitat for them.
The precious gems that are the two young black-winged stilts raised on RSPB Ouse Washes this summer - congratulations! (Jonathan Taylor)
I was lucky enough to watch the story of one pair unfold at my old local patch of RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. I visited when the adults had eggs and they took turns to delicately swap over duties sitting on the nest. How they managed to fold up those long, long legs beneath them and incubate eggs is a miracle!
The second time I visited I was hoping to see the young. The parents had been very attentive, chasing off any other birds, or predators that came too close meaning that the young had survived and were not far from fledging. To see the adults and their two youngsters strutting around my old local patch' having survived all sorts of trials and tribulations, was an absolute treat and a really special moment, especially as I had my own parents with me to share in the moment.
As if black-winged stilts didn't have enough going for them, their chicks are impossibly cute too. Here are chicks from RSPB Cliffe Pools this summer (Rob Budgen)
Nature’s Home magazine readers will have enjoyed a tour of one of the UK’s best places for waders: Frampton Marsh on The Wash in Lincolnshire in the July issue and I can’t recommend a visit to Frampton enough.
Visit RSPB Snettisham at high tide to see massed ranks of knots and dunlins (Andy Hay rspb-images,com)
Don't miss out on the wader action this autumn!However, there are plenty more great RSPB reserves for you to visit to watch wading birds this autumn. You can find wading birds this autumn wherever there is mud and shallow water, including lakes and gravel pits inland, but the coast will provide you with the best numbers – and variety. Have a look at some of the RSPB reserves where you can see waders this autumn and don't forget to let us know how you got on!