Monday, 24 June 2013

Skellig Islands

I warn you now that this will with most probability be the longest post I have done....Ever.  It just wouldn't do justice to the trip if it wasn't hugely long.
 We had an early start, around 6:30 and left shortly after 8:00.  I was at first worried about getting sea-sick on the 7 mile journey out to sea, but my worries were soon packed away when I saw how calm the water was.

When we got on the boat the driver asked if Caleb and I wanted to sit at the front for a better view, we must have looked like photographers.  Don't think my 500mm would be a give away would it?  Must get a bigger lens.  I really appreciated him doing this as I would probably have pulled a back muscle otherwise straining to see behind me.  It was, we decided, like first class at the front - you could sit with your legs stretched out and your back up with a view of the whole sea two hours there and two hours back.
 First off I finally got Gannet on my year-list.  Then, about twenty minutes later a pair of Manx Shearwater came by, my first lifer of the day.  Typically there had to be one species which wouldn't pose, the Manx would just come by and go straight out of camera range again.  Of all the shots I did get they are either badly exposed -shooting into the sun- or off focus.  Nice birds though, just a shame they live so far out to sea.
 It wasn't long before we had our first auk, a probable Guillemot, then the first Puffin of the day, another lifer.  This was followed up by a Razorbill my third lifer of the day.
 There were four dogs on the boat and one, who had a bad paw, liked to sit at the front of the boat.  As we were travelling we caught several glimpses of a marine animal, and every time the boat would slow the dog would rush to the front of the boat, but whatever was in the water didn't resurface -typically  camera-shy animal number two.  Finally however it did surface and I got off a burst of four shots.  It's a three FPS -frames per second- camera so it was up for a short while.  It was a Pilot Whale.  My second species of Whale this year.  It popped up on the other side and I managed a more atmospheric shot.  Well I think so.
 Another interesting thing in the water was a Sunfish.  All we really saw was a fin waving in the water, but if you strained your eyes a shape could just be made out underneath the surface.  The pictures of the Sunfish weren't very interesting, just a fin, so no point posting them.  The whale was more interesting.

Well after 2 hours we were approaching land and the amount of Guillemots doubled, there were small flotillas of about 20-30 birds.  Nice to see these birds close up as before they had been way out to sea.  Shame there weren't any close views on lands, only a small congregation on one of the rock faces.

Well when I tried to stand up after reaching the island I had trouble - my legs had gone stiff from sitting for so long.  So you can imagine I was over joyed to find out we then had to climb a long way up some very steep steps in the sweltering sun.  But it was worth it to see the Puffins - fantastic birds...But they just don't seem real.
I might as well get this over with now, the Sun.  Well....the sun was high.  This was not preferable.  Getting a good exposure was near impossible, especially as the white on the Puffins breast was so reflective of the sun.  So I resolved to finding a Puffin in the shade to photograph.  For  once I was actually happy with an image.  I know, rare.

The harsh light did make this shot possible though, so I shouldn't complain.  Another shot I am relatively pleased with, no real editing either.  Just a crop.

Something I noticed was that the sun was so hot that a lot of the birds on nests were panting as they can't sweat. This is something you see with Thrushes too, when Blackbirds or Robins sunbathe they open their wings and beak.  But they actually want the sun.  I don't imagine the same can be said for the sea-birds.

Next was on to Little Skellig where you get a couple of Gannets.  Just to give you an idea of how many this is a shot of the non-busy side.

About 25,000 pairs nest here, a fair few.  On the other side of the island there were so many I would be surprised if any of the rock they were sitting on was visible!
 Surprisingly I didn't see any Gannets diving, at first I thought this was unusual.  But thinking about it Gannets can go hundreds of miles to get food, so as we were just a few hundred metres away seeing them dive would be unlikely.
 Around this Island were even more Guillemots and Razorbills, and much closer than before.  Sometimes only diving when the boat almost ran them over.

Now here's an interesting fact I learnt recently.  The pigment that makes the wing-tips of a Gannet black strengthens the wing.  I wonder if the same applies with Greater-black backed Gulls?  I know that most gulls have black-tipped wings, except white-wingers of course.

The trip back on the boat was just as fun as the trip there.  With even closer views of Manx Shearwater -still no good shots- we had some nice views of Gannets and I managed to burn my ears.
 Did I do the trip justice?  11 images must be a record for me so yeah I think I did.  Definitely the longest blog I've done yet, the only rival could be Dungeness which has 10 images.  I made sure this had 11.  On the subject of blogs, I was devastated to find out I had missed the anniversary to my blog.  Oh well.   My blog is now 1 year and eight days old.  Not bad.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Four Hours in Kenmare...

...We could probably have done with six.
 To be frank I went to Skellig Islands before Kenmare Bay, but, as they say: 'Save the best 'til last'.
 Around 12:00 O'clock we got a lift down with my Aunt to her and my uncles shop (see their Facebook page here) and from there Caleb and I walked to Kenmare Bay.  It was a bit slow when we first got there, but soon I located some juvenile Hooded Crows.  If you read my blog over winter you may remember that I frequently  complained about high ISO and poor light.  Well it was a slightly different case down there.  The Sun was so high it was near impossible to get it on your back, and heat hazes would occasionally occur in my images, so, they really didn't come out well...At all.

Finding good light for photography is actually quite hard, in the summer, early morning and late afternoon are the best times, but it is hard to get to places before the sun is high above, so I had to make do.  For once I was wishing for clouds.
 It wasn't long before I located a Rock pipit, this led me to finding a juvenile Rock Pipit!  I soon found there was a small family of two adults and two juveniles.  Again the light was hard to work with, but I tried my best to get a passable shot.  It's a shame the background wasn't nicer on this image, that big black shadow spoils it a bit.  I did however manage a slightly better background with a shot of one of the adults.

But still my best Rock Pipit shots yet.  This species seems to be doing remarkably well in Ireland, with every beach I have visited  there holding at least one pair.  Even the sandy beaches.  With a bit of patience they can come fairly close, but you have to stay low for they often fly if you stand straight as is the case with many birds.  I find the best way to go about photographing Rock Pipits is to use rocks to disguise you.  For these shots I had my Beanbag by Wildlife Watching Supplies resting on a Rock so I had good support and my shape didn't stand out.  The same applied for the Hooded Crow.  I don't know what I'd do if the beach didn't have such large stones.
 Well after  about an hour or so with the Rock pipits we headed off for Caleb's patch.  He has now extended that to the pier as it is only a couple of minutes walk away.  I let him off this, but I think the reason he did this is so he could put Glaucous Gull on his patch list.  The cheek.  Good thing I looked through his images as he hadn't noticed it was a White-winger at first.  Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with it next winter.
 Well anyway on to the real patch we didn't see anything.  So we walked to a bench to have lunch, and then I dropped my phone and we spent 20 minutes looking for it.  I would have found it quicker if I hadn't spotted a Common Tern.

I did eventually find my phone which was just in time as we had to be back at the shop by 16:00 to drive back and it was already 10 minutes to.
 It's amazing how quickly time flies when you're having fun.  As it was a Sunday - I think - they didn't do a full working day, so next time I'm over hopefully we'll be able to go for longer.
 Skellig islands should come soon, within the next week I hope, and no doubt this post will look short in comparison.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Have I turned?

That is the question that faces me.  Do I now have to remove that sentence saying I am not a twitcher?  Have I turned to the dark-side?  The answer is yes... NO.   Well I must admit that -dare I say the word- I twitched.  I?  Yes, I twitched. Despite the obvious fact I have twitched a fair few times I still don't count myself as a twitcher.  I have explained before my thoughts on twitching -See here- and again would like to make it known I have nothing against twitchers.  I actually quite like them, their immense knowledge of birds is incredible.
What did I twitch?  Well there isn't much around at the moment that I could and would twitch.  So if you are a London birder is should be quite obvious.  But if you are not you probably won't know.  The bird is a female Long-tailed Duck, quite rare inland, especially odd in the urban water of Rotherhithe.  How can I justify this?  Well to that I have an answer.  You see the long-tailed Duck is a Sea Duck.  So as any Wildlife photographer will know photographing a bird out at sea isn't easy as they are usually so far out.  So how could I pass off an opportunity to photograph a species like that up close?  It was too good to miss.
 Well I will let you have your own opinion on whether or not I  am a twitcher, but I still say that I am not.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Ireland....and some year-ticks

Well it was a bit quiet around the land where I was staying.  A few Willow Warblers but that was about it.  That was really all I saw save the odd Swallow flying over.
 On my second day I went to say at my aunt Addie's who lives about 2 miles away.  The plan was to photograph perched Willow Warblers and try to see a Gropper.  Well....It didn't quite work out.  The Willow Warbler which my cousin Caleb had been photographing's chicks hatched, in a completely different location to where he had imagined the nest might be, so the perch wasn't often used....typical.
 This was Thursday, and the next day, Friday, we went to Skellig islands, but that will be a separate post altogether.
While I was over it was Addie's birthday, and we decided to go to Tuosist beach.  There, Caleb and I went off to look for some birds and managed a couple of year-ticks, Stonechat and Sand Martin.  There were at least 5 Stonechats around, and a couple were juveniles.
Ireland it is said has an earlier Spring than England, this was probably the reason that the Stonechat here had already fledged, whereas the ones on BBC Springwatch where still in the nest.  The Stonechats were too far off for any good photos so just a couple of record shots.  I can't wait until I get a good view in decent light....One day.

An Otter was briefly glimpsed here too, but I only saw it as it was diving, and we really needed to get back so we didn't try to track it.
 While on the subject of mammals I got a couple of life-ticks; The lesser Horse-shoe Bat and a Mountain/Irish Hare -I did  get another but that's part of the Skellig post-.

I did of course go to Kenmare Bay, but that as well will take up a whole post, there was a fair bit to see.
 On my last full day in Ireland we went to Ross Castle, this was a great choice of location and I ended up taking about 700 images!  What oh what was the shutter firing at?  Mostly juvenile Swallows.  Yep, lovely little Swallows, who for once sat still!  The lighting was flat, so the images lacked 'warmth' so there was a little bit of post-processing. No cloning or anything, don't worry I haven't gone that far...yet.

Well as you know if you have been reading my blog since February or before, there is a river not too far from Ross castle where you get Dippers, so despite the absolutely abominable lighting we headed there, and when we arrived I wished that the lighting had been better.  Dippers...Yes, but also juvenile Dippers!  I'm afraid the lighting was too bad for any decent images, so I have none good enough to post.  I do however have an image of a Song Thrush that I was relatively pleased with.

The midges in Ireland were particularly bad this year, one night I had c.120 on the ceiling of my bedroom!  Window sills were often coated in hundreds of the devils!  Before this trip it had always amazed me that a single Pipistrelle bat could eat up to 3,000 midge and small insects a night, this now does not seem the feat it once did.
 There should be at least another 2 posts from Ireland to be expected over the next week or so, with much more exciting tales to tell....I hope.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Silence Before the Storm

It's been a bit quiet here in Brighton recently.  The odd Blue Tit will pass through the garden but that is it.  None of the excitement we had in April/May, with Pied Flycatcher  Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff all making an entrance. Now, with thick leaf cover in the trees, spotting birds is almost impossible and the food I provide is no longer graciously accepted.  Now they opt for juicy caterpillars, not dried Mealworms and bird seed,  so I've been just slightly bored. I have though made the most of what is in the garden.  Red Lily Beetles and Frogs mostly, exclusively actually, save a funny looking Bee, and maybe a fly, and maybe an Ant.  You get the idea, macro stuff.  I must say that they were possibly the most tricky frogs to photograph, ever!  It was a rare occasion I could get a shot, so I tried to do some abstracts...I failed....

Now for a bit of listing talk.  My year-list is 133, but with my trip to Ireland coming up, tomorrow in fact, I should easily get to 140, well maybe not that easy, but with a trip to Skellig islands I should, with a bit of luck get: Gannet, Puffin, Razorbill, Arctic Tern, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel and that takes me squarely to 140.  But there is always a surprise in Ireland.  Long-eared Owls and Groppers are high on the list.  Most of these are lifers -I've only seen 3- It would take my life-list to 165, a pleasant number.  I am on 159 at the present, but I made a foolish aim for myself, 175 by the end of the year, still a way to go, so these would all be welcome birds.

I don't have any more pictures to share, seriously the last few days have not been successful, so here's a really interesting and rare shot, me at work!...... and no, I didn't get a good shot of the Sparrow, typical problems, I forgot a Tripod and the lighting was abominable.
 But fashion sense of the year or what?  Combats a green jacket and a green cap.  You will never be able to see me when I'm out and about, too good camouflage!  That's why this is such a rare shot, and I have been led to believe that the photographer was camped in a hide for 3 weeks to get this singular shot.  That's what I call perseverance.  Can you see me in it?
 I've got some camo gloves too, so this most likely the last shot you will get to see of me.  I think my hands gave me away.

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