Saturday, August 21, 2010

Islands and Highlands 5

Enough islands. From Bass Rock we headed north to the highlands, but sadly the weather worsened. In this shot you get an idea. Beautiful when the sun was out, but mostly cloud, some real wind and intermittent rain.

The mountain tops were out of the reckoning, and even lower down we didn't fare so well.
Slavonian grebes were seen, but I didn't get any decent shots and they were looking a bit tatty anyway. Lovely to see the youngster though.
We did poorly with the local birds, although I had an eyeball-eyeball encounter with a crested tit that would probably have been too close for my macro lens!
There were quite a lot of common sandpipers around. This adult was unusually perched in a tree, but actually it was keeping an eye on at least one youngster scuttling around in the vegetation below.
Where we were staying we watched a small group of youngsters gain in confidence and finally start to fly around the small loch.
The sparrows posed nicely in the sun.
After a very rubbish day weather-wise - we went fishing and had a brilliant time, albeit with stockies - we headed up the next day to the Moray Firth for the dolphins. Again the weather wasn't great, but they put on the best show I've ever seen - and I've watched them a lot over the years. There were probably 15 or so around in various small pods at one point (you can see 4 in one shot below), and they were breaching so well that even I managed to snap a few in mid-air.
Remember the flying fish in the first of this series of posts? Well this is what it was all about - dolphin volleyball with salmon. We saw a few caught. I presume this breaks then up into better bite sized chunks.
To close, a birch wood robin, summing up our highland experience - a hint of sun, but mostly shade.

Have a look at the web album (links to the right) if you want to see some better views of the dolphin shots. Not great light, but you get a feel of how good the morning was.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Islands and Highlands 4

From Seahouses and the Farne Islands I headed up to Dunbar for a trip out to Bass Rock the following morning. Arriving at the harbour I recognised several other faces - clearly the Farne Islands -Bass Rock circuit is developing! The aim was a boat trip out, to feed some Bass Rock gannets on the way, and hopefully, weather permitting, to land on the Rock.

The weather was reasonably kind (although it clouded over as the morning passed), a few birds came to feed at the boat (the fishing has been good this year, so the gulls outnumbered the gannets significantly, but it was still a treat to see them hit the water so near), and the spectacle of the Rock came nearer.

The largest gannet colony in the world, from a distance the birds provide a dusting on the bare rock.

Access when we landed was as high as the ruined chapel can see just above the lighthouse, and the birds were just phenomenal. These are big birds, but they are at your feet, all around you - the sound, the smell - quite breathtaking. In fact there are so many photography was tricky - always a bit of another bird in the way!

I feel I rarely get my best shots on the first visit to a venue - I'm still too green at this game, and need to look back at the snaps and consider what to do better next time, but here I only had the one chance. In hindsight I spent too long trying for some flight shots - it's not the best venue light-wise, and with the wind direction as it was the birds were flying in from the sun, tending to cast shadow on the head. Still in the end I got some snaps I was happy with.

I should probably have spent a bit more time on the nesting birds, but got some nice views of parents with chicks of all ages,

of the parents together (very easy to anthropomorphise here - sorry Brian - but there has to be some element of affection here surely).....

including the bill-fencing greeting as one of the pair returned ........

and the 'sky pointing' a bird would do just before take off.

Not all was peace and quiet though. Two birds started a scrap, then more joined in and the mud was soon flying before the target bird managed a get-away. I presume it had ventured into the wrong territory, but suspect it won't make the same mistake again.

I previously commented on the brightly coloured mouths of various seabirds. Not so the gannets - but just look at the size of that gob!

Inevitably gannet fever took over. I should have spent more time on the herring gulls also nesting on the Rock - like I say next time I'll do better.

It was a good trip, and a great experience, but it's not cheap and you need to be lucky with the wind and light if you are going to get the really best views - especially flight shots. I took way too many pictures as usual, but if you want to see some more, or just better views of these shots, click HERE and look at the latest pictures album.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Islands and Highlands 3

The trip to Northumberland was mainly about the Farne Islands, but the boats return late afternoon, the sun is up a good few hours before they set off and the Sunday trip was cancelled due to high winds, so we had time to have a look around.
The first evening was about more than looking around. Some advice. If you head up that way at the weekend book accommodation ahead! Saturday evening was spent around Seahouses, Beadnall Bay, Bamburgh and Alnwick searching for somewhere to stay. In the end Kay and the internet were roped in, and we finally sorted out a place in Seahouses - but not a proper B&B, just a kindly soul who sometimes took 'overflow'!
On the Sunday the weather wasn't great. We wandered down to the harbour at Seahouses and spent a few hours trying to snap gannets flying down the coast from Bass Rock, skimming the waves. Not great snaps, and more gannets to come in due course, but you can see how they hugged the sea.
I never got my rock pipit shot, but a pair of quite confiding dunlin were a bonus, especially as the sun came out and lit the seaweed too.
In the evening we headed for the reserve along the beach from Beadnall to see the terns, but never actually got there. First we were hijacked into snapping a few swallows that were using the wind that tracked along the sand dunes to hunt. At times they were held stationary as they flew into the strong winds enabling some unusual opportunities to catch them in flight. Several times they flew by at head height (I was kneeling) just a couple of feet away - never thought I'd miss a swallow in flight shot as it was too close to focus. These were the best of my efforts. Have a look at a larger version on the 'latest pictures' web album HERE
I did manage to snap one tern though. This is a heavy crop, but it still looks small. That's because it's a little tern.
Monday morning saw an early start, and the Seahouses headland brought a Grady, some kittiwakes, fulmars and a meadow pipit lit by the warm sun.
In the harbour the female eider duck had a few ducklings in tow. No males around, but as they were already in eclipse plumage this was no real loss.
Monday evening I was off to Dunbar .............. but that's another post. A few more shots of most of these birds on the web album - just use the link above or to the right.