Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Skomer II - the other side

Yes Skomer is mostly about the puffins, but when you have time to explore there is much more to see.
At the time we visited the bluebells were in full swing, punctuated by campion of the pink kind - not the small white ones seen with the puffins.  So pretty even I focused the camera a couple of times in a bid to remind myself that flower snapping isn't my thing.

The other key birds for me were the owls - the glorious piercing-eyed short-eared and the 'can you see me pretending to be a rock' little ones. 

In the warm light of early morning the island was lovely - puffins and seals down at the beach, oystercatchers, raven and the SEO.

On our last morning for a brief minute I thought I'd get an SEO over the bluebell field, but packing up time pulled me away and this was my nearest effort.  The main bluebells are just over the ridge.
As you wandered around the paths you kept stumbling across 'angel wings' - actually much more grisly than the name suggests these are what are left when the shearwaters which flood onto the island at night get caught outside their burrows.  Look below the gull nest and you can see who some of the culprits are.

Plenty else to see - more frustrating chough, stonechat, rock and meadow pipit, bunnies - and Kim's favourite, the wren.

Down at the Wick the cliffs were home to nesting fulmar, having a bit of a domestic
 - but at the end of the day Skomer is about the puffins, and I just hope before too long I'll stay there again for another go.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Skomer I

Leaving Saltee we headed for another island, Skomer - off the Pembrokeshire coast and not really so far from home.  This time we were able to stay on the island and were lucky to be able to enjoy some lovely evening light.
The trip over isn't too bad.  Leaving from Marloes you form a human chain down a path and then a 'plank' to pass down the bags and all the food onto the boat - bit disconcerting as thousands of pounds worth of camera kit gets passed from hand to hand, but we made it safely onto the boat which was soon piled high. 

Get to the other end and the process is reversed, but this time the people leaving the island get to join the chain.
Skomer has a good mix of birds,

but the main target was the puffins, and both evenings we made our way down to The Wick, the premium snapping site. 

We couldn't have hoped for better light, but looking at my images I was left with a feeling I could have done better.  I know I learn best by visiting s site a few times, looking at my efforts and going back to refine the efforts that worked best.
Don't get me wrong the pics are OK, and it was fun to watch the puffins in and making their burrows, and play with different exposures in the warm evening light,

but in hindsight I spent too long on flight shots, none of which I liked, and not enough on wider angle pictures trying to show more of the environment as well.

Still there's always next time ...........

If you want to see some great wide angle pictures of the Skomer puffins check out Matthew Cattell's snaps from a few weeks after we visited.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Saltee tales III

Saltee wasn't just about gannets for me, and my favourite image actually wasn't of a gannet. 
I tried to snap the pair of choughs, which messed me about and produced at best an image that made Chris Gomersall laugh!  So you'll need to wait for the blogs from the second part of the trip to see one of them.
One of my favourite birds looks-wise is the razorbill.  A sort of steam-punk penguin I always feel they look like they are spoiling for a scrap, in a chin-jutting 'give me your best shot' kind of way. 

We had one loner who favoured some boulders just below us, posing against the waves crashing onto the rocks.  Having looked at these shots from the first day on the second I did spend some time messing about with apertures to try and get a better depth of field, but in truth it needed a wide angle lens, a closer camera position and most probably a remote trigger to get the picture I had in mind.  And I need to learn how to get the bird to flap just as the wave hits the rocks.

My favourite picture from Saltee (at present - it may change when I look back in a few months) was none of these, but a shot looking down on a flying shag. I took quite a lot of shots of various birds flying over the breaking waves below us but here I like the bird's form and the almost monochrome feel apart from that hint of aquamarine in the bottom left.  The raw power break of the wave was just right, my only regret being the clipped rocks on the right.  Click on it for a bigger view.
So there you have it - next time we hit an island closer to home - Skomer and its puffins.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Saltee tales II

As I explained in the last post one of the challenges of photographing a gannet colony is achieving some degree of separation of the birds.  I don't mind too much the odd head protruding into the side of a picture, but even the perkiest feathered bum doesn't add anything.  In this first shot the isolation was achieved by cropping out 2 rear ends leaving an alternative bill-fencing view.
When you do find a bird that is isolated - for example standing on a rocky peak like this one - you end up snapping a whole load of shots aiming to catch some variation in pose.  Here we have pensive

flappy (and 3 inches too tight)
sky-pointy (from 2 different angles)

and pterodactylian (does anyone else see the pterosaur in this?)
Another way of isolating is to snap the bird in flight.  Gannets have a huge glider-like wingspan and soon fill your viewfinder as they come in.  The classic shot is taken as the bird stalls before landing, tail splayed and wings twisting though 90 degrees.  I did get one about right, but on review the bird's belly was so filthy it won't appear here.

I tried a few different ways to get a bird in the air and another on the ground both sharp but it was a big ask.
I did quite like this next shot of a bird above 2 slightly out of focus bill fencing birds, perhaps because the slightly uncontrolled look of the airborne bird reminds me how bad they are at landing, hitting the ground with an audible thump in a confused tangle of wings and legs - one even landing on Elizabeth's head as it completely misjudged it's flightpath.
It didn't put the incoming off though - wheeee
Another way to achieve isolation is to focus in tight - this was probably my favourite headshot picking out the feathers and just that hint of the blue eye ring,
but I had a bash at the high-key approach too (not really happy with the colour here though).

To end a few more portraits, the last reminding that next time I should work harder on some more environmental shots.

Not quite the last of Saltee though - gannets weren't the only birds on the island, so tune in next time.