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.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Saltee tales I

There's nothing quite like a seabird colony - noise and smell combine in an assault on the senses that once experienced is unlikely to be forgotten, yet I keep being drawn back.

At the end of May I went on another Natures Images trip, this time somewhat nearer home and targeting gannets then puffins.  The 2 centre trip started with a ferry ride over to Ireland and then to our base for the next few days - Kilmore Quay, a fishing village in the southeast.  Mostly quiet at this time of year, except for a sunny Sunday afternoon when the world and his brother came down for ice creams!

The daily plan was to get the boat over to the gannet colony on the island of Great Saltee.  As always  these trips are at the mercy of the weather and despite appearances in the snap above that was a day we weren't able to go because the landing on Saltee can be a bit tricky and the wind was just too strong. 

The only consolation was a chance to see a rather distant arctic skua harassing some of the local terns (big crop -one of those dreaded 'record' shots I thought I had stopped posting).
For similar reasons we missed out on the chance of snapping the gannets in the end of day golden light, but that's all the more reason to go back another time!

Still we had a couple of fun sessions, starting with a slightly bouncy boat trip and then a ride on the rib to the shore, all of us more worried about keeping our camera bags dry than ourselves.  Waiting for the second half of the group to be brought over we were joined by several seal's heads, nosey as ever. 
Once on land a walk along the cliffs past choughs, kittiwakes, auks and some puffins until the gannets came into view.
Close up the birds seem packed in tightly,
but with some elevation you can see that the nests are quite consistently placed apart - looking like streets in places. 
Watch a while and the reason for the spacing becomes clear - they need to be a bit more than two neck and beak lengths apart!
The best of the nests are lovingly tended discs of seaweed and plant material, constantly tweaked to keep it just right.
But stray too far from home and your neighbours will be in there helping themselves,
and if one gets caught in the wrong place all hell breaks loose. 
Sometimes several neighbours get dragged into the squabble - and these fights are for real.

Sadly this squabble resulted in an egg rolling off the plateau, no doubt to end up as food for one of the ever watchful black-backed gulls. 
Not all moves that appear aggressive are though - this neck grip is actually a routine part of the way a returning bird and it's partner greet. 
In fact within the pair gannets are as affectionate as any bird you will see, often twining necks- note the loved up pair in the background (completely ignoring the scrap, but I guess they see it all the time).
The pairs do use several ritualised displays.  When a bird returns the neck grip is followed by bill fencing where both heads are extended to 45 degrees and ..... they fence. 
The other common display is the sky point - when one of the pair is about to fly off it fully extends its neck and points straight up - although the eye placement means it still keeps it's blue ringed eyes on you.
One of the challenges of snapping the gannets was the close proximity of one to another, but in the next post I will show some of the pics where I achieved some relative isolation  - pics a bit more for the portfolio than these for the blog.