Thursday 30 June 2011

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 entries and semi-final pics

So today was a good day, not just because of puffins and basking sharks, but because entrants found out where their entries had actually placed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards...that is if you didn’t get into the finals.  So I entered 20 images into the categories of Nature in Black & White (2), Animal Portraits (3), Behaviour: Mammals (3), Behaviour: Birds (3), Animals in their Environment (3), Wild Places (3), and Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife (3).  So out of the 20 entries 7 of them made it to the semi-finals, which I’m pretty pleased about.  Too bad none of them made it to the finals, but not bad for a first year effort...better luck next time!

I have entered all my entries onto my Eco-Vista: Photography & Research Facebook page - but the semifinal images are below...

Semi-finals: Behaviour: Birds

Semi-finals: Behaviour: Birds

Semi-finals: Animal Portraits

Semi-finals: Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife

Semi-finals: Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife

Semi-finals: Behaviour: Birds

Semi-finals: Behaviour: Mammals

Are you kidding me! More Puffins?

So we arrived in Inverewe early and headed ashore at the rather civilised time of 0830.  The birders and nature walkers headed ashore first, and with even a little sunshine in the sky headed off through the gardens.  I had a fairly good sized group with me, so birding in the garden itself with a big group was not the best, but we managed to see a few nice things along the way including nice views of siskin, robin, Eurasian treecreeper, and a few other bits and pieces.  Of course the herons we still with large chicks at the landing, although a few of the nests had recently fledged their young.  We spotted a few other common things through the more manicured sections of the garden, such as chaffinch, blackbird and song thrush, before arriving at the visitors centre and finding a lovely male bull finch perched in the top of a it when that happens.  I headed off down to the little hide on the shore of the loch and smaller groups of people headed down after me.  There wasn’t a lot on the loch this time, but we had a few red-breasted mergansers, mallards, greenshanks and common gulls, and great views of chaffinch and siskin at about 2ft feeding in the peanut feeder right outside the hide window.  There were no smaller waders on the edge of the loch, and I couldn’t see any divers, although I had seen 5 red-throated divers as the ship had come in to anchor.

Heading back to the landing we managed to find a beaut male bullfinch feeding quietly on the side of the path, and I got a few ok photos of the little beast.  They really are stunning little finches, even if that bill can seriously do some damage to your orchard!  Heard chiffchaff along the way and got some nice views of a male blackcap as well.

Back onboard we headed for Loch Torridon which was scenically spectacular, but a little slow on birds.  Lovely sandstone country with some of the oldest rocks in this neck of the World, but as I said to Susan the geologist onboard, if it’s older than 100 years (about the max lifespan of any bird) it means little to me!  Oh well, we did see a few common gulls, and somebody with a sense of humour had painted a puffin on one of the rock walls beside the loch!

The ship then continued south and out towards St Kilda, with a relatively small sea, certainly smaller than the 6-8m we encountered earlier in the season.  Early morning we arrived into St Kilda, into Village Bay.  There were still patches of sunshine, about 25 knots of wind outside of the bay, but relatively sheltered inside, and overall not bad conditions.  We headed ashore at 0800 and I managed to find a few wrens, and was especially pleased to find a pair that was feeding recently fledged young ones.  So when we started a birding walk a bit later we headed straight for this pair and spent some time watching them feeding the young in one of the cleats.  We then headed off up the hill towards the saddle that overlooks the Boreray and the Stac’s.  As we went we spotted the usual suspects, including meadow pipit and Northern wheatear, as well as a fantastic view of a great skua chasing a lesser black-backed gull right over our heads and into the distance, an Arctic skua, several barn swallows, and more wrens.  We heard distant snipe calling, and spotted a number of plants flowering amongst the grasses on the way up, including lousewort, milkwort, butterwort, tormentil and spotted orchid (see not just a birder!).  At the top we had outstanding views out over the far islets, and also back over the stone walls and part of Village Bay below.

Heading back down I spent a bit more time photographing the wren, getting some good shots of the fledglings and the male coming in with beakfuls of food.  I then headed off to see if I could find a snipe...a snipe hunt as they say in the US.  But although I managed to see a bird at a distance, ‘chip-chipping’ I couldn’t find one on the ground, and with time running out had to race back down to the landing.  Thank goodness there was a BBQ lunch onboard...oh man!  With the new diet firmly in place since about 11 days ago, it was carbs day, so no meat!  The suckling pig looked so damn good too!

Anyway, after a nice bowl of pasta and some salad, we headed out in the zodiacs.  We had a 1.5 hour zodiac cruise and mainly spent time along the sheltered shore of Dun within Village Bay.  We got to see a few turnstone, eider ducks with ducklings, and young grey seals, plus of course nesting guillemots, razorbills, a few kittiwakes and lots of puffins on the water.  There were also fulmars all over the place as per usual.  Could also hear St Kilda wrens singing away along the coast, and saw a few rock pipits amongst the rocks on the shoreline.
It was then time to lift the zodiacs and we headed off around the south coast of Dun and Hirta and up the west towards Soay.  This was the first time I had been up this way in the ship, so it was nice to see the rugged coast from the ship.  It was pretty atmospheric with low cloud wafting over the tops of the islands, and a rough sea breaking on the coast, and as we rounded Soay we then headed for Boreray and the Stacs.  We did an awesome circuit of Stac Lee and then circumnavigated Boreray and back through between it and Stac an Armin, back past Stac Lee and off to the south-east.  We had awesome views of the gannet colonies of course, but also had a couple of great skua attacks on gannets, which mostly I managed to not get photos of, but I did get the odd chase.  The light with a dark sky in some places was great for photography, so got some nice pics during the whole process.  About 20 nautical miles south-east of St Kilda, just as everyone was heading to dinner we had at least two whales blowing and seemingly feeding about 500-600m off the ship.  Unfortunately we could not alter course as we had been asked by the military to maintain a constant course within the deepwater shipping channel as they we conducting live missile tests (!!??).  Hopefully they missed the whales, which appeared to fin whales, and were acting as if they were feeding.

So this morning we woke to the sight of Castle Bay in Barra, with a mixture of cloudy and sunny skies, but light breezes.  I spent much of the morning in a zodiac ferrying people between the ship, shore, and castle, but it was a nice morning to be on the water.  Apparently the island tour saw a few white-tailed eagles, so that was nice to know.  The male rock pipit at Kisimul Castle was still singing and displaying away as he had been three weeks or so ago.  Back onboard for lunch the ship headed for Mingulay, and about 1400 we arrived and got the zodiacs in the water.  We ran a zodiac cruise and walk ashore simultaneously, and I first did a zodiac cruise where we could see two immature white-tailed eagles over the island, but the main attraction were the grey seals all along the coast and the breeding guillemots, razorbills, and shags, with lots of fulmars and hundreds of puffins on the water.  We did have brief views of a peregrine falcon overhead before it flew off out to sea and out of sight.  We went through the narrow channel on the north end of Mingulay which was very picturesque and only had a little swell and current running today.  There were several shag nests with quite large young which was nice to see, and then it was time to head ashore.  I made straight for the puffin colony at the northern end of the beach, and nestled in amongst the cliff to get photos of the birds flying in and out, and roosting around the place.  I particularly wanted to get some good flight shots, so focussed (or not!) on that for a while.  There were some birds coming in with fish, but not a lot, so I didn’t succeed in getting any decent photos of birds coming in with fish, but think out of the 1600 odd images I took in the hour or so ashore I should have gotten something publishable...well here’s hoping anyway!!!  And as if I haven’t already got enough photos of puffins!

We headed back to the ship and then did a circumnav of Mingulay, heading around the northern end and then down along the western side.  Apparently these are the third largest sea cliffs in the UK, pretty spectacular in their own right!  As we headed south the colonies of guillemots and razorbills, with scattered kittiwake cliffs were obvious.  At the southern end as we got to the channel between Mingulay and Berneray the call went up for basking shark and there was one right beside the ship.  Capt Peter spun the ship around, and we ended up with absolutely fantastic views of at least two basking sharks, both probably at least 20 ft long feeding right beside the ship.  At one stage you could see the white inside of the mouth as the shark came towards us!  Awesome!  We then completed the circumnav, seeing another eagle, before then heading off towards Ireland...rolling along on a beautiful sea!

This blackbird knows where to get breakfast!

Male bullfinch at Inverewe
Northern fulmars along the top of the cliff on St Kilda

Fulmar in flight over St Kilda

Male Northern wheatear

Fledgling Northern wheatear

St Kilda wren with food for fledglings

Northern fulmar flying over the cleats

Northern fulmar coming in to land on a stone wall

Meadow pipit


Spotted orchid

The view down onto Village Bay

The stone walls from above

Fledgling St Kilda wren

St Kilda wren with a large spider for young

Rock pipit with food for young

Eurasian collared dove on St Kilda

Northern fulmar just off St Kilda

Razorbill on the water

Common guillemot with a small chick (centre)

Young grey seal

In the water

Puffin takeoff

The Island of Soay

Rocks off the coast of Soay

Immature Northern gannet in flight

Great skua chasing a Northern gannet

Northern gannet in a dive during chase

Focus Rick!

Puffin in flight on Mingulay


Coming in to land

Love the lichen

Coming in to land

Puffin on a rock

The ship behind the puffin colony on Mingulay

The landing beach on Mingulay

Bow of the ship near the cliffs

The tall cliffs on the west of Mingulay

Basking shark dorsal (left) and tail (right)

Basking shark heading at us, dorsal then tail in behind

Monday 27 June 2011

Heat wave, what heat wave!?

So whilst the rest of the UK has been bracing itself for a heat wave, apparently with London today having clear blue skies and temperatures soaring to almost 30 degrees C, we shiver in Orkney and Shetland.  Yesterday we had the morning at sea, cruising past the Old Man of Hoy.  Capt took the ship in pretty close and we had great views of this 137m tall sandstone pinnacle that stands just off the Island of Hoy.  Even a few birds flying around the place, with fulmars nesting on the Old Man and surrounding cliffs.  A few puffins, guillemots, and razorbills around as well, and the odd great skua.

We then headed into Stromness where we went alongside amongst all the fishing boats.  The passengers headed off on a bus tour of the island to see the archaeological highlights that I’d visited a few weeks ago, so I was in excess and so spent a few hours catching up on work on the ship and then going for a walk around the little town of Stromness.  It was damn windy and flippin’ cold onshore, whilst the south of England sounded like they were bathing in sunshine...sounds like someone forgot to tell the Orcadians it was summer!

We had the Captain’s welcome cocktail party onboard that night, which played havoc with the diet (yep trying to shed a few ship gained pounds!), as we sailed for Shetland.  So this morning it was a 6am cruise past Mousa and the broch, and again we got nice and close and had fantastic views of it, although again in overcast and cool conditions.  But the wind had eased!  Heat wave...ha!  We then arrived into Lerwick a bit later and spent the morning ashore seeing Jarlshof Iron Age village and the Lerwick Museum.  We had a lovely confiding twite singing away to himself on a fence at Jarlshof and I managed a few nice photos, my first of this species.  Also an Arctic skua, redshank, some young moorhens, and millions of rabbits at Jarlshof.

We then set sail for Noss, where we took the ship right in off Point of Noss where the gannet colony is.  Got in really close and got fantastic views of the birds, plus puffins on the cliff tops, guillemots and razorbills on the cliffs and caves, and fulmars and kittiwakes as well.  Awesome views and a really spectacular site.  I did a lecture on gannets and puffins pretty much straight after that, and then spent a little time on the bridge and managed to see a few real seabirds, with some Manx shearwaters and at least 5 European storm-petrels.  These are the first I’ve actually seen this contract, so nice to see a few (sorry Tony!).  We are now heading south towards Loch Ewe.

The Old Man of Hoy

Bow of the ship with the Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man and coast of Hoy

The Old Man

Shetland opposite Mousa in the early morning light

The broch on Mousa

Twite on a wire

Northern fulmar in flight

Northern gannet in flight near Noss

Gannets amongst the sandstone cliffs of Noss

Some nesting with the non-breeding 'club' birds on the platforms at Noss

Gannet honeycomb!

The cliffs at Point of Noss

Noss cliffs