Sunday, July 25, 2010

Skomer Island

Last Wednesday, July 21st, I made my first visit for four or five years to Skomer Island, an island nature reserve off the western tip of Pembrokeshire. I made my way to the small cove of Martin's Haven, from where we made the fifteen-minute journey to the island:

Once ashore, and after the obligatory talk from the warden, I decided to head up towards the old farm buildings in the centre of the island, as there had been talk of owls (Little and Short-eared) being spotted in the fields around them. I didn't see any owls, but, after I had turned left by the buildings, I did manage this shot of one of the many Rabbits that make the island their home:

There was a small bird hide (blind) a little further along the path to my right, and I decided to have a quick look to see if anything was about. First thing I saw was this Oystercatcher foraging quietly on its own in the mud very close in front of the hide. There are thousands of Oystercatchers on my local beach, but they never come close enough for any portrait pictures, so this was an opportunity too good to miss. The bird was too close for my 500mm lens, so I switched to my 70-200mm. It was very difficult to make a decent exposure of this contrasty-plumaged bird in the bright sunlight, but I did my best with the help of a little fill-in flash:

There was a pool in front of the hide, which was mainly full of a large number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which breed on the island:

Here's one of this year's offspring:

And an adult feeding its hungry 'child':

I'd like to have stayed here a little longer, to try for some better shots of the Oystercatcher in more overcast light, but we only had four hours ashore, so it was time to head for my main target, Puffins, and their main breeding grounds at 'The Wick':

Here, the Puffins are very confiding, seemingly unconcerned about the groups of people watching them, and will often come within a couple of feet of viewers. It enabled me to get a few decent shots, both with my 500mm and 70-200mm lenses, sometimes using an extension tube to enable the lens to focus close enough on the tame Puffins:

After a while, it began raining, at first gently, but then increasingly hard, and continued for about half an hour. I had a waterproof jacket in my bag, but decided to drape it over my camera and lens, and let myself get soaked. The conditions enabled me to get a few unusual 'Puffin in rain' shots:

Headshots were easy on the approachable birds:

A couple perched on the cliff edge:


I saw a few Puffins with sandeels, but was unable to get the classic shot with sandeels in a bird's beak as birds landing with sandeels invariably disappeared straight down their burrows before photos could be taken. I also failed to get any decent flight shots as my Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens just wouldn't lock on properly (I will have to send it off for repair soon). Anyway, I was reasonably happy with the shots I'd taken, and began meandering back along the coastal path towards the last boat back at 4 p.m. Along the way, I spotted two Peregrine Falcons flying around the Mew Stone, a large offshore rock. I was about to take a photo of a perched bird, when, of course, it flew off! I took this shot, one of the many Lesser Black-backed Gull youngsters, on my way back to the landing stage:

On the boat back to the mainland, a group of Gannets, no doubt from the nearby colony of Grassholm, flew overhead, and I was able to take this shot:

I had an hour or so before I needed to head home, so I walked up onto the headland overlooking Skomer, an area known as the 'Deer Park' (there are no deer here!). I was rewarded with this view back across to the island:

The area was ideal habitat for Choughs, and sure enough there were several family groups flying around, stopping to feed on the short turf:

I headed back down to the car park, and had just packed most of my photo gear away, ready to leave, when I saw what looked like a small bird of prey approaching in level flight along the small country lane. At first I thought it might be a Kestrel, but as I looked with my binoculars as it flew very low overhead, I could see it was a stunning Peregrine! I cursed the fact that I had just put my big lens in my bag, as I could have got some great shots. Oh well!
I contented myself with this shot of St. Brides Bay, viewed across a golden cornfield, before heading for home:

It had been a long and tiring day; but a good one!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Cliffs Bay

Early on Monday evening, I headed out to Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula. I caught the bus to Parkmill (I'm very green!), before following a small stream, the Pennard Pill, to the beach about half a mile away. The first part of the stream runs through woodland, and here I saw a family of Dippers and a Kingfisher. Moving out into the open valley, the mysterious ruin of Pennard Castle became visible on the cliff to my left:

Growing on the damp ground alongside the Pennard Pill were the native Meadowsweet:

and the introduced Himalayan Balsam:

Here's a view of the castle across the saltmarsh, which was swathed in Sea Lavender:

Turning around, I could see the distinctive cliffs that give the bay its name:

The tide was rising quickly, and had covered most of the sandy beach:

The shingle beach here that lies above the high tide always attracts Ringed Plovers in summer. I've never seen a nest, but I have seen young birds around, so they must manage to raise young successfully, despite the pressure of so many visitors. Today, I just saw this one bird, and took a few pictures from a distance (using a Canon 40D, Sigma 500mm lens, and a Soligor 1.7x converter) to avoid too much disturbance, before going on my way:

I then climbed up onto the cliffs on the eastern side of the bay. The sky was full of circling Swifts:

House Martins:

Swallows, and a handful of Sand Martins:

The spot where I was now sitting is usually a good spot for Rabbits, and I sat down hoping to get a few shots in the evening sunlight. After a longish wait, a Rabbit finally emerged, allowing me to take one shot, when suddenly a small aircraft buzzed low overhead and sent the Rabbit scuttling for cover. Typical! I was just about to leave, when a Rabbit came out, enabling me to get this shot:

The late evening sun was now catching the Three Cliffs:

And casting some lovely light onto the smaller Pobbles Bay next door:

My bus home was due at 9.30 p.m., so I took the path back alongside Pennard Golf Course, and headed back to the village of Southgate by Pennard Cliffs to await my transportation. It had been a lovely evening!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ducks in the Rain

This evening, I went for a walk around Brynmill Park, Swansea, in the rain. The first thing I saw, as I arrived, was a brood of young Mallards on the lake. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was dive-bombing them, trying to grab a youngster for his supper. He failed, the chicks managing to escape the marauding gull by diving into cover, and even by plunging underwater. The gull eventually gave up, and went and waited at the other end of the small lake:

Two broods of young Mallards continued to feed out in the open at the other end of the pond, perhaps too young to realise the potential danger:

The numerous apparantly-non-breeding birds spent their time upending:

and just loafing in the rain:

Besides the scruffy-looking Mallards, there were three or four Tufted Ducks floating around towards the middle of the pond. Much more usual to see them here in the Winter. Here's one of the males:

This flower was part of a large display of this species (whatever it is):

Park authorities seem a lot more aware of environmental issues these days, and there has been quite a lot of planting of native flora in and around the water, including this Purple Loosestrife:

Finally, a picture of a rather wet-looking Feral Pigeon:

Personally, after all the hot, dry, weather we've had, I was glad of the rain.